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“Because the General Authorities are obliged to leave their regular employment for full-time Church service, they receive a modest living allowance provided from income on Church investments.” – Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 510

“What of the Mormon clergy? . . .There is no paid or professional ministry. 39 general officers and the presidents of missions are given living allowances.” – Gordon B. Hinckley, “What of the Mormons?,” p. 4

The dishonesty behind these statements is shocking.

The LDS church remains completely secret about its finances unless forced to be transparent by certain countries’ laws, so our access to information about general authorities’ “modest living allowances” is limited. However, this leaked Mission President Handbook from 2006 gives us a fascinating look at what the church apparently considers “modest”. Apparently, a “modest” living allowance for a mission president includes, but is not limited to:

  • Financial support for their children serving full-time missions
  • Flights for their children to come and visit
  • Christmas, birthday, and anniversary gifts between the mission president and his spouse
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • All school expenses for children
  • Undergraduate tuition for their kids who are in college up to the value of tuition at BYU (Tuition totally waived if kids go to BYU)
  • Family activities
  • Rent
  • Medical expenses
  • The cost of a babysitter “occasionally”

Here’s a gem direct from the handbook:

“Any funds reimbursed to you should be kept strictly confidential and should not be discussed with missionaries, other mission presidents, friends, or family members.”

Hmm. I wonder why.

With all that in mind, it’s safe to say that the church’s idea of a “modest living allowance” is not limited to under 6-figures, and that’s just for mission presidents. Higher-up general authorities are known to receive property and other assets from the church too. (Post on that in the future, perhaps.)

Further reading:

LDS Tithing: Bare Necessities, Thoughts on Things and Stuff

When Tithing Settlement Goes Horribly Wrong, Pure Mormonism

 



Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young would have been a millennial blogger, but she died in 1901. The wife of Brigham Young, and prior to that Joseph Smith, and prior to that Henry Jacobs, who was sent on a mission by Brigham before he married her, Zina loves writing, long walks on the beach, and playing the field.
  • Shem

    I would love it if it became a law for the church disclose their financials. Lots of shelves would be crashing.

    • Malachi

      Yes, this is what I hope for most, actually. I think it would really put things into perspective for a lot of people

    • TigranMetz

      I think that a requirement for having tax exempt status should be having complete financial transparency. Now that I think about it, it’s pretty messed up that this isn’t already the case.

    • Rock_Waterman

      It is law. D&C 104:71 and 26:2 commands transparency. But the leaders disregard the law.

      • Zelph on the Shelf

        YAY, ROCK! 🙂

  • Derrick Clements

    I’m curious what system you would prefer over this one. Mission president families are immersed in that service for three years, unable to continue their personal income, either mostly or entirely. If the church did not support them during those years, only the already wealthy could be mission president couples.

    • Timothy Loveridge

      It’s not that they are paid, it’s that they are perpetuating miss-information, they like to claim that the church has an unpaid ministry, their are many members that believe that nobody in the church is paid, which is simply untrue, in my opinion, since they are asking members to sacrifice financial income, even if that sacrifice means they can’t put food on their table, they should, at the minimum, disclose how much everyone is being “compensated” in the leadership of the church.

      • Derrick Clements

        I’m with you on the transparency. I think the church has way more to gain than to lose by sharing that information publicly. But that doesn’t make the current procedure of supporting volunteer mission president couples wrong; I still see it as the best system to allow couples from all socio-economic backgrounds to serve. Also, I don’t think compensation is the right term: they aren’t earning a wage, they are responding to a call to service and having their needs met through mostly specific reimbursements. If my employer made me itemize and report most of what I spend, I wouldn’t consider that an earned wage, either.

        • CCavanaugh

          You keep missing the point, the OP never once said people who do a job should not be compensated. can you comment on the actual idea of the OP?

          • Derrick Clements

            In what way have I missed the idea? We may just disagree about it; I don’t think I’m missing it.

          • k_space

            so you agree that what the church is doing is ok – instead of a salary, reimburse everything and then claim that they are not getting paid?

          • Derrick Clements

            I think that transparency helps everyone and do not share the church’s reluctance to want that information to be public. But no, a salary would change the tone completely. I much prefer the communalism of couples serving voluntarily and having their needs met by the church instead of the church just lumping a bunch of money and giving the impression that their service is earning them a wage. The question at hand seems to be what is “modest.” What item on the list is troubling? Christmas gifts? School tuition? I suppose anybody’s list could seem immodest to some, and that may go into the church leaders’ reasoning to not disclose the specifics.

            I want to be clear that I am responding only to the details of the post. The pain associated with seeing the church as a corporation is something I fully understand, and have been wrestling with for years. And if my response seems in any way callous to that experience of wrestling and pain, I responded wrong.

          • k_space

            > The question at hand seems to be what is “modest.” What item on >the list is troubling? Christmas gifts? School tuition?

            Thats not really it. The problem is the discrepancy between the compensation given to church officers and what the church implies about their compensation. There is a lot of faith promoting rhetoric about priestcraft and a “lay ministry” in the church. That is at odds with the reality of upper level church positions. Can a mission president be said to be a volunteer or a lay minister if none of his personal expenses are paid with his personal money earned from a third party source? What about a general authority? My understanding is that every full time GA (aka anyone over a stake president) get some kind of compensation.

            If such compensation is ok, and does not constitute priestcraft, why are they not more open about it? I didn’t personally learn that GA’s are salaried until I was an adult, and my experience has been that most members don’t know. A lie of omission is still a lie, according to the LDS definition.

          • Derrick Clements

            Again, I don’t see it as compensation. I’m compensated for my job, and I get to do whatever I want with the money. They are accepting an expensive (in many ways) call to serve and receiving some (but not all) of those expenses met.

            I don’t think we see priestcraft in the same way. A paid minister may or may not be guilty of priestcraft, and an unpaid volunteer or even a paying missionary may be guilty of priestcraft. I guess my question is what better system could exist? If the answer is, the same system, but more openly transparent, then I agree. But the system itself seems good to me.

          • Santos Dumont

            Haha. And when college football players get scholarships, it’s not compensation, they are just volunteers playing football. I was a mission financial secretary, I know very well that they get to do whatever they want with their ‘modest’ stipend.

          • Tax em

            Well, your interpretation here is objectively incorrect and would nonetheless make the current system dishonest and not just because of nondisclosure.

            > I’m compensated for my job, and I get to do whatever I want with the money. They are accepting an expensive (in many ways) call to serve and receiving some (but not all) of those expenses met.

            Some expenses are expenses for everyone. You must pay for your home and your food out of after tax income. Mission Presidents are relieved of these expenses and additionally pay no tax on that benefit. That isn’t the way it is supposed to work. If a company buys you a car or a house, you have to pay taxes on it because it is income. They can increase your cash wages to pay the taxes, but its still declared and collected upon. The church covers a good deal many other expenses as well that cannot be considered necessary and yet no tax liability is incurred. Your kid goes to college. You pay for it by 1) working a job or 2) serving in a church calling. Option 1 you use funds that have been taxed, option 2 the church pays and you pretend you haven’t received anything. But your kid needed to pay for college regardless of whether or not you served a church calling and regardless of what that calling was or where it was located. It’s obviously an actual benefit i.e., actual compensation. Dishonest of the Church to hide it, doubly so by placing it behind the tax-exempt wall.

          • Pewah

            Fine, so you believe that the Church leadership should receive compensation for their efforts and sacrifices. So, who in the Church should receive and who should not? Personally, I served as a Scout Master, YM’s President (x2), Stake YM’s President, Seminary Teacher, and Bishopric Counselor for many, many years. I very rarely took vacations for many years and instead attended Youth Conferences and Scout Camps. These callings kept me busy almost every day of the week and my out of pocket expenses were many, but nobody ever came to me and offered to compensate me for all of my time and sacrifice. So, what makes the leaders of our Church worthy of compensation and not me? I’ll tell you why…because fully disclosing the compensation of the leaders would lead to resentment among the legions of members, like me, who give untold hours of service for free, but still have to pay their kids tuition to BYU, pay for their own food, their rent, presents, vacation flights, etc., etc. Don’t be so naive. The Church leadership takes care of itself and they rely on the mindless (faithful) membership to work their butts off and to pay tithing to keep things afloat.

          • Zack Tacorin

            Derrick,

            As I’ve read the article, it seems to me the point is that the Church is not being honest about General Authorities’ living allowances. Since the Church does not disclose it’s finances, Zina used what we know about the reimbursements the Church allows for mission presidents. The reimbursement allowances for mission presidents go well beyond what many of us consider “modest.” Without financial disclosure, one wonders just what is meant by “modest” when referring to General Authority living allowances.

            Zina did not write that mission presidents should not be reimbursed in this way. Since you seem to be arguing as if she did, it seems like you missed the point of the article. When a person substitutes another person’s actual position or argument with a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of the position of the argument, this is known as a strawman argument–a kind of informal logical fallacy.

            Cheers,
            Zack

          • Derrick Clements

            Thanks for the clarification Zack. I didn’t mean to impose a strawman argument. It is quite possible that I still misunderstand the issue, and if so I sincerely apologize. It was never my intention to misrepresent the article. I think you are right that I was reading it more as “mission president families should not be financially supported this much by the church.” To be honest, I still see that as the main thrust of the article, but I am happy being wrong if I’m just reading it badly.

            To your point, I am comfortable, for reasons I’ve explained, calling what mission president families receive “modest.” However, I can certainly respect those who would not characterize it as modest, and I am totally on board with hoping the church will one day disclose more financial information so these matters would not have the unnecessary weight of secrecy.

            If you’re interested, I would love to know what you consider immodest about the resources given to mission president families.

          • Zack Tacorin

            Derrick,

            Here are a few items that seem immodest to me. I’ve never had a job that would have provided such benefits.

            – Flights for their children to come and visit–that’s for single children up to and including the age of 26.

            – Undergraduate tuition for their kids. My kids save before school and work during school to help pay for college expenses I don’t cover.

            – The fact that all reimbursements seem to be allowed regardless of the financial means of the family. I have no doubt that many mission presidents forego the reimbursements because they are financially independent. But, this policy seems to allow all listed reimbursements regardless of the families’ wealth.

            Unfortunately, because the books of the Church are not open, we don’t know the extent of even the reimbursements to mission presidents. I would never support a non-profit if it kept its financials secret. Fortunately the law in the USA is for non-profits to publicly disclose finances.

            Though churches are not required to do this in the USA, there are some churches who see the importance of financial accountability made possible by financial disclosure (see http://www.ecfa.org/MemberSearch.aspx ).

            I do not know whether the LDS Church would benefit from such disclosure or not, but I am confident that choosing such disclosure is choosing the right.

            Thanks for your thoughts,
            Zack

          • Derrick Clements

            Thank you Zack. I’m happy that mission president couples don’t have those expenses on their plates while they are serving, but I totally respect you disagreeing. To me those items indicate the church wanting to counterbalance the drain it is on a family to serve in such an intense position. Making it possible for young adult children to come visit and be taken care of with school seems like a helpful gesture. The language I would use for the situation is communalism or consecration of their whole family’s (or at least the couple’s) energies for those three years, so thinking of in terms of job benefits doesn’t seem right to me.

            Your point that the church could restrict less needy families from the reimbursements is an interesting one that is worth considering. And again, I really do hope that the church will disclose its finances, even though I can understand why it would hesitate doing so. There would be lots of disagreement about how the church should use its resources, and much of that criticism/praise would be without context, but it certainly would be a challenge worth having for the overall health of the institution.

          • Zack Tacorin

            Derrick,

            You write:
            “Your point that the church could restrict less needy families from the
            reimbursements is an interesting one that is worth considering.”

            It could be that there would be no point to this. For all we know the mission presidents are working on an honor system to only seek reimbursement for what they need, and they’re being honest about this. Given human nature, I don’t think this would always work so well, but it could be. Until the fiances are disclosed, we’ll never know.

            At any rate, I appreciate your thoughts on this,
            Zack

          • Stuart Senften

            Stop being duped by this Evil Cult!! Wake Up, Derrick!

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