A few more thoughts on General Authority stipends

A few more thoughts on General Authority stipends January 19, 2017


The Galleria Borghese in Rome
Appearances notwithstanding, this isn’t the home of a junior member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. It’s the Galleria Borghese in Rome, one of the homes of a seventeenth-century Catholic cardinal who mainly used it as a venue for his suburban parties.  Surrounded by his enormous private gardens, it is now an art museum, housing some of the cardinal’s collection of Renaissance sculptures and paintings.  (Wikimedia Commons)


While we’re waiting for the inevitable next scandal to come along, the recent controversy regarding General Authority stipends continues to generate considerable heat and, occasionally, a glimmer of light.


Last night, someone challenged me on Facebook about how the “salaries” of Latter-day Saint “clergy” compare to those of the clergy of other faiths.


I replied that I’m confident that the average “salary” of Canadian and American Latter-day Saint “clergy” is quite a bit lower than the average salary of pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams in Canada and the United States.


The math is pretty straightforward:  There are roughly 34,000 LDS Area Authority Seventies, bishops, stake presidents, district presidents, and branch presidents who receive no stipend at all.  (Although we probably shouldn’t, we’ll leave out counselors, executive secretaries, Relief Society presidents, and others whose equivalents would very possibly be paid in many other denominations.)   At this point, we factor, say, 100 General Authorities into the mix, who receive a stipend of $120K each. Now, we work out the average annual ecclesiastical income of all of those folks.


Steven Butala actually did the math in that Facebook conversation — reckoning, as I suggest above, on just one compensated person per branch, ward, district, and stake — and reports an average annual income of $353 for LDS “clergy.”


I’ve since done a little bit of checking around — I don’t intend to spend hours and hours on the subject, as I have plenty of other things on my plate — and I’ve found a source from 2012 indicating that the average salary of Reform and Conservative rabbis in the United States at that time was $140,000.  (General authority stipends, it seems, are currently set at approximately $120,000.)


The salaries of Catholic priests and bishops and archbishops are much, much lower.  But the situation is complicated by the fact that Catholic clergy often live in parsonages provided by the Roman Catholic Church for little or nothing.  In fact, bishops and archbishops often or even typically reside in what are called episcopal or archepiscopal mansions.  (In the past, they were often termed palaces.)  And prelates of that rank quite commonly have chauffeured cars (limousines?), sometimes even cooks and servants.  Here’s a rather polemical 2014 piece from CNN that provides photographs of the rather nice residences of a number of American Roman Catholic leaders:


“The lavish homes of American archbishops”


And here’s a fascinating October 2009 piece from Baptist Planet, complaining about official secrecy regarding the salaries at the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention:


Baptist salaries, known and unknown


According to Baptist Planet and USA Today, Franklin Graham earned $633,722 in 2008 or thereabouts in his capacity as head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), along with $483,000 as CEO of the charity Samaritan’s Purse.  That works out to a total of somewhat more than $1.1 million.  Of course, the figure is somewhat distorted by a large retirement payment that he received in 2008 from the BGEA (when he was 57).  Even omitting that payout, however, his 2008 compensation was approximately $750,000.


Drawing ultimately on the Wall Street Journal for its data, Baptist Planet was able to find that, all the way back in 1990, even in the face of a controversy that led to staff cuts and postponed salary increases, the president of the SBC’s Sunday School Board earned $157,086; the President-Treasurer of the SBC’s Executive Committee took home $151,079; the President of the SBC’s Home Mission Board received a salary of $113,583; and the President of the SBC’s Foreign Mission Board was paid $113,000.  The other top six men at the SBC’s Sunday School Board were paid a total of $715,475 in salary and benefits.


Since then, however, top employees at the Southern Baptist Convention have been obliged to sign a pledge to keep their salaries secret.  But we can probably assume that salaries there have at least kept pace with inflation — which, if true, would mean that they are considerably larger today:  According to the website that I consulted, $1.00 in 1990 is worth $1.84 today.  That’s nearly double.


Now, I pass this on not to fault Catholics or to attack Conservative and Reform Jews or to criticize Baptists — what they pay their people is none of my business, and I have no axe to grind regarding it — but because I was asked to compare the stipends of the very top, full-time leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which, again, seem to be pegged right now at about $120K for everybody from the Seventy to the First Presidency) with the compensation given to clergy of other faiths and denominations.


One further point:



It needs to be understood that the General Authorities do a huge amount of administrative work alongside a full-time staff of paid workers at Church headquarters.  (I hope and trust that it’s not a surprise to anybody out there  that the Church does have full-time salaried professional staff in Salt Lake City and elsewhere.)  That administrative work doesn’t involve sermons, ordinances, counseling, the extending of callings, and other such strictly priesthood functions.  (Area Authority Seventies do all those things as, in effect, the regional and part-time equivalent of General Authorities, and they aren’t paid to do them.)  It focuses on managing a large and complex international organization that operates in multiple legal and other environments.  It’s for that relatively “secular” work, strictly speaking, that General Authorities receive stipends.  They work at it all day long throughout the week.  Just as the salaried professional accountants, attorneys, computer experts, secretaries, editors, graphic designers, and others, both men and women, who work with them do.



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