In the past I have always referred to the amounts full-time General Authorities of the Church are paid as stipends. I’m wondering whether I’m being overly defensive in this practice, and I’m thinking about just saying they are paid salaries. But I’m having a hard time figuring out which is the most appropriate word–or perhaps there is a better, more descriptive term (allowance?). So I’m hoping my friends in the Bloggernacle can set me straight on how best to refer to these payments.
The background is that many Saints have no idea that full-time GAs are paid; they assume they are like local bishops and serve without payment. This is not the case. When I correct this misimpression, how should I refer to these payments?
The word stipend comes from Latin stipendium, from stips “gift, alms, small payment” + pendere “to weigh.” The definition is “a fixed sum of money paid periodically for services or to defray expenses.”
The word salary comes from Latin salarium, which is the neuter form of salarius, lit. “of or relating to salt.” The word has its origins in the practice of paying a Roman soldier his wages in salt. The definition is “fixed compensation paid regularly for services.”
Based on these particular definitions, it seems as though either word would be appropriately descriptive. My sense, however, is that we go out of our way to avoid the word salary because we are so defensive about the fact that GAs are paid. I’m thinking we shouldn’t be so defensive about it, and we should be more open about it.
I suppose the possible distinctions are: (i) what they are paid is a relatively small amount not reflective of their true worth or what they could otherwise receive in private industry, or (ii) these amounts are not really compensation for services rendered, but simply provide for basic living expenses to free the GAs to accomplish some greater good (like a grad student receiving a living stipend).
A few general thoughts:
- In the past we have sometimes lorded it over other faiths because we do not pay our local leaders. I think this is hypocritical and that we should not do this.
- I wish the Church had more transparency about its finances. I can’t tell you how many times ordinary members have been surprised, even shocked, to learn that GAs are paid. (GBH, to his credit, has mentioned this over the pulpit, but a lot of members apparently never got the memo.) This lack of transparency leads to wild speculation about how much they are paid.
- I personally don’t really care that these payments do not come from tithing funds. We often make that caveat when discussing some potentially unpopular payment, but since money is fungible, what difference does it make? It seems as though it is nothing more than a PR statement.
So what are your thoughts about this?