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Ejected from Salt Lake City

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VrijInteressant
322386.  Tue Apr 22, 2008 5:48 pm Reply with quote

In season 5 episode 12 ("Empire") Stephen Fry tells of being ejected from Salt Lake City, Utah, home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), for going to "the main square" and making a very funny remark to the tour guide. Quoting Stephen –

"This elder of the church said, 'And we know that when you die you will be reunited with your whole family.' And I said, 'Well what happens if you're good?'" Brilliant.

I am Mormon and quite surprised that that comment would cause offense. I hear that same sentiment jokingly told among our own people. My personal twist is that the belief is "a teenager's worst nightmare."

Here's an interesting bit for Alan Davies, who is especially crazed by all things religious: According to a national survey in the USA some years back, "The higher the level of education, the higher the probability that [the] respondents would have apostatized from [their] church." This would surprise Alan not at all. However in stark contrast, the reverse is true among Mormons. "Higher levels of religiosity among Latter-day Saints … are directly correlated with higher levels of education." Mormons do not have a paid clergy, and thus professional careers are not related to the religion. The higher levels of education cited are therefore in fields of study no different than for anyone else. My own studies were in maths and physics.

Back to Stephen's story. I am from Utah, have visited Temple Square often and note that he might have taken some liberties in the telling.

"I was ejected from a whole city." - While that square is privately owned by the Church, the rest of the city is not. Utah is comprised of only 30% practicing Mormons and no one on the Square would have authority to eject anyone from the city. We personally know a young lady (from Swansea, Wales) who served as a missionary and tour guide there last year. She wrote us weekly throughout her 18-month experience, occasionally told of rather difficult guests (vehement Bible-pounding anti-Mormons) and never mentioned ejecting anyone or calling for security personnel.

"You get in the central square and there are all of these people in white robes …" - Mormons do not normally wear all-white clothing and white robes, except inside the temple structure itself. I have never seen anyone in all-white at Temple Square.

"That is their whole business, to convert you, to make enormous sums of money out of you …" True on the conversion effort but a bit dubious on the primary goal being profit. As I droned before, Mormons have no professional paid clergy. There is indeed the "law of tithing" but the money goes mostly toward construction and maintenance of (rather plain) chapels, food for socials, and of course the usual charity efforts around the world. On Temple Square for example there is nothing for sale – no t-shirts, buttons, CDs or literature. Fancy that, an entire block square in a city center - the primary tourist attraction in the entire region - devoid of anything on offer. The same is true at all Mormon chapels (and Mormons do not pass that plate at worship services or provide donation boxes), and true at all temples and grounds including the ones in Newchapel, Surrey and Chorley, Lancashire (adjacent to the M61).

"They particularly go for women of a certain age …" I served a mission to Flanders as a young man and never heard of that emphasis. Likewise for my son who served in Sweden. Nor have I come across it anywhere else. (By the way, no Mormon missionaries are paid – not even for their food or housing.)

"This elder of the church said …" The word "elder" to Mormons simply denotes a volunteer. He is not necessarily a high official. Although there are some older couples who volunteer their time there, tours are provided by pairs of young women missionaries. The young women are drawn from around the world to serve there for 18 months – again on their own money. It is regrettable that it was an older person, and especially that one, to whom Stephen spoke because the young women are more experienced with the public and little phases them.

The elder said, "Which hotel are you staying in and we will pay your bill." I doubt anyone on Temple Square is authorized to pay a tourist's hotel fare, and it seems unlikely that an unpaid volunteer would do so.

* * *

Huge thanks to QI and the BBC for recently getting season 2 out on DVD! My wife and I lived in Manchester for 18 months (you guessed it, on a Mormon mission) and got addicted to QI there. We thrive on the DVDs and what copies of the other seasons that we can get from friends.

Cheers.

 
Sadurian Mike
322412.  Tue Apr 22, 2008 6:37 pm Reply with quote

VrijInteressant wrote:
"That is their whole business, to convert you, to make enormous sums of money out of you …" True on the conversion effort but a bit dubious on the primary goal being profit. As I droned before, Mormons have no professional paid clergy. There is indeed the "law of tithing" but the money goes mostly toward construction and maintenance of (rather plain) chapels, food for socials, and of course the usual charity efforts around the world.

You might want to check out the income of some of the higher level chaps in your religion. The base-level clergy might not be paid, but the higher ups are on a very tidy sum indeed. Many get free housing as well as a good income. Guess who is paying their salaries?

VrijInteressant wrote:
"This elder of the church said …" The word "elder" to Mormons simply denotes a volunteer. He is not necessarily a high official.

I've never heard of an LDS Church Elder who didn't hold rank. Indeed, the LDS website itself defines an Elder as:
LDS.org wrote:
Elder

An office of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Also used as a title for male missionaries or general authorities of the Church. Elders have authority to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands and to bestow priesthood blessings.


VrijInteressant wrote:
The elder said, "Which hotel are you staying in and we will pay your bill." I doubt anyone on Temple Square is authorized to pay a tourist's hotel fare, and it seems unlikely that an unpaid volunteer would do so.

An Elder, being one of the church's authorities, would certainly have the power to arrange for the paying of a bill for a well-known celebrity, especially one who was almost certainly going to be reporting his experiences.


I am not out to try to knock over the pillars of your faith, but you ought to get the facts right if you are going to make a post about it.

 
Jenny
322456.  Tue Apr 22, 2008 9:05 pm Reply with quote

VI - welcome to QI :-)

 
VrijInteressant
323348.  Wed Apr 23, 2008 5:09 pm Reply with quote

Virtually all adult males (19 and older) of the Church are "elders" in our lingo. "General Authorities" who are the over all leaders are also called elders but none of them serve on Temple Square. An elder serving there is a local member from a surrounding town who volunteers for a few hours per week, or has moved to SLC for a year to serve there.

I confess that I do not know what pay or reimbursement the higher ups get. It isn't published. Many are retired from their professions and possibly take no pay at all - and yes, I'm serious about that (airline pilot, lawyers [unfortunately] including one from the Utah Supreme Court, a surgeon, etc). It’s common for retired people (like myself) to donate time and personal money in service. The authority over my city and region owns a large car dealership. Most of the high officials live in this area (my town is a short commute to downtown SLC), live in a variety of neighborhoods around here, are known by the local congregations where they live, are seen at various church and non-church events - and I have never heard anyone mention a display of wealth. If they are squirreling away millions I wonder where and when they can be spending it.

For example, the current overall president has been seen visiting his sister in a neighborhood where a friend of mine lives. The president does not drive an expensive car and his sister is well known by my friend. My friend has never seen any sign of wealth in her, any mention of it, nor any juicy scuttlebutt about the president. The president has lived in the same home in SLC for 40 years and it is not in the expensive part of the city. He is known by his neighbors. Likewise regarding the leader before who was seen by another friend of mine raking leaves frequently in his yard – which I think is likely not something he would do if he could summon servants.

One of my ancestors was #2 man in the Church (Heber C. Kimball) and none of his descendants received any inheritance or advantage over anyone else, at least as far as I have read in diaries and that I have known personally of their descendants. All of them had basic professions as laborers (farmers) except for my grandfather who sold fruit trees to local orchards.

 
Flash
323431.  Wed Apr 23, 2008 6:16 pm Reply with quote

VI - on behalf of the show, thanks for your very measured response to this. I'll just flag this up as potential retractions special material, if I may.

 
Sadurian Mike
323440.  Wed Apr 23, 2008 6:43 pm Reply with quote

It might be that your US experiences are slightly different to the way things are run over here in the UK then. My wife was LDS for many years and for her, "Elder" is definitely someone holding sway within the church. It also seems to be the interpretation of the website but I obviously can't speak for how things are perceived in your own community.

The incomes of the church hierarchy are, as you say, kept secret, but the Salt Lake City Tribune, 8th Dec 1988 reported that:
Quote:
"The $1.2 million condominium at 40 N. State that is home to the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be exempt from property taxes, Salt Lake County commissioners ruled Tuesday."


He is not alone, of course, as the presidents and General Authority officials are paid what is described as a "modest living allowance". The Wall Street Journal reported on 9th November 1983 that a "Seventy"* (part of the second tier of the General Authorities) was paid $40 000 a year. Now that's a substantially "modest" living allowance.

I have no objection to paid ministers, most other religions do it without any problems, but I do think it is disingenuous to claim that the LDS heirarchy are not paid.


* A Seventy is defined by the LDS thusly; "The Seventies, consisting of Area Presidencies, are other LDS Church leaders that help the Twelve Apostles with their duties. They serve in different locations throughout the world while stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents serve in the local communities where they live."

 
VrijInteressant
323461.  Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:08 pm Reply with quote

Sincere thanks for the newspaper quotes. I blocked-copied them both and will search for the full articles. I wish the WSJ one was more recent for better comparison.

Good point also about the upper hierarchy receiving living allowances. I have a couple points to add. Firstly, according to my friend who knows the sister of the president (sheesh, obvious hearsay) but President Monson, who recently succeeded the previous president, was quite displeased at having to leave his home and move downtown to the condo with his new position. Secondly he is no longer allowed to drive his car but must use the church-provided car and driver, also to his great dislike. According to my friend, who has seen him drive down his street numerous times, the latter however may be for the better good of the community.

This hearsay however does square that the only person I’m aware of with special housing is the overall president. The location is next to headquarters and probably has efficiency for security personnel and transportation.

Secondly, the Seventies and the fifteen leaders above them are “called”, i.e. assigned to their positions. They do not apply for them. They must leave their employment and serve fulltime. They are often assigned to live away from their homes to preside over an area for an extended period. A living allowance is understandable, to which you did not disagree. To the list of recipients we should also add mission presidents, of which there are some 350 who probably also receive such allowance/pay.

However compare this to the total number of congregations – about 27,500 – each of which is presided over by one or more non-paid, lay clergy. This does not include the 53,000 full-time missionaries. Although my original claim of non-paid clergy is not completely accurate, perhaps in sense of scale it might be instructive.

Lastly, what might the 40k allowance/pay be comparable to now? Perhaps $60k? My son just graduated from the U. of Utah with a masters degree and started in his first job at over $50k. For an organization of millions of members and a probable worth of billions, if there is concern that LDS leaders are profiting from the masses I suppose I’m not too worried, although I’d growl if I saw an area Church leader driving a BMW or saw a photo of him on a yacht in Cancun.

Sorry to drone on, but I have one additional clarification from earlier. All practicing adult male members of the Church receive what we call the Melchizedek Priesthood. That is where the term “elder” comes from. But it is not a position in the hierarchy and the number of such persons is in the millions. All the males among the 53,000 missionaries for example wear a nametag that says “Elder Smith” or “Elder Jones”, etc. Unfortunately that causes endless confusion because of their young age.

Also unfortunately, Stephen Fry would probably not be recognized as a celebrity here as QI is not available, and “Jeeves and Wooster” and “Black Adder” were only available on PBS. (Hugh Laurie of course is another matter.)

P.S. My ID of “Vrij Interessant” is Dutch for QI. I especially like the “vrij” which is pronounced “fry”. Spooky, isn’t it?

 
Sadurian Mike
323465.  Wed Apr 23, 2008 11:20 pm Reply with quote

I wondered where the name came from, it looked Dutch but I admit to not looking any further into it. Great play on "QI".

I take your point about the elders being any who take the priesthood, 'though I would mention that missionaries themselves are not the sum total of your male members and do carry a little extra clout. I'll not start on the female thing, because that is too contentious an issue to raise without inevitably leading to flames somewhere along the line.

Back to the salaries, though. Your son had graduated with a master degree and started out earning less than someone who is supposedly on a "modest" allowance? Now, I realise that these things are in the eye of the beholder, but a "modest" living allowance for one of the Seventy (a fairly lowly position in the scheme of things, I'm sure you'll agree) ought not to be more than a graduate. The church is either anti-fithy lucre or it isn't, and according to the many quotes from Smith downwards, it is certainly meant to be.

Another issue that has always bugged me about the salaried hierarchy is the very secrecy that makes wild speculation rife. Why not publish the details of the salaries? They exist and we know that, but what on earth does the LDS church believe it is achieving by keeping the figures secret? At one stroke they could wipe out all that seditious rumour and false reporting, without compromising their members or their church.

I wonder if you have any ideas on that? (I have no idea how far up the chain you are, or how much you have been told).

Incidentally, as Flash said, thanks for staying calm and debating the issue. I know it is uncomfortable for some LDS to be quizzed about their church (and certainly not encouraged), so I appreciate you taking the time to talk.

 
dr.bob
323536.  Thu Apr 24, 2008 4:26 am Reply with quote

Sadurian Mike wrote:
Another issue that has always bugged me about the salaried hierarchy is the very secrecy that makes wild speculation rife. Why not publish the details of the salaries? They exist and we know that, but what on earth does the LDS church believe it is achieving by keeping the figures secret? At one stroke they could wipe out all that seditious rumour and false reporting, without compromising their members or their church.


Heh. For a moment there I thought you were discussing expenses claims in the Palace of Westminster, or the European Parliament.

 
maiden
323646.  Thu Apr 24, 2008 5:46 am Reply with quote

VrijInteressant wrote:
P.S. My ID of “Vrij Interessant” is Dutch for QI. I especially like the “vrij” which is pronounced “fry”. Spooky, isn’t it?


I thought that was Dutch, but couldn't work it out (not being able to speak Dutch). Good play on words with your name there ... well done.

Yes, the pronunciation 'Fry' is spooky

:)

 
Jenny
323876.  Thu Apr 24, 2008 10:27 am Reply with quote

VI - thank you for your contributions.

I thought it might be interesting to draw some comparisons with clergy in the UK.

Just to get accurate comparisons, here is the result of one search comparing the value of #40k in 1983 to 2007:

http://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/uscompare/result.php

Current data is only available till 2007. In 2007, $40,000.00 from 1983 is worth:
$83,269.88 using the Consumer Price Index
$73,400.19 using the GDP deflator
$105,865.67 using the value of consumer bundle *
$105,865.67 using the unskilled wage *
$121,460.38 using the nominal GDP per capita
$156,544.80 using the relative share of GDP


If we compare to UK C of E clergy we find:

http://www.theanswerbank.co.uk/Society-and-Culture/Religion-and-Spirituality/Question442632.html

Quote:
Curates: £14,680-£15,820
Parish clergy (e.g. vicar): £16,420
Cathedral-based canons: £20,200
Junior bishops: £24,790
Diocesan bishops: £30,120
Archbishop of Canterbury: £55,660

Although vicars collect fees for conducting weddings and funerals, these go to the diocese to fund stipends.


Parish clergy are provided with a house to live in, but only while they are working - after retirement they must find their own homes. Curates are not provided with housing.

This was what I found out about Catholic clergy:

http://www.catholicpriesthood.com/html/moreqa.htm#question7

Quote:
How much do you get paid?
Priests do not expect to become wealthy, but nor should they need to worry about the necessities of life. Parish Priests are given a cash stipend of $11 400 per year and Assistant Priests are paid $11 160. This may seem like a small amount, but priests are given a number of fringe benefits. Their accommodation and household costs (electricity, phone and food) are paid by their parish. Priests are also provided with a car and a car expenses allowance, although they do make a limited contribution to car costs. Priests are also covered by private health insurance.

While not having a luxurious lifestyle, priests can live a comfortable life with financial security.

 
VrijInteressant
324048.  Thu Apr 24, 2008 2:37 pm Reply with quote

I’m afraid I’m useless when it comes to delving into the inner workings of the finances of the Church.

I have lived in Utah, Samoa, Belgium, Las Vegas, England and central California. I have seen much of the local congregations in each area but have not come across anything juicy. I have never served as congregation leader, although multiple family members and friends have. Likewise on anything interesting from them financially.

My father-in-law lived next door and was close friends with an older gentleman who was secretary (paid employee, now deceased) to four presidents of the Church in succession. My father-in-law arranged for me to visit the man and ask him any questions that I desired. The discussion ended up spanning two evenings. I had a whole page of questions written up – but none involved finances. It was not that I felt the subject was forbidden; it just did not occur to me.

 
teddeler
403731.  Sun Sep 07, 2008 4:36 pm Reply with quote

Hi. I'm new to the forum. I'd seen the "ejection from Salt Lake City" story and was looking around the web to see if anyone had discussed it and found this. Looks like a nice forum and I appreciate the comments made here.

I was wondering about the story because I lived in Salt Lake City for a number of years and it just doesn't jive with my experience (Provo, on the other hand...). As was mentioned before, he starts out the story saying "...there are all these people in white robes..." The only place I could imagine you'd find a bunch of people in white robes in SLC would be inside the temple itself (which, yes, is in the 'main square' referred to). It makes me wonder if Stephen Fry somehow ended up inside the temple (normally only people with temple reccomends are allowed in). Though in that case he would only be asked to leave the temple, not the whole city.

Just a thought.

 
Rudolph Hucker
403737.  Sun Sep 07, 2008 5:00 pm Reply with quote

Why do I get the idea that VrijInteressant and
teddeler are known to each other outside this forum?

 
teddeler
403771.  Sun Sep 07, 2008 6:41 pm Reply with quote

Rudolph Hucker wrote:
Why do I get the idea that VrijInteressant and
teddeler are known to each other outside this forum?


Well, there's a theory (quantified by the great Pratchett) that ideas are particulate in nature and just sort of stream through space, occasionally hitting people at the oddest of moments. You may have been hit by a randomised idea particle.

In this case it's actually wrong but it's a nice theory. :p

 

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