Monday, October 3, 2011

Communism, the first Christians, and Mormon clergy pay

The title page to the 1611 first edition of th...Image via Wikipedia

In the Bible in Acts 4 (King James Version is the official LDS bible version for the English language) we read:
34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses asold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and adistribution was made unto every man according as he had bneed.
36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed aBarnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,
37 Having land, sold it, and brought the amoney, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

In Acts 2 we have similar scriptures
44 And all that believed were together, and had all things acommon;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had aneed.

So what is this "All things in common" thing about?  Apparently a lot of people that were converting to Christianity were selling everything and then giving it away or giving it to the apostles to give away.  I found an article by a non-Mormon Christian referring to what we read in Acts, and I agree with what he (Jason Jackson) says for the most part:  I would guess that some of the property and wealth of what became the Catholic and other Orthodox Christian churches originated in donations similar to these by faithful adherents. 

In the Book of Mormon there is a similar experience in 3 Nephi 26, shortly after the coming of Christ
The Book of Mormon. Another Testament of Jesus...Image via Wikipedia
to the Americas (after his death and resurrection in Israel)
19 And they taught, and did aminister one to another; and they had ball things ccommon among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.
20 And it came to pass that they did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them.

We as Mormons believe that the biblical Enoch was translated to heaven with a whole city, and that they had "no poor among them," probably at least in part due to this sharing of goods. 
Hebrews 11:5 By faith aEnoch was btranslated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this ctestimony, that he pleased God.
Moses 7:18 And the Lord called his people aZion, because they were of bone heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.
Pearl of Great Price: Moses 7: 

In the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, this sharing of all things was again attempted. 

communism failImage via Wikipedia

These ideas sound somewhat similar to Communism.  I think there is an underlying similarity in the
idea of holding things in common, but, as history shows, communism has been an epic FAIL in every measure that I can think of.  Scripturally, most of the attempts at having all things in common eventually ended without success. 

I actually wanted to shoot all this out as background for a question I've heard from multiple friends.  It goes something like this: How much do Mormon clergymen make/Where does all the Mormon tithing money go/Holy cow the Mormon church is rich. 

First of all, there aren't really any paid clergymen as most Christians would think.  Our congregations (wards or branches) are run without pay from top to bottom.  Groups of... what 8-16 wards or branches are called stakes, and the leaders of these groups do not receive any pay. 

There are only two groups, as far as I know, that receive any actual money from the church.  Church employees, such as building construction people, facilities maintenance people, people that produce church materials, computer programmers, etc. are all paid.  Even though they work for the church, their jobs require secular education, and the nature of their work is secular, not religious.  They get paid. 

The other group is the general authorities and mission presidents.  This includes our prophet, Thomas S. Monson ( from the very top.  They take part in a fund that is set up, separate from tithes and offerings, that consists of money pooled from the private finances of people that make up this sub group, and, the profits from some business ventures and properties owned by the church.  I think the last time actual amounts were published was about 30 years ago, but the pay for each of them came to about 80,000/year in today's money. 

So none of them are off living the high life from members' tithing (which is 10% of our income) or even from the fund that they use.  In any case, members of the church would laugh at the idea of these leaders living the high life, because we know that they are extremely busy.  You can tell by how many talks they give and how much they have to do.  Do a search for any of them on the website, and you'll find an insane number of talks and things, and, at least for the apostles and first presidency, places in the world where they've met with members and been in meetings etc. 

I appreciate comments, clarifications, and questions. 


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JC said...

As you correctly point out Jeff, most of the upper leadership of the church (including general authorities, mission presidents, and temple presidents) is paid, contrary to the beliefs of most members (including my former beliefs on the subject). 80,000 might not seem like much, but it's still comfortably upper-middle class and more than the majority of their members would make in a year. Added to that, they also receive stipends for living expenses, travel allowances, health insurance, and fringe benefits (including free tuition at BYU for the children of GAs) -- all of which increase the standard of living beyond that of someone making a flat 80,000 per year. Finally, holding a high office in church is also an opportunity for them and their families to make lucrative business connections -- everything from writing books that are published at Deseret Book to serving on the board of Zions Bank (as do the sons of Gordon Hinckley). So, while one would hope that they do what they do purely for the glory of their god, they also benefit from it to a high degree materialistically.

Second, I would say that it's hard to say if they keep tithing money separate from "other" money because, as you point out, the church financial statements are not made public. Indeed, the little that we know about the compensation that GAs, etc. receive comes both from 30 years ago (when their financials were published) and from extractions from public records in countries like the U.K., where the church is forced to publish financial statements by law.

That was a really excellent blog entry Jeff. Very well done.

Jeff said...

The benefits you talk about may or may not be the case. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are correct. Remember that the general authorities have a full time job at church. As noted in one very angry website, many of the general authorities are involved in business. Many others are doctors, lawyers, or other professionals. For the great majority of these general authorities, working for the church represents a significant decrease in pay. I’m sure there are some that end up better, materially speaking, than they would if they were not called to be general authorities, but I’m also very sure these are not that many
While it may be impossible to really ‘prove’ that somebody isn’t on the take for tithing, there are several evidences that they are not. 1) They say they are not, and have done so in the last several decades multiple times. Nobody has pinned them down to force the information out of them. The information has been volunteered. 2) They are universally (as far as I know) upstanding individuals. They teach honesty. They teach that taking pens from your job home with you is stealing. They teach us to be honest and upright in our dealings with our fellow men. They teach that the love of money is not good. There are those that will seek out and find minor instances among one or more of deception or dishonesty, but they all have led professional lives, and almost all of them have done so in the public among members and non-members. Those that claim dishonesty tend to have long histories of attacks against the church, while those that knew these General Authorities (including many many of those that are not Mormons) find no real reason to attack them or their character. 3) As you noted, there are records from this country and others, and to my knowledge, none of them indicate that any leader of the church receives money from tithing funds. I can’t speak about more than several decades ago. I haven’t heard any leaders deny that they were used for this purpose years ago. That doesn’t mean that they did. 4) These guys are to 5) Many of them have lots of money. There is a pool of funds for those that don’t. There are church-owned properties and businesses that provide income. There is no need for them to use tithing funds.
It seems to me that there is a lot of resentment out there towards the church in general, and the GA’s in particular. They have played a role in bringing a lot of good to this world: disaster relief, educational opportunities to members that would never be able to pay for education on their own, and easily millions of hours of service in communities and for others. This is to say nothing of what we as members of the church would say are the greatest blessings from the church: knowledge of where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going, as well as a complete understanding of what we need to do to return to live with God again. And that says nothing of the peace and happiness that we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jeff said...

A claim that the very leadership that delivers so many inspired messages is really a deceptive, greedy, or bad group of people is ludicrous. The entire conference which took place a few days ago, like every other one that the church can make public (some were 150 plus years ago and probably weren’t written down) is available to everyone possible at Brief life histories of many of these leaders is available to everyone that has the internet at You can click on any of their portraits and read about their histories. And if you want you could fairly easily track down places of employment and universities attended, and ask people that knew them years ago to judge their character. $10 bucks says the angry people don’t do this, because they don’t want to hear glowing reviews and positive memories that the great majority would have to say.
At the end of the day, who should a person trust? It ends up being random angry ex-mormons with private lives about which we know nothing, and who probably haven’t done more for the good of others than anyone else, versus the general authorities of the church, whose history and character are available for anyone to judge. It’s no contest.
Thanks for your comment Josh, and I apologize for my public venting. I don’t mean to direct this at you. I just got off an anti-website… and I’m a little frustrated about voices like mine not being heard.