General Authority Compensation

CompensationAs 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.

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Mormon Collapse

There are many people who feel that the collapse of Mormonism is approaching as the dawn of the information age has hit us.  The feeling is that the church can no longer control the image of Joseph Smith, Mormon polygamy or of Mormon origins.  Since information on the internet cannot be controlled, the church will lose it’s grasp of it members as they become disillusioned and disaffected with the whole story. For an example of this, you can see this You Tube video in which two Mormon missionaries are introduced to more than they knew about Joseph Smith polygamy.

While there is plenty of evidence that there are many Mormons leaving the church based on this scenario (and perhaps worse, many more not becoming Mormons because of it), I do not think this will be the cause of a collapse of Mormonism.  Instead I see a different scenario.

There is an aspect of Mormon culture that views the organization of the church in an idealic light. There’s a prevalent cultural view that the President of the Church is having regular encounters with Jesus and that every decision made inside the Church Office Building comes with a direct confirmation from the Holy Ghost. I am of course using a bit of hyperbole in this description and I’m sure if you pressed any Mormon on the street about it they would concede that this is not quite how things operate.  But at the very least we could agree that a large number of Mormons are wearing some very rose-colored glasses as they view the decisions made by the church’s full time employees. This attitude coupled with an intense financial scandal could really destroy Mormonism as we know it.

Imagine a scenario where Door-Knobbers, a Mormon owned company, installs interior door knobs in newly constructed facilities (I choose this example because I don’t think any such company actually exist).  The company is quite successful and the owner of the company as part of his tithing settlement gives the church a large number of his own shares in the company.  Those inside the LDS church that manage the shares are quite pleased as Door-Knobbers continues to become more and more profitable and the shares increase in value.  The LDS church decides as part of its investment strategy to invest heavily into Door-Knobbers stock.

What the share managers don’t know is that the vast majority of Door-Knobbers business comes from an exclusive contract it has with the LDS church to install door knobs in newly built ward houses.  Part of the reason Door-Knobbers is so profitable is that they are vastly overcharging the LDS church for their services. Also unknown to the LDS church is that Door-Knobbers won the contract by bribing someone in the LDS church to ensure that they would win the contract despite their bid being nearly double the next highest competitor.

Eventually some one discovers the graft, but is told to hush up about it or be disciplined (the Church can’t afford this kind of scandal being the rationale).  The whistle-blower decides to go public and indeed is disciplined for it because as it turns out, the church really can’t afford this kind of scandal.

The corruption, of course, would be a major set back for any religious institution or non-profit(see Exhibit A: The Catholic Church).  But it would be worse for the LDS church  because of the pristine view the members hold of their organization (I’d say the same about Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science and Scientology).  This view would forever be shattered.  This breakdown in the honesty of the organization would cause many to conclude that the church is not what they thought it was. Whether the LDS church is promoting this view is really not the point, it’s a condition of the LDS culture that the church must live up to.

I’m spoken up many times that I think every good non-profit organization should have open financial records.  I think it’s a serious liability that the LDS church is not open and that the membership doesn’t seem to mind.  That being said; I don’t know that financial accountability would prevent this scenario from happening.  I have no idea who my church purchases contracts from and whether or not they are competitive.  I doubt that level of detail would be exposed through financial accountability.  But it could be that financial accountability would create a culture within the Church Office Building that would head this kind of thing off at the pass.

The other solution is for the leadership of the LDS church to start gently reminding the membership that their priesthood leaders are sinners too.  This doesn’t have to be done in a way that thwarts their authority but just sets appropriate expectations for their own imperfections.  At this point it seems like a herculean feat to get any Mormon to admit that someone in their church has ever done anything in the name of the church in a less than perfect manner. It’s okay to be seeking God’s direction and to be doing your best while you don’t hear a “thus sayeth the Lord” from God in every decision.  To hear some Mormons explain it, there is not a single beuacratic decision that isn’t being directed by God.  This just isn’t a healthy attitude for anyone.

Finances Matter

There has been a healthy trend in internet Mormonism to acknowledge the personal failings on LDS prophets and affirm the sinfulness of all people whether inside the church or outside the church. This is particularly the case when LDS are confronted with Joseph Smith’s polyandry or Brigham Young’s blatant racism or unorthodox teachings on Adam/God. I have no desire to hold LDS prophets to a standard of infallibility and think it’s appropriate to believe that there are times that even they may be acting or teaching outside of God’s specific will.

Where I’m having a disconnect with this is in regards to the LDS church’s lack of financial accountability to it’s membership. If even a prophet can fall and bring sin into his life or his personal opinion into his teachings, I wonder why LDS membership thinks that their church accountants are not also prone to the same personal failings.

Public financial accountability has become a hallmark of responsible charitable organizations for quite some time. It’s not just good practice, it’s now standard practice. Secrecy in financial accountablity is not something people look for when they look to generously give. That’s not the case in Mormonism. It’s quite clear that the church has zero intention of telling its members what it is doing with their money. There is no way to tell if 80% of the money is going to feed hungry children. There is no way to tell if 2% of the money is going to feed hungry children. There is no way to know if a couple of well-placed individuals are filling up off-shore accounts for their own personal gain.

What really perplexes me is not that the LDS church has made the decision not to be publicly accountable (who wants to be held accountable?), it’s that the rank and file membership don’t care. I find this bizarre. On the one hand you have people saying that “even our own prophets mess up”, but on the other “we think the organization and everyone who runs it can be trusted without financial accountability”. It just doesn’t make any sense. I think it’s the duty of givers to hold the organizations they give to accountable in some way. Why is the LDS church different?

In my view light cleans all things. I was happy to find this podcast on Mormon Matters where everyone on the panel agreed with me. I hope this view of responsibility grows within the Mormonism. Until it does, it breeds an outsider’s view that strong, unquestionable authoritarianism runs the LDS church.