Paid Ministry and Corruption

Many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints take some pride in the claim that there is no paid ministry in the church.  This is true enough on the local level, where local leaders volunteer all of their time without financial compensation.  But I understand that it is also true that many (if not all) full time general leaders of the church do get paid – something along the lines of what a college professor might earn.  If this is not true please correct me, but it is my understanding, and I will proceed as if it were true.

I have been reading some Kierkegaard recently, and he pointed out two areas of worry regarding a paid ministry.  And I believe that what little paid ministry there is in the church, it avoids both areas of worry.

Actually, there is only one area of worry – corruption.  And this worry can come from two sources – the state and the congregation.  Kierkegaard made accusations of apostasy against the church of Denmark, and perhaps Christianity as a whole, and he felt that corruption from paid ministry was part of the cause of such apostasy.

Kierkegaard felt that if a minister were paid by the congregation, then he might preach what the people want to hear – rather than the gospel as it is.  If the minister were paid by the state, then he may be pressured to preach what the state desires him to preach.  Either source of pay can lead to a corrupted gospel.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, local people do almost all of the teaching and preaching.  They do not get paid a dime for this.  And while the forces of correlation place suggested boundaries on what is taught, there is still a lot of freedom to teach what one feels ought to be taught.  The general church leaders do not depend on weekly collections for their pay, and such a modest ‘salary’ approach allows them to avoid much of the corrupting influences Kierkegaard speaks of.

Additionally, since the source of the pay is not from the state, it has little if any influence on what is taught or done in the church.

So while the absence of a paid ministry is not absolute in the church, I believe there is a lack of financial based corruption, which is an important safeguard in keeping the restored gospel pure.

16 Responses to “Paid Ministry and Corruption”

  1. 1 chris August 17, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    To take the other side of the argument, which I do not suggest is my view, but just to show I don’t think we can be fully except from criticism. We basically teach from the manuals the paid people compile and tell us to teach.

    I’m not complaining about it though. And I don’t think they are corrupted. But with the hierarchy of how the church is run, the risk is still there. For instance, a disaffected Mormon might say that the paid leaders in our church who compile the manuals specifically lead us away from talking about various flaws of whatever prophet, or lead us away from detailed lessons on polygamy, or any doctrines, etc.

    In effect, two things could be said. One, they are catering to what we want to hear (a nice reformed Gospel, with no warts, and without dealing with the troubling issues) or they are intentionally avoiding the sticky subjects which run the risk of undermining trust in them.

    In both cases, the paid authors and compilers and overseers of the teaching/preaching materials could be accused of having a financial interest in continuing those two scenarios.

    I think the reality, from my perspective is much less interesting to one who might really harbor the above sentiment. The manuals are compiled to help us increase our faith after the pattern of the scriptures. Not by focusing on minutiae or zeroing in on whatever faults we have, but to learn grand principles, focus on charity and virtue, and try discuss things which can increase our faith. All while recognizing there is more to eternity than this life and we need to experience as much of the goods the church can give us while we are in a church setting.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson August 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Thank you for your comment.

    I think you have concluded fairly nicely, and have answered your own concerns well. I think the key issue is whether the gospel itself has been compromised.

  3. 3 Paul August 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    The reason Chris’ argument is at least different from Kirkegaard’s is that it is the church that’s paying its staff, not the people or the state. (Most of us don’t make a decision to pay our tithing based on what we heard in Sunday School in the past week.) So it’s not an outside influence that corrupts one way or the other. That it may be an inside effort to control the message is certainly plausible (and even probable).

    That said, I’m not sure all the manual writers are paid staff, either. I assume the correlation committee is, however.

    And I also see things as Chris’ final paragraph describes.

  4. 4 gundek August 18, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Of course the argument that ministers paid by the congregation might preach what the people want to hear assumes the congregation has the power to end the call of the minister.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson August 18, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Nope. It only assumes their money can corrupt the minister.

  6. 6 wreddyornot August 18, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    If someone were to say the paid ministers and other workers earn hundreds of thousands, even millions in pay and other benefits, a year, what/who is there/their to refute that? And even if they aren’t so paid at this time, what checks and balances are there to prevent them from doing so? And doesn’t the security of their pay and other benefits have a possibility of leading to corruption? Just wondering about the take of others on this.

  7. 7 Senile Old Fart August 18, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Seminary and institute teachers constitute a paid ministry.

  8. 8 gundek August 18, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I guess I cannot understand how a $45k salary for a person with a masters degree is all that corrupting. Besides you are taking salary alone and excluding the ecclesiastical checks that many denominations have.

  9. 9 Eric Nielson August 19, 2011 at 7:40 am


    You bring up some good questions. The type of corruption you are questioning would require a corruption of the entire group, rather than an individual here and there. Yet, I might say that sure, that is possible, just less likely.


    In my neck of the woods they are not paid. But I know that there are full timers that are paid. I think there may be a reasonable distinction between someone who could be considered a school teacher whose subjects are books of scripture and a minister of a congregation. The turnover of students would be one source. As would things like ordinances.


    I do think that a modest salary, that has little to no direct influence from local collections would be a safeguard. What do you mean by ecclesiastical checks? Is this eccesiastical reviews/suporvision? Or eccesiastical pay?

  10. 10 gundek August 19, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    First I should say that there is no evidence of financial corruption in the LDS church and this should not be taken as an attack on the financial practices of your church. I have said elsewhere that financial issues are a matter for members of a church as long as the law is not broken. I must also admit that financial corruption has indeed occurred and continues to occur on a somewhat regular basis in American evangelicalism.

    I don’t believe that an unpaid local clergy prevents corruption of the gospel message when the gospel message they teach originates from a church bureaucracy it only moves the source of financial corruption from the local congregation and into the church bureaucracy.

    Take a hypothetical denomination based in say California as an example. This church has a centralized financial structure that pools all contributions globally and redistributes them as necessary for the running of the church, production of training material, building and maintaining facilities etc. It has a global bureaucracy organized to facilitate the governing of local congregations, distribution of theological training material, and the calling of local laity for local administration. There is no incentive for the local laity to alter the message taught weekly from the pulpit because weekly contributions go down. In fact, practically there is no way for the local laity to alter the message because theological training material originates from the headquarters in California.

    What this system does not do is protect the local congregations from any alteration in message from the church headquarters based on financial considerations. As the distributer of theological material and the central clearinghouse for all matters financial it is quite conceivable that doctrines that don’t preach well (read cause contributions to decrease) could be rejected, phased out, or simply deemphasize for material that goes over well (read caused contributions to increase). This alteration in theology would not have to be done out of malice or for personal financial gain, but instead to keep the church on a firm financial footing and to further the important work coming out of California.

    Take on the other hand a hypothetical denomination based in Florida. This denomination has a decentralized financial system with each congregation raising their own funds and hiring and paying their own clergy. In addition to the paid clergy this denomination also has ordained laity that receives no financial payment for their church work. When the laity is called to be officers in the church they are taught and examined in the theology and doctrines of the denomination ensuring that they will maintain doctrinal orthodoxy of a written confession of faith. The Florida church has 3 governing bodies the local congregation, regional boards, and a national assembly. These governing bodies are staffed by both paid clergy and unpaid laity. The regional board and national assembly are financed out of voluntary contributions from local congregations and take care of matters such as mission boards, doctrinal training, denominational seminaries etc.

    This system does not prevent the local clergy from teaching contrary to the denominations confession of faith to try to increase weekly contributions. That is until the regional board finds out and brings that clergy to task. This system does prevent the local laity from dismissing clergy because the call to clerical office is joint, both the local congregation and the regional board approve of all hiring and firing. This system is completely inefficient has no effective way of distributing money where it is most needed. This system is based on a written doctrinal standard that all church officers (laity and clergy) promise to uphold, but this would not stop financial impropriety until it came to the attention of the regional board and national assembly when the annual review of the congregations and regional boards proceedings is conducted (including sermons).

    In both cases checks have been emplaced to prevent outright fraud. In both cases salaries are consistent with regional norms either for clergy or church employee. In both cases the laity is an important factor in the government of the church. In both cases it is conceivable that the church headquarters or national assembly could change doctrine based on financial motives, but it isn’t exactly practical in either system because it would require corruption on a conspiratorial scale.

  11. 11 Eric Nielson August 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    A very thoughtful reply. If I am correct, it is your 3rd and 4th paragraph which summarizes your view of the LDS system. Is that correct? If it is, I think you have summarized it fairly well. And th corruption would have to be that of a widespread conspiracy which is not likely but possible. It would also tend to be subtle.

    I am assuming most of the rest is you summary of other Christian churches. Is that correct? I think most Mormons like me tend to assume that other congregations are mostly local and independent, with only loose ties (if any) to some global governing body.

  12. 12 gundek August 19, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Yes the paragraph 3 and 4 are how I would understand the LDS while paragraph 5 and 6 describe a Presbyterian form of government with the congregation (session) regional governing body (presbytery) and national body (general assembly) made up of ruling elders (laity) and teaching elders (clergy).

    There are 3 basic forms of governments congregational, Presbyterian, and episcopal with multiple twists on each.

    Congregational are locally run, maybe with a loose denominational connection such as the SBC. Presbyterian as I described found in Presbyterian and Reformed churches may have additional governing bodies such as synods. Episcopal churches have a governing Bishop over a Episcopate or diocese.

  13. 13 Eric Nielson August 19, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks for the info. It is my feel that most are congregational, but that is just an impression. This mostly comes from my time in Georgia as a missionary which is Baptist country.

  14. 14 psychochemiker August 22, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Nice post, Eric.
    Thank you for your information as well Gundeck.

    My opinion, is that often in the LDS church, we get what we pay for in terms of teaching.

    Sometimes we get more, but often we get less.

  15. 15 don leach October 2, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I recently accepted the teaching post of my elders quorum after much thought and deliberation. You see, I’m not the most converntional Mormon. I joined the church 6 years ago and I have some different views on life and religion. At times I’ve felt like I don’t quite fit in. As such I wasn’t sure if I should or could do the calling justice. But then I realized during another class that I didn’t have to know everything. I try to lead a conversation and (sometimes not so) subtly add in questions to make people think. That way I’m not preaching only what I believe and teaching something that goes against what the church’s official position is. For example homosexuality. I personally don’t care what a person does in their life as long as they are not hurting someone else. It’s between God and that person, and it’s not for me to judge. So if that particular issue were to come up I need to be able to bring out other views and let people decide for themselves, perhaps I can make a difference, perhaps not but at least I am staying true to myself and my calling, If I ever feel that there’s a conflict I’ll address it then and decide if I should continue. I’ve never been one to push my beliefs off on others, well except for music that is.

  16. 16 Eric Nielson October 2, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Good luck with the new calling Don.

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