Why do Federal Clergymen Get Paid More Than Private Ones?

Despite what we hear about the lavish lifestyles of some famous pastors, most church leaders live on relatively little cash. The health benefits aren’t that great, either.

A recent article in USA Today points out salary differences between certain federal jobs that had “a private-sector equivalent.”

I’m really curious why clergy working for the government get paid so much more than in the private section.

Any ideas?

(Thanks to NN for the link!)

  • Deiloh

    I’ve attempted to answer this three times. Turns out I’m in a cynical bad mood. Something about federal (tax money) and clergy in the same sentence that just sets me on edge.

  • Claudia

    Well the first question on my mind is why the HELL there is such a thing as a “Federal Clergyman”.

    Beyond that however my first thought is that they may be mostly military chaplains. They would probably get paid on the military scale, wheras clergy in the “private sector” probably includes a lot of part-timers and clergy with no parish of their own or a very small one, essentially self-employed, which would bring down their salaries.

  • rbray18

    i think they counted palin and bush as part of the fed paid clergy :) ok jokes aside i think part of it could be the 10% tithe church goers
    are supposed to pay,congressmen have allot more 10% then the average Joe.not to mention it seems to me the republicans seem to have a major amount of money to through around.but maybe that’s just me mistaking things.

  • Fred

    Ooh! Ooh! I know the reason!

    “Separation of church and state”

    Did I get it? Did I get it?

  • sandchigger

    Yeah, I’d have to assume that the majority of the federal clergy would be military clergy and thus they’d be receiving officer scale pay, benefits and such.

  • snoozebar

    I’d guess military chaplains, too.

  • xpastor

    It would defintely be chaplains in the armed forces. I imagine that the US forces are much like the Canadian, which would mean that professiona generally requiring university degrees are classed as officers. Moreover, there will be a hierarchy. The head honcho (chief chaplain) will hold general officer rank and be paid accordingly, and under him will be colonels and so on.

  • incunabulum

    Like the others said: military chaplains. They are paid as officers (quite handsomely) and they don’t turn around and invest any of it into a church.

  • Miko

    Considering that the government employee gets paid more than the non-government employee in 85% of the items on that list, the fact that this is true for clergy becomes less surprising.

    But, as for why it’s true, it has to do with market forces. In the public sector (i.e., the non-governmental sector often mislabeled the “private” sector), salaries are based on how valuable society thinks your contributions are, as determined through a market process of discovery.* In the governmental sector, salaries are based on legislation and no-competition bidding, and so are often driven up by the standard forms of corruption.

    * Or, they would be in an ideal world. Government regulation of the economy tends to impose the same perversities that afflict the governmental sector onto the public sector too.

  • Erp

    Military, prison and VA hospital chaplains (also possibly the two congressional chaplains).

    I assume they separated part time and full time work already.

    1. Federal chaplains may have more training (one doesn’t really need any training to hang out one’s shingle in some denominations).

    2. Housing tax break available to some private ministers which might not be reported as income but makes the reported income go further (though there may be various allowances here for military chaplains).

    3. Military chaplains are expected to have several years of experience before becoming military chaplains therefore there is no entry level federal positions to drag the average salary down.

  • Chuck

    Yes, military chaplains (provided for by public law) and probably prisons, etc. Don’t know about the others, but in the military, most chaplains start out a captains (O3). You can look up federal pay scales to see what that means in $$$. On average, most Army chaps are 04-05 with a good handful of )6s.

    Technically, they are there to support counseling and spiritual support missions for ALL faiths, and the better one, non-faith as well. The charter says they are there to support and enforce the 1st Amendment right of all troops to worship or NOT as they prefer.

    In practice, as we all know, there are some variations …

    I’ve experienced both kinds and have, actually, ‘converted’ one of two to a more open mindset.

  • Trace

    “In God We Trust”?

  • Jessica

    Military Chaplains and combat pay would be my guess.

  • KeithLM

    When I was in college I did an internship in the IT department of a VA hospital. Dealing with the Chaplain Service was always a pain in the ass. My boss had no respect for them, and let them know it. As a result, the head chaplain was quite rude to those of us in IT. One time I was there doing some work on the secretary’s computer, and he came out and complained about the age of their PCs and how they weren’t being upgraded. He said that they had high paid chaplains using slow PCs and that wasn’t right. I always found that quite confusing.

  • http://www.twitter.com/strabd B Strand

    The military chaplain reason other’s have stated. Clergy is a pretty broad category, in the private sector it will include a wider swath of less schooled individuals than those serving in government. At my University we had a chaplain, who served to counsel students with religious and emotional concerns. He was an agnostic. Just because someone earns a degree in divinity doesn’t mean they are pushing a particular divine agenda. See also Unitarian clergy, who tend to be pretty god neutral.

  • Luther

    How come they don’t have CEO and Hedge fund leader on the list? Or Lobbyiest?

    I guess the Government does not employ them.

  • http://formerfundy.blogspot.com Ken Pulliam

    It irritates me that we have chaplains in the military and in congress. Its so obviously an entanglement of church and state. It also irritates me that ministers get favorable tax treatment, including the ability to opt out of social security. I know these things first hand because I was a minister for over 10 years. You are allowed to deduct all of your housing expenses, including mortgage or rent payment, repairs, upgrades, maintenance, etc directly from your income and then on top of that if you have a mortgage you can deduct the interest in effect creating a double deduction for your interest. Finally, it irritates me that churches have tax exemption. With the huge need for additional revenue in this country, why doesn’t anyone suggest eliminating their tax exempt status?

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    I’m really curious why clergy working for the government get paid so much more than in the private section.

    Praying for politicians is a lot tougher job than praying for the average Joe Sixpack.

  • http://littlelioness.net Fiona

    More “perks” in private (ie non-declared items) that the Feds have to simply give cash for?

  • http://jasonrelliott.net novabeatnik

    The fact that there are Federal Clergy is a problem in itself.

  • Aaron

    A quick glance looks like their pay is roughly similar to other federal workers who have the same (presumed) amount of education. e.g. My nephew was an associate pastor. He has a BA in Religious studies (or divinity, I don’t know what they call it). He is now back in school getting his Master’s degree.
    I assume that federally employed clergymen would get paid based on the level of education required for that job. Similar to what another random federal job would pay that required a BA or BS.
    HAH! I like the idea of issuing a BS in Religious studies. I crack myself up.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Wild guess here: I would assume that most of the federal clergy work in the military, making them officers, with (one may assume) decent salaries. A lot of private-sector clergy, on the other hand, are either part-time pastors who make little or no money on their preaching, or are otherwise low-paid (e.g. members of religious orders who don’t get much, if anything, in the way of “salary,” but are taken care of by their organizations to which they belong).

    Yes, there are some fabulously wealthy private-sector clergy … but the overall averages may be skewed much lower by the folks I’ve mentioned.

  • Knative

    It’s nice that the federal laundry and dry clean workers get paid a decent wage.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    There aren’t many federal clergy. Those that are there, have other circumstances, already mentioned, that boost their salaries, such as being a military officer, working in prisons or hospitals. Also the low paying positions that drag the private sector’s average down are not there in the federal payroll. There are no equivalents to a strip mall preacher.

    Although, I think that clergy are useless position, I understand why they are needed for prisons, hospitals and the military. There are some pork positions that should be eliminated, like the Chaplain of the Senate. If you what to read something that will make you mad, just read the official government web-page. I can’t get past the first sentence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=profile&id=100000016895400 littlejohn

    This misses the point entirely. How in hell is it constitutional for the US government to being hiring clergymen in the first place? I don’t care what they earn. They shouldn’t be hired. This is an outrage.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    On a totally unrelated note: I’m one of those federally-paid editors, and let me tell you, that’s almost precisely what I make. Time to move to the private sector, maybe…

  • ethinethin

    I think the more important question is “why are there federal clergymen?” I think it’s absurd that any federal money is spent on hiring religious personnel, be they military chaplains or otherwise.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    Everything depends on the MOS, the rank/pay grade of the individual and in the case of signing bonuses, the demand for that particular field.
    Things don’t always work in that direction anyway. I worked for a military contractor doing force protection in Saudi and was getting paid much more than the Army officers I reported to and was assigned to protect.
    It shouldn’t be a problem to atheists if the government provides chaplains to believers. It’s not advocating religion so much as it is providing a support for those who need this type of support…even if the need is only in their minds. Think of it as a methadone treatment for heroin addicts who are away from their regular supplier and can’t get easy access to any smack. I never had a problem with chaplains. Hell, some of them were real partiers.

  • http://thechristianmanifesto@gmail.com C.E. Moore

    I have friends who are clergy in the military. All are considered employees of the federal government in the capacity of “soldier” first, “clergy” second. As such, they are paid the same amount as any officer of repute in the U.S. military. A man who goes into an enemy warzone, such as my friend who was in Operation Just Cause in Panama and is soon to be shipped to Afghanistan with a platoon, should not be penalized because he meets a spiritual need expressed by a large number of soldiers.

    The military is not establishing a church. There is no official religion of the United States or the U.S. military established by the presence of a paid clergy member. In fact, there are scores of different types of clergy employed by the U.S. military, not just Christian.

    Here is an interesting video illustrating the point in a humorous way: http://www.whatyououghttoknow.com/show/2009/12/10/separation-of-church-and-state/

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @C.E.Moore

    A man…should not be penalized because he meets a spiritual need expressed by a large number of soldiers.

    I agree 100%.

  • Erp

    The reason for federal chaplains in the military and in the prisons is the free exercise part of the first amendment. The government has limited the ability of prisoners and military (e.g., in combat zones) to find their own ministers outside the government and so needs to do something to provide that.

    I can accept this given a few ground rules
    1. No proselytizing (this is a given in the code of ethics for most hospital chaplains but most military chaplains are only restricted by their code of ethics from proselytizing people who are already religious[1])
    2. Equal opportunity. In other words humanists should be allowed to be chaplains (Wisconsin had a fuss a few years back when a new state prison chaplain was Wiccan [some of the Christians were already upset that a Muslim was a chaplain]).

    The free exercise reason does not apply to congressional chaplains.

    [1] A smaller group has a code of ethics which allows proselytizing even people already in a religion and, I suspect, many (e.g., UUs) follow more closely the hospital chaplains’s code.

  • Aj

    Since when do Christians need facilitators to freely exercise their religion? They don’t, it’s bullshit, clearly an establishment of religion. Soldiers also have “sexual” needs, I guess the military must pay for hookers and porn. I’m pretty sure followers of the FSM require massages daily, it’s written down in scripture somewhere, I think the military should employ massage therapists to follow them around. I’m sure Christians will be happy to fill the spiritual “needs” of Pastafarians.

  • Anirban

    Why the hell we have Federal Clergyman, fire them all, wasting tax dollars on ppl who believe on fantasy….

  • http://thechristianmanifesto@gmail.com C.E. Moore

    “Soldiers also have “sexual” needs, I guess the military must pay for hookers and porn.”

    Aj,

    Seriously? The U.S. military has rules of conduct that limit what can and cannot be done while in the Armed Services. Offering porn and hookers is not something that meets the standards of an officer. Thus, it is not done. However, religious observance, something ingrained within the fabric of this country whether you like it or not, is acceptable. Even then, the U.S. military and U.S. government are very careful not to set up one official church that all military personnel MUST attend or a single religious code of conduct they must adhere to OR ELSE…like in, oh say Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Most religious exercise in this country comes with a certain measure of leadership structuring to it. This is why there are people preaching and people sitting in the pews. As someone studying for the ministry, I don’t believe people are STUPID, but many people who speak with me about our shared beliefs are often at a loss for how to meet their own spiritual needs. Furthermore, most religions, not just Christianity, are communal in nature. So, while Western ideals stress the individual over the community, MOST religions do not. For that matter, neither does the military. Heck, neither does the Internet. It needs ALL of us for it to work or mean ANYTHING. Do those religions ask you to give up individual identity and become part of “group think.” No, despite those who use it as a means of getting people to do something or think a certain way so as to maintain a measure of control over them. Thus, it would behoove the military to meet a need, within reason, that 1) does not violate the U.S. military code of conduct and 2) helps to lower the stress of members of the armed forces disconnected from a source of spiritual guidance. Telling a Catholic who is compelled to fight for his country whilst simultaneously being used to being able to confess his sins to a priest to simply “get over it and think for yourselves like a good atheist” is a fundamentally flawed way of “getting your way” or “proving your point.”

    All this to say, I think your argument is extreme. You could argue that it is a slippery slope, but until you see the U.S. military make it mandatory for all members of the military to become Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, or atheist, your argument, while not without merit, seems to be hitching your cart to a lamp post.

    C.E. Moore
    TheChristianManifesto.com/
    Twitter.com/CManifesto

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    C. E. -
    Took a look at your website and I have to say I totally disagree with you. Batman would whoop Superman any day. I mean, come on – the dude can be taken out of action with a glowing rock.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @C.E. Moore,
    You made your point(s) well and without the all-to-frequent idiocy that we have unfortunately become accustomed to reading from some (not all) theists. Proof that there can, indeed be dialogue between reasonable people, believers or not.
    TGM
    P.S. Batman is better

  • Aj

    C.E. Moore,

    Seriously? The U.S. military has rules of conduct that limit what can and cannot be done while in the Armed Services. Offering porn and hookers is not something that meets the standards of an officer. Thus, it is not done. However, religious observance, something ingrained within the fabric of this country whether you like it or not, is acceptable. Even then, the U.S. military and U.S. government are very careful not to set up one official church that all military personnel MUST attend or a single religious code of conduct they must adhere to OR ELSE…like in, oh say Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Also an establishment of religion. That’s not to say all religions have anything against porn, a lot do not. Porn and prostitution are pretty ingrained into the fabric of most societies. As a Christian obviously you have Christian standards and ideas about what is acceptable, but the military shouldn’t follow your standards. Establishing more than one religion isn’t better than establishing one, it’s worse. People believe in belief, so they want to promote religion, not every religion, but especially the monotheisms.

    Furthermore, most religions, not just Christianity, are communal in nature. So, while Western ideals stress the individual over the community, MOST religions do not.

    By communal you mean hierarchical and authoritarian, where western ideals promote individual liberty. If the US government sends people to a place without any Catholics, do they also have to send priests with any Catholics they send? They don’t, there’s no need, and they shouldn’t. This is only about establishing religion in the military.

    Do those religions ask you to give up individual identity and become part of “group think.” No, despite those who use it as a means of getting people to do something or think a certain way so as to maintain a measure of control over them.

    All the main religions ask people to become part of “group think”. They all have dogma and indoctrinate children, that’s a fact. Holy books are held up as authority by the majority of religious institutions. Catholics have canon law and Muslims have hadith. Smaller sects also have laws and dogma, some of them much more strict than the main religions. There are counter examples of course, but much of religion is authoritarian in nature, as are the fictional gods and holy books. Coercion and social pressure are used often in religion to get people to be part of “group think”.

    Telling a Catholic who is compelled to fight for his country whilst simultaneously being used to being able to confess his sins to a priest to simply “get over it and think for yourselves like a good atheist” is a fundamentally flawed way of “getting your way” or “proving your point.”

    That’s what you would tell an atheist if they felt the US military should pay for what they’re “used to”. Pastafarians need their hot tubs. Also, there’s plenty of Catholics fine with not confessing their sins. There’s plenty of Catholics that do not mind one bit that they won’t be able to contact a priest.

  • Brandon

    I think the janitor should get more than the clergyman. At least the janitor is useful.

  • ecorona

    I’m just astounded that so many public positions pay better than private. I always thought people didn’t go into government because they could make more in the private sector.

    Aside re: “Soldiers also have “sexual” needs…” It is interesting to note that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is worded so as to allow married heterosexuals to claim that gay thing that happened was just a fling and won’t happen again. See “Outrage” by Kirby Dick for an exploration of this religiously motivated hyprocrisy and how it has saddled the planet with AIDS.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    The military is not establishing a church. There is no official religion of the United States or the U.S. military established by the presence of a paid clergy member.

    I think the problem is that those clergy members are being paid by the federal government. I have no issue with chaplains being made available in the military or in prisons, but if they are not working on a volunteer basis and must be paid, then they should be paid by someone other than the government. If they are affiliated with a denomination, why doesn’t their denomination pay for them? Or private donors? I don’t see how the government is not establishing religion (not a specific religion, but religion in general) by paying people to serve the religious desires of its employees. Whether they proselytize or not, their role is inherently religious in nature.

  • Miko

    @ecorona: As the data shows, quite the opposite in almost all cases. A government job is about the best thing you can get, if you don’t care about the morality of essentially being a parasite on the community. Government regulations make it almost impossible to fire most types of government employees, even if they consistently come to work late, leave early, and do an unbelievably sloppy job. Plus, since their salaries are set by legislation rather than by the market, they can effectively boost them by bribing some senators. This is why most unions these days are for government employees. Post Wagner, the union movement in the U.S has been neutered and limited to the most ineffective strategies and lamest goals imaginable*, which is why non-governmental union membership continues to spiral down towards zero. Government employee unions, on the other hand, can get what they want through elections.

    * This statement should be universally accepted, but is unfortunately controversial among those who haven’t studied the issue. Current law for NLRB-affiliated unions prevents most forms of workplace activism other than striking, which is obviously the worker’s last choice as it involves not getting paid, especially since the law also makes it difficult for unions to provide mutual-aid for striking workers. These days, even following the orders of managers is illegal: google the phrase “malicious compliance.” (It’s worth noting that Wagner came about as a compromise between corporate leadership and union leadership: and it’s great for both of those groups; it’s just not very good for union members. This is why the principles of decentralization should be applied to all organizations, especially non-governmental ones.)

  • http://thechristianmanifesto@gmail.com C.E. Moore

    @MikeTheInfidel & @The Godless Monster

    You’re wrong. Flat out. Superman would whoop Batman. Case in point, Superman had to GIVE Batman a piece of kryptonite, JUST IN CASE Superman lost his mind. This only proves that Batman is the only “hero” in the DC Universe with the willingness to kill Supes.

    Sorry guys. Now, we could go back and forth about the existence of God all you want. But, I will NOT be questioned on this. Bow before my magnificence!

    LOL!

  • me

    Why is the government paying clergy folk?

  • Caleb

    Its interesting to note that the way they use clergy is completely Unconstitutional. According to goarmy dot com,

    You must obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement from your faith group. This endorsement should certify that you are:
    A clergy person in your denomination or faith group.
    Qualified spiritually, morally, intellectually and emotionally to serve as a Chaplain in the Army.

    Educationally, you must:

    Possess a graduate degree in theological or religious studies, plus have earned at least a total of 72 semester hours in graduate work in these fields of study.”
    This can be considered a religious test. This is expressly forbidden in Article VI, Section 3:
    “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
    Thus they can select chaplains from the main stream religions and completely disenfranchise representatives from those groups they don’t want to endorse. Thus they go against this:
    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”
    They have established religion by not merely allowing clergy to serve, but paying a select few, making them officers (makes it more difficult to question their actions), and requiring their services “for traditions sake” in Congress, Military Schools, the Uniformed services, etc.
    I’m a Christian, but I agree with Atheists and others that the government should not pay our tax dollars to people which are at least not representative and should be only supported through private donations. The government should completely separate itself from religion or allow equal opportunity to express religious fervor on public buildings. Why don’t you see Walpurgisnacht being celebrated on the White House lawn? If Christmas ornaments can be displayed by all government buildings why can’t non-Christian symbology also be displayed?

  • al vee

    I will go you one better, and I am not an atheist, why is the Federal Government paying clergyman AT ALL. Let the individual churches pay their clergy for servicing the military and so forth.

  • al vee

    Come to think of it…I am not too thrilled about the rest of these government salaries either. Ridiculously overblown.


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