Are Mormon General Authorities Overpaid?

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-12-21-48-pmJust a head’s-up: I’m not going to answer this question. I’m a law professor. A significant part of my job is to complicate questions that appear, on first glance, simple. Like this one. If you want a simplistic yes or no, I’m sure you can find it somewhere on the internet.

The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that the general authorities who are paid make about $120,000 a year. On the comments to Kevin’s recent post, there seemed to be some significant disagreement on whether they were over- or underpaid, or if their salaries were just right. So which is it?

That’s a tough question; there is no objective “right” amount that people should be paid. And the question is complicated a little by the fact that they’re paid in lockstep, meaning the amount probably represents a raise for some of these general authorities and a pay cut for others. 

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-12-22-11-pmTo determine whether they’re overpaid, then, we have to find an appropriate comparable. And that’s a whole lot harder than it seems. (Note that, because they’re in the U.S., and because they’re paid in dollars, and because it’s a whole lot easier for me to find data on the U.S., I’m going to use U.S. comparables, rather than international comparables.)

Median Mormon Income

The Census doesn’t ask about religion, so we don’t have any precise information here. We can use Pew data to help, though it’s only kind of helpful.

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-12-23-08-pmAccording to Pew, about 47% of Mormons make less than $50,000, 38% earn between $50,000 and $99,000, and 16% make $100,000 or more. These numbers line up pretty closely to the American public at large.

Under Pew data, then, paid general authorities are in the top 16% of Mormon income earners. But note that only 28% of Mormons have a college degree or more; I haven’t looked closely, but I suspect that all of the paid general authorities have at least a college degree. So what’s the appropriate comparable here? Median Mormon income? Median income for college graduates (which, actually, we don’t know)?

Median Utah Income

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-12-23-41-pmWe can get finer-grained information about Utah. And, of course, Utah isn’t a perfect comparable, because 40% of the population is not Mormon, but 60%-Mormon is the most concentrated portion of Mormons of any state.

And in Utah, the median household income was $60,727 in 2015 dollars. (Note that the average household income in Utah is significantly higher, at $76,531.)

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-12-33-59-pmBut that doesn’t tell us anything about the distribution of income.

And, in fact, there’s an additional problem with these numbers: they don’t take into account age. In general, income increases as we get older. And Utah follows those trends: median household income increases with age, up until 65. It drops after 65, presumably because of retirement.

But general authorities skew old, so it probably doesn’t make a ton of sense to compare their income to median income, because the median income includes a lot of younger workers.

Median Clergy Income

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-12-24-32-pmAccording to the BLS, the median clergy annual salary is $48,150. Of course, that presumably includes everybody from the Jesuit priest who has taken a vow of poverty to the pastor of a small church to Creflo Dollar. So I’m not sure how helpful that is.

Average Nonprofit CEO Income

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-12-32-17-pmThe average pay for the CEO of a nonprofit in 2014 was $118,678.[fn1] While the prophet, apostles, and first couple quorums of the Seventy aren’t technically CEOs, the C-suite strikes me as a decent comparable for at least the First Presidency and probably Quorum of the Twelve.

Also, we can get more granular than just average salary. The CEO of a nonprofit with an operating budget of between $2.5 million and $5 million had an average salary of $125,899, and as the operating budget increased from there, so did the average salaries.

Median CEO Base Salary In For-Profit Firms

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-12-33-10-pmSome individuals like to accuse the church of being essentially a big for-profit company. That makes no sense for a number of reasons I won’t go into here but, for the heck of it, let’s pretend it’s true. Also, let’s pretend the estimate that the church has about $7 billion in annual revenue is accurate.[fn2]

In that case, the median CEO is earning … oh shoot, that data doesn’t tell me that. Okay, let’s pretend it has about $1 billion of revenue: in that case, the median CEO’s base salary (without bonuses or stock options or anything else) looks to be about $1 million.

So Which Is It: Over- or Under- or Just Right?

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-12-34-11-pmWith the comparables I’ve laid out, you could argue any of the above. But any such argument requires assumptions, particularly about what the best comparable for a general authority in the Mormon church is. I think all of the comparables I’ve laid out here are viable, and I’m sure I haven’t exhausted the possible set of comparables.

But they all push in different directions, and even picking one requires a number of assumptions and nuances. And that kind of ambiguity is probably right. At the very least, as we criticize or defend the amount the church pays its leaders, we need to be willing to both lay out and question our assumptions.[fn3]


[fn1] And yes, I know I’m jumping between median and average, but I kind of have to deal with the data I can find easily online.

[fn2] Actually, that estimate was just donations, not returns from various investments. But let’s just go with it.

[fn3] Also, ftr, each of the Google autocompletes is a real screenshot. One of the few professions where everything to come after the “[Profession] are” was positive toward the profession was, of all things, hockey players:

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-11-53-08-pm

Comments

  1. At the very least, as we criticize or defend the amount the church pays its leaders, we need to be willing to both lay out and question our assumptions.

    That would be a good outcome, maybe the best that one could hope for under the circumstances.

  2. How about we compare their salaries to Alma’s:

    And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time. (Alma 30:33)

  3. AM. how about (like I said in the OP) you explain why an ecclesiastical leader in a small group of deeply premodern people with a mostly-agricultural economy is a good comparison for the leader of a multinational church in a post-industrial world.

    If you can do that, I’m happy to listen.

  4. Sam,

    One practice consistently condemned by the Book of Mormon is a paying clergy for their religious work. The Book of Mormon was written for our day, not for a “deeply premodern people with a mostly-agricultural economy.” I conclude that if having a paid clergy did not matter, it would not be mentioned in the Book of Mormon. No comparison of societies is needed.

  5. A Happy Hubby says:

    Thanks Sam for the good framing of this issue. I do think your points are very sound.

    For me the big issue is more on the “be honest about the fact that top leaders are paid and stop implying that they are not”.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I appreciate the useful context. My own perspective is that I view the GAs as, in part, professional managers in what is the functional equivalent of a Fortune 100 company, but also in part ministers of the Gospel. On the former basis they’re underpaid, on the latter they’re possibly overpaid, on a combined basis I’d say their pay is probably about right.

    To me the real issue is not the amount of their pay, but what A Happy Hubby says above.

  7. AM, two things. One is, you’re assuming that everything in the BoM is normative (that is, a statement of how things should be). That may be, but I sincerely doubt it.

    The second is, even if it is normative, and it is written for our day (though is our day today? is it 1830? is it 100 years from now?), the job that Alma did differs substantially from the one modern general authorities do. So if you think the proper comp is a premodern preacher in an ancient society, you need to explain why. Because it is far from obvious that that’s even a relevant comparison.

  8. The Kirtland era may not be quite the right comparative either, but D&C sections 52 and 51 both have provisions for bishops and their counselors to receive a “just remuneration”. And, in fact, over a hundred years ago both local leaders and GAs received church financial support.

  9. I’m with those who believe that the actual compensation isn’t the issue, but how it’s portrayed and managed is. I’m not naive enough to suggest that opening the books will solve the issue, but will certainly sharpen the focus and allow the conversation to dwell on appropriate solutions, instead of the current dialogue being centered on the trustworthiness of the individuals. Systems and institutions of openness and transparency go a long way in getting us to fruitful discussion.

  10. Your post finally helped me see what is mostly bothering me about these. Your comparisons are all to “salaries”, where I have always thought of what the GA’s received as a “living allowance” or “stipend” (those are the kinds of words I am used to hearing when the Church describes this money). I am certainly no professional financial person, so I’m not sure I understand the distinction between these concepts, but I have felt that a living allowance is not the same thing as a salary. All of these comparisons to salary have felt wrong to me, probably because all of the comparisons I want to make are to cost of living kind of markers.

  11. Sam, you are brilliant. I love your google searches!

    Here is my struggle: each of these metrics is trying to get us back to some worldly pay standard. It irks me when the church says it’s different from the world, but then sets metrics by such worldly standards. The law of consecration has to do with needs. Perhaps these leaders should supplement their current income with tithing funds only to the extent they need it. I trust under that metric that most would take much less than six figures a year.

    To wit, my firm still has a pension. So my retirement may look much better than most. Given the fact that most people in their twilight years also own their home outright, I truly believe individualizing what they need changes the paradigm from employee to steward.

    I get this comes with its own unique set of challenges and complications as well, but approve it nonetheless.

  12. Correction: D&C sections 42 and 51

  13. Dave, I don’t know that “salary” is a term of art. But I also don’t know that there’s any cognizable difference between “salary” and “allowance” and “stipend.” To the extent it’s an annualized payment to an employee not based on hours worked, I’m going to call it “salary.” If that’s not comfortable to you, feel free to replace it with “compensation.”

  14. Chadwick, totally fair. The lockstep thing surprised me, too. I can see upsides to your suggestion, though it would frankly be kind of a pain administratively, while lockstep is really easy.

  15. I’m inclined to agree with Dave. Changing the word salary to compensation does not address the issue. Either way, GAs are receiving money for spiritual work performed (even if they are not paid hourly, we are still comparing their stipend to what someone else would receive for work performed). This seems to be a practice that is condemned in the Book of Mormon. I saw a map on facebook that said it costs $48,000 per year to live in Utah. I’m sure a better analysis than that could be done to determine how much is required to maintain the lifestyle we expect of our GAs. That seems like the amount they should be receiving. I would argue this analysis would also be full of nuance and we wouldn’t all agree on the correct amount.

  16. Christopher Jones says:

    Thanks for this, Sam. One useful comparison, I think, is to look at the salaries/stipends of leaders in similar positions at other churches.

    In the United Methodist Church, that is its bishops, each of whom are paid a base salary of $150,000 and are provided an episcopal residence. (Source: http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-council-of-bishops)

    The highest paid pastors in the Presbyterian Church (USA), from which the church’s General Assembly is constituted, can make north of $200,000. (Source: http://www.pensions.org/AvailableResources/BookletsandPublications/Documents/ClergyEffectiveSalaries_2014.pdf)

    In The Episcopalian Church, the numbers look similar, though the most recent figures I could find date to 1995. That year, the Presiding Bishop was paid $160,000, with diocesan bishops that same year receiving anywhere from $50,000 to $110,000. All also received housing, pension/disability, health coverage, car and travel, social security payment and continuing education.

    (Source: http://episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/the_living_church/TLCarticle.pl?volume=213&issue=1&article_id=1)

  17. We’ve overlooked an important comparable group- senior missionaries who go on multiple consecutive missions throughout their retirementhis – paid for on their own dimes.

    What would happen if GAs served as senior missionaries, on their own dimes? At a minimum, they would pay for their room and board, a car, and health insurance (the same requirements for other senior missionaries) and even pay the monthly missionary payments. Like other missionaries, they would dictate how long they serve- (potentially lowering the average GA age). Only after pensions are emptied, would the church step in and pay for their “mission”, just as it does for all other missionaries who need support. since most GAs retired from extremely lucrative jobs (heart surgeons, university presidents, big corporate attorneys, etc.) they can afford to serve multiple consecutive missions for the rest of their lives. Those who were CES men, church employees (like Hinckley, Packer) are a dying breed, but should more be called, they would qualify for help. I would heartily sustain poorer GAs and make payments to the mission fun to support them, as I do for other low-income missionaries from across the world.

    The other scripture we’ve been overlooking and that is meant for us to adopt before the millenium is the United Order – spelled out in the D&C. The principles of the UO are at a rudimentary level in practice in the standardized mission payments and in allocations to wards and stakes.

    It’s far past time to fold in GA stipends into this model.

  18. EBK, where is it condemned in the BoM? And don’t say “priestcraft,” because that’s a term of art.

    As for senior missionaries being comparable: it’s possible, but it strikes me as at least as uncomfortable a fit as CEO of a nonprofit.

  19. CPA here, and I believe we can do a lot better with the numbers. Our data points, from the leaked pay stubs and memo, are that the living allowance amounts were $57k in 2000, $116.4k in 2013, and $120K in 2014. In addition, a (taxfree) parsonage amount of $21.5K and a taxable child allowance of $2K were received. By 2013, the living allowance portion of compensation had increased to $116.4K and in 2014 was increased to $120K. Assuming the parsonage and child allowance amounts increased by the same percentages, then 2014 total compensation was $169.5K and 2017 (current) compensation would be approximately $185K.

    It should also be strongly noted that the parsonage (living allowance) portion of compensation is not subject to federal tax, so that must be taken into account when comparing to other people’s compensation. Using the above numbers, the parsonage amount for 2017 is approx. $50K, and the “normalized” total compensation (adjusted for the tax benefit of the parsonage income) is approx. $200K.

  20. If “Apostle for the LDS church” is a job, then the salary is not outrageous. If “Apostle” is a calling from God, then the standard, as outlined in the scriptures, is no monetary compensation. This is a divisive issue not because of the amount of money. It is divisive because for many, it confirms that these men are doing a job in governing a church not serving as those “sent forth” asspecial witnesses of the resurrected Savior with a message from him. You can’t serve God and mammon. These men can’ t do a paid job as an apostle and be called from god to be an apostle.

  21. A good leader has no right to ask their followers to do something they themselves would never do. So, if the apostles ask senior missionaries to go on their own dime, then why can’t they serve on their own dime? If they expect bishops to fill what amounts to a part to full time job and still work to support themselves, why are the GAs so above living off of their own retirement pay. They expect the auxillery presidents to do a full time job with no pay and give themselves what amounts to the salary of CEOs of top companies, and then set it up so much of it is tax free and then throw on top of that benefits like free education at church colleges for children and grandchildren. They expect the parents of full time missionaries to support those missionaries and still pay a full tithing to the church. They tell us peons to pay our tithing before we pay rent or buy food, without comprehending that no matter how carefully some people budget, they simply cannot give 10% of their income to the church and still feed and clothe and shelter their families. They ask us to sacrifice so very very much and yet they hold themselves above any sacrifice. And don’t kid me that 120k+ plus bennies that are not taxable is a sacrifice at retirement age even for a famous heart surgeon. He would not still be practicing, but retired and he is collecting retirement and being paired by the church and I see zero financial sacrifice in that. Sorry, but I just keep coming back to the comparison to senior missionaries is the best one.

  22. Ok, I’ve been very good at not calling anything stupid yet, but I’m getting bored. The assertion that somehow paying apostles is unscriptural or wrong is stupid. It misreads the BoM, ignores the D&C and the Hebrew Bible, and ignores the first half of LDS history. Also, and perhaps most damning, I assume it derives from anti-Catholic or other anti-clerical sentiment.

    Which is to say, if you want to argue against their being paid, you’re more than welcome to, but not on this thread.

  23. Anna, that was a powerful comment. I think you’re right.

  24. What I love about this discussion is that it provesting we can have a thoughtful discussion about what us appropriate. It requires answering some hard questions and deep soul searching about some of the hardest moral questions of the day – inequality in a goal al world. This is the discussion we as a community should be having openly and ideally without a hint of “scandal” or secrecy. That is why transparency is by far the best route morally and spiritually for our community instead of opacity and secrecy. Like most other churches in the world and like we had for decayed in our church.

    That said, I do think there is an different between living allowance and salary. The difference in this case if I understand it is that the living allowances is only part of the renumeration received by the GAs. On top of that they also get housing stipends, car allowances and other important fungible payments. So comparing what a GA “makes” to average “salary” which for most of does not include these things. To make a meaningful comparison we transparency is needed so we can understand the full package. Until then there will remain the unnecessary but understandable hints of secrecy and scandal.

    What if it turns out that on top of the lIvins alowance they receive $3k/month in housing, tuition and room and board for kids at church schools, and full car leasing, insurance, maintenance and gas and gold plated health insurance. That isn’t like a person making 120k in Utah. Now to the OP’s point maybe whatever they get is defensible but how can we have a productive discussion as a community and how can the organization be held accoin table tone mbers that fund it without a full accounting.

    Finally, something NOT to be lost here and a clearly indefensible, unmoral practice is that the women general auxilary’s the best of our knowledge get no living stipend at all. It is exactly things like this the church can protect itself from with transparency. Only in opacity could such a policy have survived into well heck the 1980s much less now. Pay the women who sacrifice just as much! Pay the women so it is not only women with rich husbands or that don’t have to work can be called to the work. That this isn’t reality is deeply immoral by the churxh’s own justification for renumerating it’s general officers.

  25. rah, I agree that, if the women who head auxiliaries aren’t paid (and I don’t know whether or not they are), that’s deeply troubling.

  26. As for other stipends and allowances: I don’t see where it really affects the analysis. Before we can deal with amount, we have to answer the question “As compared to what?” To the extent they receive additional non-cash compensation, that raises the number, but doesn’t do anything to clarify the proper comparable salary.

  27. Sam, I wasn’t going to say anything, because I generally don’t like to make things personal, but I feel I must say this. It is one thing to moderate comments that are truly distasteful and potentially triggering (as when one argues that racism does not exist in the US, or that most women lie about their rapes), but it is another thing entirely to threaten to ban people from the thread just because they have a different scriptural interpretation of what is required of servants of the Lord than you do. As a former philosophy professor, I can tell you that I found disagreement to be a sign of success in teaching; it disturbs me that you seem to be so threatened by it.

  28. I believe we have both opacity AND misdirection at play here. Obviously they are paid and are not disclosing how much. But some of the past quotes, like “the living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions” seem suspect to me. The “very modest” qualifier implies that they are less. Singling out just the “living allowances” (is he trying to classify all the compensation as “living allowance” or carving it out of the total compensation?) also seems misleading.

  29. Rachel, like I said, I’m not interested in the thread being swamped by discussion that is unconnected to the post. There are plenty of places on the internet to argue that general authorities shouldn’t be paid, but the question here isn’t should they be paid, it’s how do we figure out what the appropriate level of pay is.

    As a former philosophy professor, I’m sure you understand the benefits to the production of knowledge of focusing the topic of discussion, and excluding certain tangents—tangents that may have some relevance in other contexts—to really address the topic at hand.

  30. Well, presumably, the question of what GAs should be paid allows for the potential answer of $0, right? Then, one way we should determine whether $0 would be appropriate is to consider the arguments for $0. Or should we just consider arguments for why a GA should be paid between $1 and $1,000,000? I agree that a good professor avoids tangents, but maybe we can allow a tangent from $1 down to $0.

  31. Dear Sam,
    I’m sure that calling us “stupid” must be a fancy legal maneuver that is as Mr. Miyagi says of the crane move he teaches Danielson, “if done right, no can defend”.

    Seriously though, scriptural arguments aside, it’s one thing to justify or provide comparable salaries for GAs and legal purposes, and another to answer the following:

    1. What is scripturally right
    2. What us historically precidented
    3. What is politically expedient at this time
    4. What is idealistic and aspirational
    5. What is culturally normative (e.g. What are Sr. Missionaries doing)
    6. What avoids the appearance of wrongdoing
    7. What is the best example (leadership)

  32. Rachel, if you can find a decent comparable at $0, go for it. I think you’ll have a tough time finding someone who engages in a similar job who goes unpaid, though.

    The question of compensation is far more complicated than over- or underpaid, though, since there’s no objective “right” amount of compensation.

  33. Thank you for your comments Rachael. I saw them as I was typing this.

    Sam I believe that ALL messengers of the Lord in the scriptures followed the pattern sacrificing something – time, will, money, reputation, family, etc.- to deliver or do God’s will. Their will (what they would have preferred to do) was swallowed up in being more willing to trust God and his word and will to them personally. You may go ahead and argue that leaders such as OT priests or Joseph Smith, etc. were given some compensation for their callings but you can see that anytime OT priests abused or took more than the prescribed amount, they were condemned. (Joseph Smith not his family were not monetarily rich.) And certainly there ARE examples such as Alma AND all the teachers in his time, King Benjamin, Mormon, Moroni, etc in the Book of Mormon, which we believe is the KEYSTONE of our faith, who were not compensated by others for doing their calling from GOD.
    When we worry about making the JOB of the current apostles “pain free”, meaning they don’t have to worry about any of their physical needs (housing, clothing, food, travel) or the needs of their immediate family, we are not really allowing them to make the choice to sacrifice. They don’t sacrifice a reputation, their family, their homes. The Church has allowed members for many years to believe that they do make such sacrifices when accepting a call but this new information brings to light the fact that they are well-compensated and cared for (and may in some cases be BETTER OFF as far as financial security) than was previously believed. When I argue that they can be either a true apostle called by God or a paid employee of a church but not both, I believe that you can see that pattern quite clearly in the scriptures. You are free to have a different opinion. I think part of deciding if they are overpaid has to include the fact that there are no scriptural precidents for making sure those that accept a call to serve God are made totally secure by the people they are called to serve.

  34. Jennifer, but how is it your (or my) place to lay out the sacrifices that we expect church leaders to make? Certainly there are examples of BoM individuals who (claim) to not have been compensated. But there are plenty of other examples of individuals who were compensated, throughout scripture.

    If you think that the BoM provides a normative pattern for our day, we need to back away from our technology, we need to shift to either a monarchy or a set of loosely-connected tribal governments, and we need to functionally eliminate our freedom of religion.

  35. So I guess a better question for you Sam is ,do you want any part of the scriptures to be used in this discussion or are you just trying to debate a pay scale for church executives? My contention is that for many Mormons, it is hard to answer your question when totally removed from the scriptures because the scriptures are the foundation of our beliefs. It is the word of God to us. You seem to be asking for a discussion about religious leaders without looking at the word of God that we have. I hope this makes sense. I appreciate your question but not sure I would like to answer it at all if you want to reject scripture because it is “too outdated” for our day

  36. Others have suggested that a GA’s salary should be comparable to that of a Senior Missionary, Stake President, or Bishop (many of whom have comparably demanding jobs). You may stipulate that a job, by definition, gets paid. But why beg the question definitionally when there are several ethically compelling reasons to question whether a GA should be more like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company or more like those, throughout history, who have labored for the kingdom without pay?

    Setting aside the relativistic argument of who’s to tell another what should be sacrificed, we can still wonder, when people are sacrificing food and medicine for their kids in order to pay tithing, whether it is ethical for those sorts of sacrifices to be demanded of them by people who, so far from sacrificing, are actually monetarily benefiting from their church ‘service.’

  37. Lee Smith says:

    “The Liahona Children’s foundation estimated that as of 2014 over 120,000 Mormon children are malnourished. The Church does have a well-functioning program that addresses members in need, but given the high salary of General authorities one must ask whether the LDS Church could do more to help the poor. Cutting down the salary of general authorities to $60,000—slightly more than the US household median—would free up over $5 million, which happens to be almost the amount needed to feed the 120,000 malnourished Mormon children.”
    http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2017/01/14/lds_leak_the_morality_of_mormon_money_110098.html
    I’m curious, do GA’s deserve such pay (around $200K according to the above CPA) in light of the news that there are members in the church starving to death. This “news” isn’t new, and has been documented in LDS journals for over 10+ years. I’m sure some of you whom are more fluent in the scriptures than I can give us plenty of examples were we are to ignore the poor, and leave them to die all while building multi-billion dollar malls. As a brother in my ward told me when bringing this up, “there are much worse and painful ways to die besides starvation, we can’t feed all of them”.
    If we are to accept that being paid is part of their job, then one must ask, can they be reprimanded or even fired for bad performance?

  38. Kirby’s article in the Trib today was right on: for the job these guys have to endure, this pay is a pittance!

    But seriously, “serving mammon” is a lot more than just receiving compensation. Even a missionary living without purse or scrip would be receiving free meals, clothing, etc, which are things you normally have to use money to get. Goods and services and money are all perfectly interchangeable. In order to serve mammon, you have to be able to influence how much mammon you’re receiving. With a fixed compensation model that pays everyone the same amount to do something that has nothing to do with how much they’re paid, I have a hard time seeing how the mammon is going to be influencing anyone’s behavior in a corrupting way. I can assure you that I as an employed person who volunteers in the church spend much more time thinking about mammon and how to get it than the GAs do, and I frequently shirk my church responsibilities in order to pursue mammon.

    On that topic, I wonder who makes the decisions about increases to the stipends.

    And do you really want to have the ranks of the GA’s multiplied three or four times to allow the ones who aren’t independently wealthy the time they would need to go back to work? Or to have their terms limited like those of senior missionaries? How much time does it take to get good at what they do? Can we afford to have the central church leadership stumble along the way missionaries tend to?

  39. Jennifer, I think you’re going to have a hard time bringing scripture to bear on the question of the appropriate compensation, because at best, the scriptures are vague, both on the role that various religious leaders play religiously and what their pay is. You seem to contend that Alma is the One True Example of what compensation for religious leaders should be. But you’re going to have to do more than merely assert that: was Alma making a normative assertion that religious leaders should never be compensated? And if so, how do you square that with the D&C (or, for that matter, the Hebrew Bible) which provides for the compensation of religious leaders? Either they’re inconsistent—which is totally fine, btw; contradiction within scripture is valuable imho—or we have to choose one or the other.

    And Rachel, you can certainly assert that their salary should be equivalent to senior missionaries, stake presidents, or bishops. But you have to explain why, and that why is presumably related to the things they do. And, it turns out, none is a good match, for a number of reasons, including the volunteer nature of missionary work, the full-time, sole role of being a GA contrasted with the part-time, keep-your-job, temporally finite role of being a bishop or stake president.

    Frankly, as best I can tell, those comparables are far worse matches than what I proposed, and what I proposed are generally poor matches.

  40. Sam, you said above, “As for other stipends and allowances: I don’t see where it really affects the analysis.”
    In determining whether someone is overpaid relative to somebody else, once you determine the tested parties you need to know how much both are paid. Unfortunately we do not know how much GA’s are paid, but we know they are at least paid a living allowance, and other amounts, including parsonage and child allowance (and we know that the amount of the parsonage payment is material). All of the items of compensation are relevant and should to totaled (just as my salary, bonus, and car allowance all constitute part of my compensation and should be included in any comparison). Any analysis that ignores the total compensation of either tested party is flawed.

  41. Lee Smith says:

    Expanding on my above question, “If we are to accept that being paid is part of their job, then one must ask, can they be reprimanded or even fired for bad performance?” it is obvious we would need to determine by which metrics they are being paid. Is their role to make as big as a profit as possible? Or would the metrics be different? What would those metrics be?

  42. Lee, that’s not relevant to the OP, but honestly, the they-could-use-money-in-other-ways argument isn’t terribly relevant or valuable.

    I mean, of course the church could use an additional $5 million if it freed it up to feed starving children. That’s the great thing about money: it’s fungible. It’s also true that if the church did $5 million less in maintenance it could feed starving children. If it invested more aggressively and improved its return by $5 million, it could feed starving children. But the fact of starving children does nothing to tell us what level of pay general authorities should receive, any more than it dictates the level of maintenance we should do for our building or how we should do our investing.

  43. Lee Smith says:

    “What would those metrics be?”
    Knowing such metrics would allow us to calculate and answer to the OP’s question: “Are mormon general authorities overpaid?”

  44. Fred, that’s the thing: I’m not worried about any step of the analysis beyond the first.

    And frankly, people don’t worry about all of those steps when they argue that individuals are overpaid. Take a look at all the Google autocompletes: a lot of people believe a lot of professions are overpaid without having any knowledge about the level of compensation, other than a broad feeling of being overpaid.

    I’m indulging in this discussion for fun, above all else, but I’m not entirely sure why anybody thinks they have any say in the morality of how much general authorities (or law professors or nurses or teachers or football players) are paid (or, for that matter, how hot hockey players are).

    And Lee, they actually wouldn’t let us know whether general authorities are overpaid, at least not without engaging with the proper comparable to figure out how much they should be paid. Which I really hope you’ve gathered is a complicated question.

  45. Regarding whom the tested parties should be, President Hinckley said in 1985, “the living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions…”. If somebody wants to argue for a different marker than the one suggested by a prophet (executive compensation in industry and the professions) I’d like to hear their reasoning.

  46. Sam, it was not my main point to argue that a GA is more comparable to those who fulfill callings in the name of church service, rather than to those who have jobs as CEOs of businesses. Others have made that argument, and, I think, compellingly. I was only concerned with arguing that they had the right to make that argument without being banned, since, as I argued, such questions are relevant to the thread and should not be dismissed as tangential, or worse, ‘stupid’ and ‘boring.’

    I have had my fill of contention, so I will bow out from here.

  47. Sam,
    I think there is an important difference between a salary and a living allowance. The church wants us to believe that the GAs are paid a living allowance and you want to discuss what the proper amount of that living allowance is by comparing it to salaries. I don’t think this is an apt comparison. In fact, I think it is a far worse comparison than those who are also paid an allowance by the church (missionaries).

  48. Regarding the first step of the analysis, part of my professional responsibility is to determine the correct transfer price for international transactions between related parties. This exercise, determining whether GA’s are overpaid is very similar, but not nearly as complicated.

    The first step is to conduct a functional analysis of exactly what GA’s do every day. Then we would look in the world for people that do the same things. If you can’t find the exact same thing, you can always find something similar and adjust for the difference. It’s not hard to do. I could give examples, but in the interest of brevity, I won’t.

    I believe we would conclude from our functional analysis that GA’s duties vary so much that although they earn the same compensation, they probably shouldn’t. So the result may be that the First Presidency’s compensation should be compared to CEO compensation while other GA’s would be compared to line managers, others to business administrators, etc.

  49. The fundamental issue is the continued representation of GAs being unpaid. Even this last week the missionaries on lds.org were saying they received zero, after the story broke. Today in church people were claiming the docs were fake, because everyone knows GAs just donate their time.

  50. Fred, I think you’re probably right that what the First Presidency does differs substantially and fundamentally from what the Second Quorum of the Seventy does, and an analysis of compensation would, theoretically, differ.

    At the same time, there are reasons to pay lockstep. (Full disclosure: back when I was in legal practice, associate pay at my firm—including bonuses—was lockstep, irrespective of how many or few hours a particular attorney billed.) If the church is going to pay lockstep, it’s probably not worth the time to argue that the First Presidency should be paid $150,000, but the Second Quorum of the Seventy should be paid $75,000, especially since (a) our analysis is based on assumptions and speculation anyway, and (b) we’re not finding an appropriate comparable anyway, and finding several different comparables is, if not an order of magnitude harder, at least harder.

    And don’t sell yourself short: transfer pricing analysis are hard, not least because many of them involve finding comparables for sui generis transactions, or for transactions that are always done in-house. Identifying the transaction is tough enough, but then you have to be able to defend it against IRS challenge.

  51. And Steve, certainly YMMV. In my ward, nobody (that I spoke with, anyway) batted an eye at the idea that general authorities are compensated. Again, that’s not the topic of this post—it may be relevant on Kevin’s post, though I don’t think it is there, either.

  52. Until 1996 it was common for GAs to sit on various corporate boards. The First Presidency then decided that GAs should focus all their attention on Church needs and asked them to resign their positions. Personally, I would rather have GAs receiving a decent salary/stipend/allowance/whatever than being part-time for-profit businessmen.

    I believe the lay clergy concept still retains its force. The front-line ecclesiastical work is done by unpaid bishops, stake presidents, and Area Seventies, who are our fathers, brothers, and friends. Very few of them will ever be called to become full-time general authorities, for which they are given some money to live on and condemned to years of endless stake conferences. Anybody who attempts to pursue a church career (inherently an oxymoron) with the hope of making big money is insane.

  53. (Reposting without typos. My phone sucks for commenting). What I love about this discussion is that it proving we can have a thoughtful discussion about what is appropriate. It requires answering some hard questions and deep soul searching about some of the hardest moral questions of the day – inequality in a global world. This is the discussion we, as a community, should be having openly and ideally without a hint of “scandal” or secrecy. That is why transparency is by far the best route l, morally and spiritually, for our community instead of opacity and secrecy, like most other churches in the world and like we had for decades in our church.

    That said, I do think there is a difference between living allowance and salary. The difference in this case, as I understand it, is that the living allowances is only part of the renumeration received by the GAs. On top of that they also get housing stipends, car allowances and other important fungible payments. So in comparing what a GA “makes” to average “salary” which for most of does not include these things, the distinction becomes useful. To make a meaningful comparison transparency is needed so we can understand the full package. Until then there will remain the unnecessary but understandable hints of secrecy and scandal.

    What if it turns out that on top of the livinf allowance they receive $3k/month in housing, tuition and room and board for kids at church schools, and full car leasing, insurance, maintenance and gas and gold plated health insurance. We know they receive many of these things though amounts are not available. Regardless, That isn’t like a person making 120k in Utah. Now to the OP’s point maybe whatever they get is defensible but how can we have a productive discussion as a community and how can the organization be held accountable to the members that fund it without a full accounting.

    Finally, something NOT to be lost here and a clearly indefensible, immoral practice is that the women general auxilary’s, to the best of our knowledge, get no living stipend at all. It is exactly things like this the church can protect itself from with transparency. Only in opacity could such a policy have survived into, well heck, the 1980s much less now. Pay the women who sacrifice just as much! Pay the women so it is not only women with rich husbands or that don’t have to work can be called to the work. That this isn’t reality is deeply immoral by the church’s own justification for renumerating it’s general officers.

  54. Sam,

    The insider evidence I have heard from multiple sources is auxilaries as a general rule don’t get paid except reimbursement for travel, gas money essentially. Theirs, of course, is not a calling for life so there might be reasons for different policies but I think most can agree 0 is wrong in comparison 120k for men. A few single women have been in auxilaries. I wonder if they had some sort of compensation. The bigger point of course is we can’t know how are women leaders are being treated except through leaks and background whispers. That seems deeply, deeply wrong especially if it is masking stark inequality. You have decent back channels. Ask around. I hope it isnt true.

  55. It sort of irks me that people keep using the $120K number, which is clearly wrong (on the low side). Look at the pay slips people. The base living allowance is only a portion of their compensation.

  56. Kevin Barney says:

    Fred, I started to write a comment saying I read it differently than you do. On the Eyring pay stubs parsonage (i.e., housing) is an internal component to gross pay, which in that year was a tad under $90,000. So my working assumption was that housing is an internal element to the $120k number. But when I looked at the pay stub again, I noticed that the taxable income number (i.e., gross pay less childcare allowance and parsonage) at the top of the pay stub is characterized as “living allowance.” So if that is meant to be a consistent technical term in the GA allowance system, I suspect you’re right that the childcare and housing allowances are on top of the living allowance. (It’s hard to know for sure how technically consistent the term “living allowance” should be taken, and whether all GAs get a “parsonage” allowance.)

  57. Sam, you have dismissed several arguments as irrelevant, not what you want to discuss or stupid. Perhaps it would have been more fair to commenters to ask your question, “Which CEOs should the apostles be paid compared to?” Because you obviously only want to discuss that question.

    So, if executives of Fortune 500 companies earn 100 times what their low level employees earn, then our apostles should earn 100 times what a bishop earns.

  58. Anna, did you read the OP? If so, point me to where I said CEO pay was a good comparable. (In fact, if you read the OP, you’ll see I said a CEO comparison makes no sense.) So I’d prefer that you engage with what I said rather than what you assume I might have said.

    In the meantime, you’re right: I’m dismissing out of hand people who assert a comparable without explaining why that’s an appropriate comparable. It’s not self-evident what the appropriate pay should be. And (snark aside) the relevance of bishops to the appropriate pay of general authorities is entirely unclear. You want to argue for it? Then argue for it. But you want to flatly assert it? I’m not impressed.

  59. Thank you Sam and commenters. I’ve enjoyed the discussion. To the degree it hasn’t been said already, I would only add this: if we’re going to speak of comparables, we can’t just compare the salaries of general authorities to other similarly-placed leaders of other faiths. We have to also compare the lack of payment to our local clergy (bishops, RS presidents, etc) to those of other faiths. Personally, im not bothered by payments to general authorities. I’m bothered that general auxiliary leaders and local leaders go uncompensated.

  60. Thanks David. Like I said earlier, if female auxiliary leaders go uncompensated, that’s deeply troubling (maybe less so if, e.g., YM and Sunday School leaders are also uncompensated, but that wouldn’t entirely eliminate the problem). I’m less concerned about the local leader side of things. In many ways, I’d love to have a more professionalized local clergy (with training in theology, scripture, and pastoral care), but there are also benefits to a rotating lay clergy. Frankly, I love my job, and would be completely disinclined to accept a paid church position. YMMV, of course.

    Anna, one other thing: let’s go with you, and say we should go with the difference between the average salary of a worker and CEO pay. (And your multiple of 100 doesn’t appear reflective of the current state of affairs: there’s a broad range, but Bloomberg estimates that for a series of 11 companies, the ratio of average employee pay to CEO pay ranges from a multiple of 198 to a multiple of 644.)

    But let’s stick with 100: you suggest that it would be 100 times what a bishop makes. But again, that’s an inapposite comparable. In the for-profit business world, it’s CEO pay to employee pay. And, it turns out, the church has plenty of employees. I have no idea what they earn, but even if they earn half of the median income of Utah households (so about $30,000), your multiple would put the appropriate salary for general authorities at $3 million annually.

    You’re not arguing that they should make $3 million a year, and neither am I. But that’s where we have to be careful with our comparables, and that’s why the exercise I propose is both so valuable and so infuriating. Because there are significant problems with any comparable I can think of.

  61. DeepThink says:

    So does anyone know if there is a consecration required of the top tier general authorities? If they are asked to consecrate all or part of their network worth when they are called, would it change this discussion at all?

  62. DeepThink says:

    *net worth

  63. Re: Alma and zero compensation

    When Alma needed food and lodging, God directed him to Amulek, a man of considerable wealth, who provided support in kind. So, no, Alma in the Book of Mormon is not a case of a blanket condemnation of Church leaders receiving their maintenance from others.

    Paul appears self-reliant at times and at other times is supported by the Church in Philippi. See 2 Cor. 11:9 and Phil. 4:15; see also 1 Cor. 9.

    The modern Church could set things up so that a few wealthy members sponsored or adopted General Authorities and their families to enable their work. I think the current system is better and imposes no significant burden on the Church as a whole on or any individual. But if the Church adopted the system where individuals would supply the needs of individual apostles, I would be more than happy to make a major contribution, as would many.

    Re: a standard of comparison

    The Church has a number paid full-time, long-term employees. One standard could be compensation comparable to senior Church employees with large supervisory responsibilities and demanding jobs. I don’t have access to what all those pay scales are (which is fine with me), but the salaries of full professors at BYU are available for those interested. I suspect the Church has IT professionals and financial professionals who are paid competitive salaries for those specialties. I don’t propose this as a perfect standard or the only possible standard, but it does seem to me to be a reasonable one.

    Re: senior missionaries

    Senior missions are typically 6, 12, 18, or 23 months. Twelve- and eighteen-month missions are common. Some are in lower cost areas, some in higher cost areas. Most senior missionaries serve one mission and stay in one area on their mission. Many never served a mission in their youth, and this is a special opportunity for them to serve the mission they never had. I don’t know any senior missionaries who have served multiple missions without a break, and I would strongly discourage that. Senior missions are wonderful, but a senior mission is not comparable to being a General Authority in either length or work demands and responsibilities. While the poor are always with us (one to three billion people currently by various estimates), there is no organization better organized to fight poverty at its roots than the Church. If you want to fight poverty, I invite you to consider a one-year Humanitarian, Bishops’ Storehouses, Ranches, LDS Family Services, Education Support Services senior mission or a Self-Reliance Services/Perpetual Education Fund senior mission. You can also make a generous contribution to fast offerings or the Church’s humanitarian fund as your circumstances allow.

  64. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I know two things:
    1) I could live comfortably in Utah on $80,000/year;
    2) You couldn’t pay me enough to be a GA.

  65. Kristine N says:

    Interesting that the majority, if not all of the women commenting on this post think the GA’s shouldn’t make anything, or at least shouldn’t make any more than the auxiliary leaders make. I’m sure that has nothing to do with women being told over and over again that they should happily take on a long, difficult job with no compensation attached to it.

    More seriously, the level of compensation is unsurprising to me. I grew up among enough grandchildren of general authorities to see that they’re all from the upper socioeconomic echelons. I personally would have been more pleased to hear GA’s receive more modest compensation (like median or average Utah income kind of salary) but I think I would have been more surprised by low compensation than I am by their relatively high compensation. The comparison to compensation for non-profits seems, perhaps, the most appropriate, though to be honest the compensation there seems pretty outrageous as well. My little “How I wish money were spent” meter leans toward putting every penny toward helping people rather than toward executive compensation.

    I wish the church did more for starving children. I wish that our welfare program was still run by the Relief Society, and actually had the mission of relieving poverty and the other temporal ills that still plague our world. For those reasons I wish our GA’s lived lives where they had to struggle a little bit more, so that they might have a little more empathy for the people they keep preaching self-sufficiency to.

    But then maybe that’s all why I donate generously to non-LDS organizations that do all of those things. I’m not going to spoil that by looking up the compensation amounts for any of those organizations any time soon.

  66. @Leo, the salaries of BYU professors are available? I thought you could only find this at public schools.

  67. Well frankly Sam, I am not impressed with the way you run your discussion. You dismiss and insult anyone with a different opinion than you have and I really don’t like discussions with people who cannot take what they dish out.

    You ask if we thought apostles were overpaid. But you really wanted to discuss how your analysis is fascinating, but really there is no one on earth who is comparable, bah. They ARE comparable to CEO, because they direct the church’s vast financial holdings. They ARE CEOs of a huge corporation. But some of us feel there is a conflict of interest when the church claims to be a church and yet acts like a Fortune 500 company. They ARE CEOs, But supposedly they are also servants of God who should not be seeking after worldly riches.

    But since you only want to discuss your own opinion, have at it. But you are driving away people who might make it a more than one sided discussion.

  68. P.s. I have decided you are an obnoxious jerk who likes to insult people and won’t be back to this or any other discussion you lead.

  69. it's a series of tubes says:

    That’ll show him, Anna!

  70. I noticed the same pattern as Kristine – the women are mostly in agreement that GAs should not be paid with church funds. I agree with them. Her explanation about the expectation of uncompensated service by women rings really true to me. The practice of paying “God’s servants” to preach is clearly written against in the Book of Mormon. However, as Sam points out. There is no indication that they were asked to give up other means to provide for themselves to do so.

    Maybe the conflict comes from not clearly defining which part of the job is related to the calling, and which part of the job is actually running a huge corporation. No one is arguing that CEOs should be uncompensated. When a person accepts a job either as mission president, general authority, or apostle because of a particular skill set that is needed for running the “corporation” effectively, by all means compensate them for that. It would be helpful then, if we as members understood when the policies enacted are the result of careful deliberation between corporation leaders and when they are inspired revelation given through servants of God in their other calling of bringing souls unto Christ and proclaiming his name throughout the world. I was under the impression that the jurisdiction of the original 12 latter-day apostles was to work outside the organized stakes. Hence, they could teach, baptize, ordain, organize in England or other mission field areas, but they were just regular members when they were home between assignments. The majority of what I see apostles doing now involves coordinating the affairs of organized stakes, training leaders, and speaking to members, Maybe they are kept so busy with running the “corporation of the church” that compensates them, that they really don’t have time to take a leave of absence to go where the spirit directs them and do the type of missionary work described in the Book of Mormon that was uncompensated (and often led to being thrown in jail or threatened with death).

    Another way to frame it more closely to the Book of Mormon model might be to think of the stakes as independent churches (yet they are one church), led by men who are called by God to act under inspiration in their callings (stake presidents). The apostles would then have a need to spend time in certain areas if they found the local areas were straying in doctrine or practices, not from the correlated system (because there wouldn’t be one when leaders are acting under inspiration and revelation), but from the gospel as taught in the scriptures. Leadership training would not involve emphasizing the Handbook instructions, but assisting leaders in their callings to better recognize and seek the spiritual answers and guidance the Lord has for them in regard to their callings. In the Book of Mormon, I find most correction led to the local people turning to their scriptures when they were properly corrected from falsehood, and that was sufficient for them to continue without direct supervision. Under this model, the apostles could retain their jobs unless they felt called to go to certain areas that would require more time than could be expected with a leave of absence (such as when Alma gave up the position of Chief Judge to devote himself to full-time ministry).

  71. One note on the parsonage issue:

    Obviously take this for what it is worth, but a GA told me that in the early 2000s you had to live outside your home country to be eligible for parsonage. I’m speaking in informal terms. He did not specify how this was technically accomplished. Assuming you were an American GA living in Utah, perhaps that meant that there was still a parsonage allowance on your pay stub, for tax reasons, but that the church reduced your living allowance by the same amount. If you were living abroad, it would have been above and beyond the normal living allowance.

    This changed sometime in the first decade after 2000 because it meant that, for example, in developing countries you had American GAs living in comparative luxury to the native GAs who wouldn’t have been receiving the extra parsonage amount. This kind of thing didn’t look good and bred resentment, so it was changed so that all GAs were eligible for parsonage above the living allowance.

    Now, I haven’t scrutinized the pay stubs to see if they bear this out, and, I am in no way an expert on this stuff and, as I said, I don’t know the technical points of how not giving GAs living in their home countries a parsonage allowance were implemented. (My supposition that it was always technically included but that the living allowance went up or down depending on where one was living is based solely on the fact that Eyring would have been living in Utah in the year 2000, and he apparently still had a parsonage allowance amount.)

    So, I know this is just hearsay on the internet, but I know this GA personally and it was what I was told. If there are discrepancies between how parsonage is handled or total amounts in the earlier pay stub vs. the later ones, this might account for it. I haven’t bothered to look. But then again maybe he was glossing over stuff and I’m remembering it all wrong. I’m just putting this out there in case someone else knows better what to do with it.

  72. Kristine N noted that perhaps the best comparison is to CEO’s of non-profits. Much of the justification I see given by non-profits for how much they offer CEO (and other high ranking officers) is that they need to offer a large enough compensation package in order to attract the talent they need. The argument is that in their recruiting, if they do not offer sufficient compensation, the best candidates will turn them down, or will leave as soon as a better offer is made by a competitor.
    The argument makes sense, but it seems to me that the Church’s “recruiting” process is fundamentally different. These are extended as “callings”, where the salary or compensation package or whatever we are calling it, is to allow the person to accept the calling without worrying about housing or food or other financial concerns. It isn’t about competition for talent or fear of losing a GA to a competing organization. It could be interesting to know how many have turned down or do turn down the calling because the compensation package is not large enough, but I suspect it is very few, especially since the amounts we are talking about are quite livable, IMO.

  73. Re: Orwell’s pay stub question:

    I am a CPA who has looked at thousands of pay stubs over the years. There is absolutely no doubt that President Eyring received tax free “parsonage” payments in addition to the living allowance. He also received a (taxable) child allowance in addition to the living allowance. The pay stubs clearly show the gross amounts, the amounts withheld, and the amounts paid to him.

    Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code excludes from a minister of the gospel’s taxable gross income the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation to the extent that such allowance does not exceed the fair rental value of the home including furnishings and the cost of utilities.

    Section 107 has a fascinating legislative and judicial history (if you are a tax geek).

  74. Aussie Mormon says:

    fred: what is the “checking” deduction on the stubs? Most of the others I can work out but not that one. Unfortunately any variation of “tax deduction checking” returns nothing useful.

  75. Aussie Mormon says:

    in google that is.

  76. Fred, if what you said is true, and there is a line item for “Child Allowance” listed on the stub, that would/is really bother me. I feel we can all have a mature discussion about stipends, amounts, sacrifice, and expectations (here or elsewhere). We can reason together the signals it sends when the auxiliary leaders are not equally compensated. That line item though, for myself, moves the question from being a moral or ethical puzzle, into a matter of solid honesty or dishonesty to our fellow man. As far as I understand there isn’t a dependent minor to allow for a claim against child allowance. That bothers me.

    I am willing to be further educated as to other conditions that would allow for such an allowance. I am not versed enough myself. Sam, would you be willing to explain where this line might come from, and how it would relate to similar compensation given to CEOs or clergy? Is this for legal dependents/ minor children? If it is outside of the scope of your discussion, please forgive the inquiry.

  77. Isaac H,
    The paystub for President Eyring is from 2000. His youngest daughter graduated high school in 2002 so he definitely had at least one minor child in 2000.

  78. Fred, the history of 107 (and especially 107(b)) is fascinating, as is the current FFRF challenge to it. I’ve blogged it a little here, as has Peter Reilly at Forbes.

  79. And Isaac, what EBK said. It’s not relevant for tax purposes, and I don’t deal with compensation professionally, but the leaked pay stubs were like 17 and 18 years old.

  80. Aussie Mormon: long ago, everybody received their total pay by check. Then direct deposit (to one or more bank accounts) became available, Now my employer (and I believe most employers) require me to have all of my net pay deposited to one or more bank accounts.The “checking” designation on President Eyring’s pay stub indicates that part of his net pay was being deposited to a checking account and the rest was being received by check.
    Sam, yes the FFRF challenge is interesting. Didn’t the Obama Justice department defend the constitutionality of Sec 107 against the FFRF in the last round?

  81. Unpaid Mike says:

    Brother Sam Brunson:

    I am sympathetic to your critics and like a good strong discussion. But frankly pox on both sides. I think this entire discussion of paying the Q15 is irrelevant and tangential. They only make up 1 out of each million members and their salaries 120K x 15 = 1.8M is only a miniscule fraction of the 7B you mentioned. Treating our GA’s like celebrities is boring and not healthy.

    What would be less tangential to all of us is what salary should a bishop be paid? If we paid our bishops how would that improve the ward and how would it not? I did an experiment once in a military ward as a frustrated EQP where I figured out a way to indirectly pay home teachers $5 to make a visit and it worked. I could get 100% home teaching done for a mere $6k/yr and I could raise that much money in less time than I was spending herding cats in the name of this program. What if we moved away from the financial mindset at the ward house of Pioneer Utah with cheap, abundant, unskilled labor and little to no capital?

    But Sam, it is your rodeo and your livestock. If you want to rope giraffes and ride hippos and okapis instead of calves and horses and bulls then carry on.

  82. Thank you E and S. That is ok and the fart was my brain’s. The disconnect was disconcerting.

    But it still has me curious, are CEO’s or clergy often given, as part of wages or compensation packages, “child allowances?”

    I just came out of a career where an aspect of my compensation was given in a stipend, tax breaks on housing, and a small living allowances. So, I am not knocking how they live, just curious how common is it to include child allowances above the living allowances of CEOs or clergy. I will read it all again in case it was answered.

  83. Aussie Mormon says:

    Thanks Fred :)

  84. fred,

    I understand that much, my question was more whether or not we can see this shift from no parsonage to parsonage for GAs in their home countries by looking at the Eyring pay stub and the later ones — as in, if the living allowance for Eyring in 2000 seems comparatively low compared with the later two pay stubs, perhaps that is the explanation.

    Here’s an example with made-up round numbers:

    Let’s say the living allowance is 100K and the parsonage allowance is 20K. Forgetting about taxes and all other perks, this would total 120K for GAs living outside their native countries before the change. However, an American GA living in SLC in the early 2000s wouldn’t be eligible for the parsonage allowance (per church policy). So, the church might just reduce his living allowance by the same amount and still technically provide parsonage allowance since it wouldn’t have to be taxed that way. The upshot is that this GA’s pay stub would show 80K living and 20K parsonage. I’m asking if, assuming what I was told was correct, this is a plausible practical implementation of such a policy.

    If that is the case, my point is that, since Eyring’s pay stub is from the period before the change, it is possible that, since he would have been living in his home country, the actual standard GA living allowance at that time was higher, but that Eyring’s was reduced by the amount of the parsonage allowance he received (because he was living in the U.S.). Does that make sense?

    But again, I don’t know how the church implemented the “no parsonage for people in their home country” policy in practical terms and, given that Eyring is an apostle, it’s always possible that his situation can’t be applied across the board.

  85. Let’s compare the GA compensation to Levitical priests: they would receive certain animal sacrifices to use for their own food. I’ll have to pull out my bible dictionary for a refresher on which sacrifices were actually eaten by the priests under mosaic law. Regardless, I think the animal sacrifices from 15 million members will be more than enough to feed the GAs.

    This only works for the men, so the female auxilary leaders will need a stipend. Perhaps we should pool together what all the men are earning now and give it to the women.

  86. Aussie Mormon says:

    If all I have to do after sinning is to send a pigeon to CHQ, then you might be onto a winning idea there Rockwell.

  87. Orwell,
    Your hypothetical is certainly possible. To learn more, we need the Russians (if they’re listening) to provide post-2000 pay stubs for a GA serving an expatriate assignment and one based in SLC.

  88. We spend our whole lives, reciting scriptures about the goodness of not receiving monetary compensation for serving on behalf of the Lord, and talking about how great it is to have a lay clergy. Then at some point we learn that GA’s who are full time, receive a living allowance from the church (that way they don’t starve to death). It’s fact that doesn’t bother most people (myself included). But if the church said that full time GA’s received a salary, I believe that that would bother most people. The wording does matter.
    When I hear living allowance I think: “The amount to break even when covering a median amount of food consumed, median housing expenses, median medical expenses, and a few other things”. Basically, an amount to live a humble, but not starving, life for the person and number of dependents they have.
    So I don’t want to compare a GA’s living allowance to the salary that others make in comparable positions. I want the value to be comparable to what others are making who are effectively earning just enough to humbly live off of. So perhaps, the median income of teachers in the public education districts of Salt Lake and Davis counties would make for a better comparison.

  89. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    jader3rd has a good idea. However, if you don’t want to use the public school system as a comparable, how about their pay/stipend be equal to that of a Seminary Teacher. If a GA doesn’t think that’s enough to live on, well…

  90. I think Fred’s comments really help to put things in perspective. In addition to everything he said, other things to consider are the fact that these compensation packages are assumed to be for life. So there is no need to do things like save for retirement. Right? Healthcare and such is also included separately. A large portion of expenses are reimbursed or perhaps even paid for separately using a church CC/debit card. I assume. So when you factor that in, when comparing to those in the workforce, that $120k really is going to end up closer to $300k I would expect.

    There are two issues here:

    1) Historically we have not been truthful about the fact that leadership is paid. And we still aren’t. The problem is lack of transparency, which members deserve. We deserve to have all these details and be able to consider them openly and discuss them.

    2) The money itself and to what extent it may or may not be excessive. If they are getting $300k is that excessive? I guess that’s where we have to open the scriptures and compare with the early apostles and discuss whether our leaders resemble that example or not. Whether certain leaders started out “rich” or not is beside the point to me. I feel like service in the church should be real service. Leaders being afforded a “rich” lifestyle with tithing dollars bothers me. It’s not a democracy of course, but members deserve full disclosure. They can vote with their feet, or maybe they’d change their attitudes about tithing on gross vs net. Or maybe they don’t care. I think they deserve to know though.

    I also really would like to know if GAs all make the same, and whether apostles are paid more? And if they are paid more, how much, and why?

  91. Kevin Barney says:

    In my view 300k is too big an estimate. The cost of high end, gold plated health insurance wouldn’t exceed $20k. (As a partner in my firm I don’t get health insurance as a benefit but have to pay the full cost of it; I think I pay about $13k/year for it.) Based on the Elder Eyring paystubs, even if we allow for a large increase, I doubt a housing allowance would exceed $3k/month, or $36k/year. Reimbursement of expenses is not income; the fact that the Church pays for their flights to stake conferences, hotels, transportation, meals should not be factored into this. (My firm reimburses me for similar expenses but that is not conceptually income to me.) So we’re talking more like $176k. (Subject to additional perks we may not know about, of course.) But the point is well taken that $120k is an understatement of their income.

  92. Aussie Mormon says:

    The apostles may get it for life, but what happens when a 70 gets emeritus status?

  93. Clark Goble says:

    I’ve not been following this too closely, but why would they need health insurance unless they were under 65 or were non-American?

    Second why are people assuming this is only for men? There have been single sisters who had been working full time called to be in the General Relief Society Presidency. It rather defies expectation that they weren’t paid even if people are assuming those with spouses weren’t (which I’d also expect was false)

  94. Re: housing allowance:

    It’s probably worth talking briefly about this. Basically, if a “minister of the gospel” receives a parsonage allowance, that amount is not subject to federal income taxation. The amount is limited, though, to not more than the fair rental value of the recipient’s actual home.

    In general, then, it’s not meant to be additional compensation; rather, it’s a designated portion of the compensation such a minister would otherwise receive. That is, if the minister would earn $100,000, but lives in a home with a fair rental value of $1,000/month, it would make sense for the employer church to pay $88,000 plus a $12,000 housing stipend. Why do that? Because it’s costless to the church-employer: either way it’s paying $100,000. But the recipient only pays taxes on the first $60,000 (ignoring, of course, any deductions and exclusions); the additional $20,000 she receives tax-free. Practically, if the minister is married, she’d pay taxes at a marginal rate of 25% on that $20,000. In other words, if that were merely salary, she’d be left with $15,000 of the $20,000 after taxes. As a housing allowance, though, she’s left with $20,000: without costing her church-employer an additional cent, she’s just received a $5,000 after-tax raise.

    How that applies here: the church presumably has a target salary; given that it’s apparently lockstep, I’d pretend that amount is $120,000. It can then look at the fair rental value of general authorities’ homes (as long as they own), and recharacterize some portion of that amount as a tax-free housing allowance. I don’t know how the Salt Lake-area rental market looks today, much less how it’s changed over the last 15 years, but that’s what’s going to determine how large the housing allowance is.

    FTR, I think the parsonage allowance is bad tax policy (though it has a really fascinating history). That said, I also think it would border on malpractice for the allowance to exist, but for the church not to provide it.

    I could be wrong, of course: I have no personal knowledge of how the church does its compensation. Maybe the housing allowance is an additional amount in excess of the base salary. But I’d be surprised if it were.

  95. Last Lemming says:

    I’m not following your math, Sam. It looks like you changed the example from an 88/12 split to a 60/20 split in the middle of the second paragraph.

  96. I may have–I changed the numbers halfway through to make sure that my example didn’t cross tax brackets, but I may not have edited fully. It should be 88/12 the whole time.

  97. Aussie Mormon says:

    So based on the newest leak. It looks like they don’t get a child allowance if they don’t have a child.