Sunday, January 22, 2012

Unpaid Lay Clergy

Mormonism is proud of its lay clergy.

I grew up thinking we were better than other religions because our leadership served for no monetary rewards. They sacrificed their time to help the church and its members.  Unlike the leadership from those other, bad religions, ours had pure motives.

At least, that's what I thought.

But we're also informed in Sunday School classes that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are given some kind of "living expenses" out of our tithing.  As usual, the church is somewhat vague on the specifics,  as they are with anything related to finances.  But the fact that the top church Leadership is paid isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Consider the positive and negative aspects of this:

Being a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, I would assume, is a job that has serious demands on your time.  So it makes sense that the Twelve would have trouble holding a day job like your local bishops and stake presidents do.  Especially considering all the world travelling they do.

On the other hand, the majority of General Authorities are of retirement age.  This frees up their time and eliminates some of their financial needs.  In that case, they should require little to no monetary compensation.  So the question becomes whether or not their "living expenses" amount to too much.  Are they being provided for comfortably or extravagantly?  Considering that the exact (or even approximate) sum of these living expenses are undisclosed, it's difficult to say.

It's also worth mentioning that many of the General Authorities have backgrounds in medicine, business or politics, and were very successful in their pre-calling professional lives.  It's a safe bet that they have better-than-average retirement plans.

Plenty of the General Authorities, especially those in the top tier, generate income by writing.  There is a steady, eager market for literature from Mormon celebrities and leadership figures.  A book from a member of the Twelve is a guaranteed seller.  For the Twelve, book income should be able to supplement retirement income very nicely.

So the way I see it, paying the Twelve any living expenses is probably unnecessary.  But more than that, it flies in the face of the popular Mormon understanding that "we're better than other religions because our clergy isn't paid."  If the top leadership of the church consists of successful retired men with plenty of their writings lining the shelves of Deseret Book, then they shouldn't need to be paid--especially considering the membership's assumption of superiority.

Lots of Mormons consider the structure of the church to be free of the corruption that has plagued other religions both past and present.  But perhaps Thomas S. Monson and his peers are getting rich from the church.  Maybe members' tithing goes to fuel the greed of the church's leadership.  Maybe Mormonism really isn't any better than other religions with paid clergy.  Maybe that's one more reason why the church keeps its finances private.

This, to me, is an example of common Mormon doublethink.  They're proud of their unpaid clergy, but they know that the top leadership--the people everyone listens to--get monetary gain from the church.  And publish books.  And were rich before they became apostles.  The pride they take in their leadership is contradictory.

Not only does this suggest that the church leadership is needlessly taking tithe payers' money for itself, but it also reflects the willful ignorance and senseless logic of the church membership.

That does not seem right to me.

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