Mormonism and church finances/No paid ministry/General Authorities living stipend

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    General Authorities' living stipend

Questions


Question: "I have a friend who says that General Authorities are paid more than $300,000 per year. My friend also says they receive a large sum of money when they are called. According to him they have to sign a contract promising to never divulge to anyone what they are paid. He said that he got this information from the husband of a secretary who worked for President Hinckley and actually saw the contracts. If true this does not seem like a modest living expense as the Church claims the general authorities receive. What can you tell me about this?"

Answer


This type of criticism seems intended to imply that General Authorities perform their duties out of greed, rather than sincere belief. This seems implausible, given that most are at or beyond retirement age when called, and many have been highly successful outside of Church service.

Furthermore:

  • Non-disclosure agreements are standard practice with regard to salary and compensation.
  • The numbers suggested have consistently escalated over time, despite an absence of hard data.
  • Those who provide such accounts attempt to make normal practices seem nefarious or hidden.
  • The Church has not hidden the fact that general authorities receive a stipend, and there is scriptural warrant for the practice.

Detailed Analysis

Who is the highest-paid Church employee

Who is the highest paid church employee? As of 2014, it is probably Bronco Mendenhall (the head football coach at BYU). His base salary is estimated to be at least $900,000 a year. With incentives and bonuses, it could be as high as $2,000,000.00 per year. Even at 2 million a year, he would only rank 59th (of 126) college football coaches (a lot to us individuals, not excessive by the narrow standard of his peers).[1]

Of course, nobody is really quite sure how much he makes because, like most employees of BYU, Bronco Mendenhall has signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) about his salary. And being that he works for a private university, you cannot simply request this information. This is, by the way, standard practice for private universities in particular, but its also true of most private entities. Organizations where salary information is widely available are usually managed by group contracts and are often unionized. The Church does not fit that particular mold. The business side of the Church (and its corporate employees) follow business practices that recommend these kinds of NDAs.

Why non-disclosure agreements?

Not only do many of the employees of BYU sign such non-disclosure agreements, but, those who have access to this information are also required to sign such agreements. Generally speaking, these agreements allow organizations to sue for damages when a breach of confidentiality occurs. The major point here, though, is that if general authorities are given a stipend (for living expenses), it is quite possible that the stipend comes with a non-disclosure agreement (an NDA). This would be the "contract promising never to divulge to anyone what they are paid". Of course, it is presented in a way that makes all sorts of insinuations. But probably if such a thing exists and happens, it follows the standard boiler plate legal language used elsewhere by the Church's legal team to handle the same issue. That contract wouldn't actually list the compensation, and so while this person may have seen the NDA, we can be certain that they have no personal knowledge of what the compensation actually is. The $300,000.00 figure is just being tossed out with no real evidence behind it, save anonymous hearsay.

Now, what is the point of this sort of agreement? Mentioning the NDA in this kind of discussion is intended by the critic to demonstrate that something nefarious us going on. That is, we are meant to conclude that the Church is covering a big secret of some sort with the use of NDAs.

This, however, doesn't make much sense. One problem with an NDA is that in order to get relief the injured party must sue. And in suing, the contract itself would become part of the court case, and potentially available for public scrutiny. If the objective is complete secrecy, then the concept of an NDA utterly defeats the purpose in this case. Not only would it open up hidden information for public consumption, it would also tend to confirm whatever had been said by the general authority who offered information. This would only be some sort of problem if the church was trying to hide something. And so if the church is trying to hide payments to general authorities, then the whole process of having a NDA creates far more problems than it would solve.

(It is worth pointing out that in your comments, the wife of the friend would be in violation of their own contract. This supposed "eye-witnesses" detail is useful to enhance the story (as it comes across as the whistle-blower sort of thing) but, if in fact all the anonymous source saw was the agreement itself (the NDA) then it really doesn't mean a whole lot, because it doesn't help us understand what sorts of compensation a general authority gets.)

Why do General Authorities receive living stipends?

Some members of the Church are unaware that at least some General Authorities do receive a modest living stipend. While it is true that some Church leaders receive a living allowance while they serve in a given position, it cannot be said that the Church has a professional ministry in the traditional sense.

Some positions in the Church, namely a call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the First Quorum of the Seventy, are “for life” positions, meaning that the man chosen to fill the position serves until the end of his life. In such cases, if required, they are also given a modest living allowance. While many members of the Church are unaware of these allowances, that they exist and that they are comparatively modest was acknowledged in general conference by President Gordon B. Hinckley: “... the living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions, come from this business income and not from the tithing of the people.[2] Members of the Twelve serve full-time for life; members of the First Quorum of Seventy serve full-time until retirement to emeritus status at age seventy.

Calls to other Quorums of the Seventy do not require the same full-time commitment, therefore those who serve these positions do not receive a living allowance.

A call to serve as a General Authority usually comes later in life, and none of these men has depended upon their Church service for their "career" or "income." Given the high caliber accomplishments of those called to full-time service, it is reasonable to expect that they could make a lot more money (with less trouble) in some other field of endeavor.

The fact that this stipend exists has not been hidden. As President Hinckley noted in General Conference:

Merchandising interests are an outgrowth of the cooperative movement which existed among our people in pioneer times. The Church has maintained certain real estate holdings, particularly those contiguous to Temple Square, to help preserve the beauty and the integrity of the core of the city. All of these commercial properties are tax-paying entities.
I repeat, the combined income from all of these business interests is relatively small and would not keep the work going for longer than a very brief period.
I should like to add, parenthetically for your information, that the living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions, come from this business income and not from the tithing of the people.[3]

Many Church General Authorities come from respected professions from which they make a substantial living. Dedicating themselves full time at the sacrifice of substantial careers, these leaders live modestly, work tirelessly, keep grueling travel schedules, and continue doing so well past an age when others retire. They are also demonstrably men of education and accomplishment; one can hardly claim that they were unsuited for work in the world given their accomplishments prior to being called to full-time Church service. No tithing funds provide for stipends; such funds are drawn from business income earned by Church investments.

A Scriptural Basis

Although some General Authorities receive a living stipend, D&C 42:71-73 does allow for the potential support of individuals called to full time service in the Church. Latter-day Saints care for their members through a resource known as the Bishop's Storehouse. This storehouse is filled through the contributions of members and includes temporal resources to assist individuals who have unmet temporal needs. It is administered through the office of the Presiding Bishopric of the Church and through the local administration of ward Bishop's. While the Church does not currently use the Bishop's Storehouse to provide for the temporal needs of General Authorities, as mentioned above, it does indicate a scriptural basis for them to receive support when warranted and according to their needs.

What about the numbers?

In 1996,[4] the church altered some of the responsibilities given to General Authorities. Prior to this point in time, they also served on corporate boards of church-owned companies and for these positions they received a stipend. At that point in time, some of the financial information was disclosed, and it was in the neighborhood of $50,000.00 a year for such an assignment. Ever since then, the numbers have seen consistent inflation in critical sources. A few years ago, the average compensation for GAs was put at about $175,000.00 a year. Before that it was $90,000.

The available information hasn't changed. But, in an effort to keep this sort of charge over the top, it has to escalate. Part of the variation in numbers will also occur depending upon what constitutes "living expenses" (there are lots of ways to make things add up really fast). One FairMormon volunteer, for example, works in the health care industry. His company pays for a number of things that were he to purchase them on his own, they would constitute "living expenses". But this doesn't make it a living expense when they provide it. They provide these things to allow him to perform to the company's expectations in their employment.

Speculation with little data

These kinds of speculations as to what the compensation is almost always come from disaffected and former members. They all claim (in true conspiracy theory fashion) to have an inside source. They always make claims with no evidence - and use nice big eye-catching round numbers, and so on. Should the church provide some data, it would almost certainly be dismissed as a cover up of the truth (protected of course by those NDAs, right?). There may be a lot of reasons why people become General Authorities, but it seems doubtful that getting wealthy is one of them. You would think, with hundreds of General Authorities, all supposedly getting excessive payments from the church (as the allegations go) for the last century, there might have been some sort of financial scandal that the critics could pin their speculations to. But it doesn't seem like it, does it?

Notes

  1. http://www.coacheshotseat.com/SalariesContracts.htm (accessed 28 March 2014)
  2. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Questions and Answers," Ensign (November 1985), 49.
  3. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Questions and Answers," Ensign (November 1985), 49.
  4. Lynn Arave, "LDS programs evolve over the years," Deseret Morning News (30 September 2006).

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