As you are probably aware of by now, MormonLeaks recently produced a few financial documents dealing with General Authority compensation: a set of pay stubs from Henry B. Eyring (then an apostle) from the year 2000, and a January 2014 internal memo noting that members of the First Quorum of the Seventy would have their “living allowance” increased to $120,000 that year.
One of the pay stubs for Elder Eyring is for the pay period ending December 8th, meaning it was likely the second-to-last pay stub of the year, and it shows a year-to-date of $83,132.75. This means that, seventeen years ago, an apostle was likely being paid $86K-$87K a year. (This would match what was told to me by a former church tax auditor c. 1998, that the apostles are paid a “high five-figure amount” while the First Presidency is paid a “low six-figure amount.” It would seem that my source from all those years ago was accurate.) The publication of these documents has produced some tension in LDS thought given the common Mormon criticisms of the “priestcraft” of other paid Christian clergy. My thoughts are as follows:
(1) LDS friends, it is time to give up the “priestcraft” accusations, no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts” about it. It’s nothing but hypocrisy at this point. While it’s true that you have very few professional clergy—as in people who planned and trained specifically for a paid career in ministry (I would limit this group to LDS chaplains and some LDS educators)—your top leaders are compensated, and they are compensated well. They are compensated much better than the average pastors and other clergymen (and women) whom you are criticizing. Please do feel free to criticize largesse, consumerism, and materialism in our churches when you see it, but the principle of a full-time minister being reimbursed for his or her service is a sound one, and one that you clearly share.
(2) The apologetics drawing comparisons between GA compensation and CEO compensation are not doing you any favors. Modern-day executive compensation is well-known for being bloated, avaricious, and deeply problematic. Saying “but at least they don’t make as much as those greedy businessmen” really isn’t saying anything meaningful.
(3) Where you might be more justified is in drawing comparisons between what GAs make and what other denominational leaders and religious non-profit charity heads make. By that measure, $120K per year is indeed “modest.” For my own part, I have absolutely no problem with these leaders being paid these amounts, I only desire more transparency and openness about it (and less criticism of other Christians for doing the same).
(4) Here’s something about these documents that does puzzle me though: why wasn’t Elder Eyring paying SECA? Religious ministers are considered self-employed, which means they have to pay 100% of their Social Security contributions (SECA) versus most of us, who pay 50% while our employers pay the other 50% (FICA). Clergy from religious orders that have taken a vow of poverty are exempt from SECA, but since Elder Eyring was paid around $87K that year (well above the poverty level), this does not appear to be the case. The only other way for clergy to exempt themselves from Social Security is to turn in an IRS form 4631 declaring themselves to be conscientious objectors to Social Security. Since when does the Mormon church conscientiously object to the Social Security program?
Note that being a conscientious objector does not mean that you think the program is wasteful, or you believe that the program will be dead by the time you retire, or you just want to hold on to your own money. Russell Moore explains it here (as he advises a young Baptist minister on the matter). If you aren’t a true conscientious objector, not paying your SECA is not paying your taxes. So what was/is going on with Elder Eyring? And how many other LDS leaders have opted out of paying SECA?
UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that we wouldn’t see his SECA on the pay stub because SECA is not withheld by the employer. We can’t tell from this whether GAs pay into Social Security or not.
That concludes my thoughts on the matter. What are yours?