Each of the churches responding did so courteously and gave reasons for
declining the request.
J. Edwin Pope, chief financial officer of the Global
Church of God, wrote that "it would not be appropriate to reveal confidential
salary information of our employees out of deference to their privacy."
The PCG's Pastor General Gerald Flurry wrote that
the requested information is "not made available to the public at this
Benny L. Sharp, business manager of the CGI, wrote
that he would "be glad to present your request for salary information
to the board of directors [of the CGI] for their consideration at the next
Of the five organizations contacted, only the UCG
has provisions in its constitution for providing salary information. Article
10.5 of the UCG bylaws, ratified Dec. 4 by the UCG elders in Cincinnati,
Ohio, states: "At each annual meeting of the general conference, the
treasurer shall disclose the salary ranges for all paid positions of the
However, Steven D. Andrews, treasurer of the UCG,
said in a March 8 letter to In Transition he "must respectfully
decline" the request for compensation information on the 10 highest-paid
He acknowledged that Article 10.5 of the bylaws
"require[s] me to disclose salary ranges for all paid positions of
the corporation. The bylaws require such disclosure to be made each year
at the general conference.
"Since the manner, method and substance of
salary disclosure for the UCG has been established by the general conference
of elders, it would be inappropriate, if not unethical, to provide the information
you request for publication in In Transition."
In a March 11 phone conversation, Mr. Andrews said
salaries were not disclosed at the 1995 general conference because "I
guess no one asked."
Mr. Andrews said no salary information will be
disclosed until the next general conference.
No date has yet been set for the UCG's next general
Influenced by WCG pay structure
Most of the major offshoots have been significantly influenced by the Worldwide
Church of God's compensation structure, since they employ mainly former
Mr. Andrews, for example, said that, while the
United Church of God is reviewing its salary structure, the UCG hired former
WCG ministers and other employees at their old WCG pay rates.
In Transition learned
from former WCG employees that as of the spring of 1995, when the UCG formed,
most WCG field ministers' salaries fell within the following ranges:
- Never pastors with less than 10 years' experience
were paid salaries in the low- to mid-$30,000 range.
- Pastons with more than 10 years' experience were
paid salaries in the high $30,000s to the low $40,000s.
- U.S. regional pastors were paid salaries in the
- Senior international directors were paid salaries
in the $70,000s.
Former WCG insiders note that exceptions to the
above-stated ranges were not unusual, especially at Pasadena, Calif., headquarters.
They say that, when field ministers were stationed
for a time at WCG headquarters, for example, their pay was higher than that
of those who served in the U.S. field ministry.
The WCG rarely cut salaries in recent decades,
even when elders' job duties were significantly reduced.
So, when former headquarters personnel were sent
to serve in diminished responsibilities, they often retained their higher
The WCG reached these compensation rates in the
mid- to late 1980s.
There were no significant across-the-board raises
during the decade after Joseph W. Tkach Sr.'s succession as pastor general
in 1986 after the death of Herbert W. Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong, as early
as the mid-1970s, paid himself a base salary of $200,000.
Mr. Tkach, who died last September, said he was
opposed to highly compensated church employees. Some WCG insiders say he
preferred to cap evangelist-ranked ministers at $60,000.
However, several headquarters-based evangelists
made significantly more than $60,000.
Ranking headquarters ministers also enjoyed extensive
perquisites, subsidized housing standing out as the single most valuable
category of compensation.
Some of the residences provided to ministers adjacent
to the church property in Pasadena, along South Orange Grove Boulevard,
have an estimated fair-market rental value of from $3,000 to $5,000 a month.
These homes were provided to ministers at no cost or minimal cost.
The highest-ranking managers at WCG headquarters
enjoyed free meals during work hours. Extensive travel at church expense
further reduced their living costs.
Another perk was Imperial Schools, the private
school operated by the WCG, which is scheduled to shut down in two months,
at the end of this school year.
Pasadena public schools are not known for their
high standards, and many parents who can afford to do so send their children
to private schools. Imperial charged only a small fraction of the tuition
charged by other private schools in the area.
Historically, elders employed by the Worldwide Church of God have enjoyed
a financial advantage over other elders and other church members in that
they were not required to save a second (festival) tithe.
Elders on the WCG payroll historically were given
9 percent of their base salary as a bonus to cover festival expenses. Instead
of a full 10 percent, 1 percent was automatically deducted for what was
once called the "tithe of the tithe," used to cover operational
expenses for Feast of Tabernacles.
Until recent years, a portion of the 9 percent
was paid shortly before the spring Holy Days, the remainder before the fall
In recent years, WCG headquarters changed its policy,
adding the 9 percent to each minister's regular salary, from which the elder
was expected to provide for his own festival expenses and that of his family.
If the elder attended his assigned site, most of his expenses were tax-deductible.
Additionally, elders--paid and unpaid--were not
required to pay a third tithe (a tithe collectedly for poor church members,
paid two years out of seven). This tithe represents, when annualized over
seven years, a 2.86 percent donation.
Social security factor
The vast majority of WCG elders in the United States do not have federal
social-security taxes withheld from their pay. This practice of the Worldwide
Church of God and other churches is not unusual and complies with the U.S.
Internal Revenue Service code.
The IRS, in its publication 517, Social Security
and Other Information for Members of the Clergy and Religious Workers,
gives the guidelines for ministers in the United States to avoid paying
Most employees in the United States have 7.65 percent
of their gross pay withheld for social security. Employers also pay 7.65
percent for each employee, for a total 15.3 percent tax on gross pay.
While those who have not paid social security are
not eligible to receive social-security payments at retirement, they do
enjoy more discretionary money from each paycheck.
In addition to the short-term benefits of avoiding
social-security withholding, in the United States ministers of all religions
are permitted a housing allowance.
Income tax factor
Ministers frequently pay less in federal income tax than do comparably compensated
lay members. A major portion of the tax advantage comes from sheltering
taxable income through a housing allowance.
IRS publication 517 states: "A housing allowance
paid to you as part of your salary is not income to the extent you use it,
in the year received, to provide a home or to pay utilities for a home you
are provided ... Expenses of providing a home include rent, house payments,
furniture payments, costs for a garage and utilities."
The IRS publication says ministers who own their
own home, or who are buying it, are allowed to "exclude your housing
allowance from your income if you spend it for the down payment on the home,
for mortgage payments, or for interest, taxes, utilities, repairs, etc."
This IRS provision does not set a specific percentage
cap based on a minister's salary; however, the WCG at one time capped the
housing allowance at 50 percent of the minister's base pay.
The IRS does state that the clergy cannot "exclude
more than the fair rental value of the home [including furnishings] plus
the cost of utilities, even if a larger amount is designated as a housing
A minister who makes $40,000 annually, for example,
and who is buying a home could realize a monthly housing allowance of $1,250,
including mortgage payment, utilities, property taxes, furniture payments
and upkeep. He may legally direct his church employer to reduce the amount
of reported income by $15,000, from a $40,000 gross to a taxable base of
Additionally, the IRS allows the same minister
to deduct his mortgage interest and real-estate taxes paid on the home,
further reducing his taxable income.
The fleet program
Until the past year, the WCG provided most ministers in its employ a late-model
vehicle. Most elders were part of the WCG's fleet program. In the United
States, the minister paid less than $100 per month for his portion of the
fleet vehicle, which included the cost of vehicle, gasoline, insurance and
In cases where the minister had teenaged drivers,
this benefit could be worth as much as $600 a month.
However, the WCG has over the past year virtually
eliminated the fleet, opting for a mileage-reimbursement program.
The Church of God International, founded in 1978,
is perhaps less influenced by the traditional WCG pay structure than those
offshoots formed more recently.
As mentioned earlier in this article, while the
CGI declined to provide any salary information, Mr. Sharp offered to present
In Transition's request for salary information to the CGI board of
"It has always been the policy of the Church
of God International that individual salary information of all employees
is confidential," Mr. Sharp wrote in a letter responding to the In
"Many times in the past when this issue was
discussed, we agreed with the advice of then board member, and at the time
vice-president of the Church of God International, Ronald Dart, who stated
that an employee was entitled to the right to privacy regarding his salary
Mr. Dart, who left the CGI and founded Christian
Education Ministries late last year, said Mr. Sharp was correct in his characterization
of the advice Mr. Dart gave to the CGI.
"However, I've rethought my historic position
on this subject," he said in an March 15 telephone interview. "CEM's
bylaws require it to publish all salaries paid by the organization."
learned that the two highest-paid people in the CGI before Mr. Dart's exit
were CGI founder Garner Ted Armstrong and Mr. Dart.
Mr. Sharp declined to provide information about
individual salries but In Transition has learned Mr. Armstrong's
annual compensation was about 140,000 until recently. He was compensated
by both the CGI and the Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association, which
was recently dismantled.
CGI insiders say Mr. Armstrong, after recent turmoil
within the organization (In Transition, Dec. 18), is now paid about
Mr. Dart reportedly was paid $95,000 annually.
However, he declined either to confirm or deny his own CGI compensation
or that of Mr. Armstrong.
Mr. Sharp said the CGI has no paid ministers outside
the CGI's home office in Tyler, Texas. He said the CGI does not advocate
members paying a third tithe and that the church pays the festival expenses
of salaried ministers.
Ministerial benefits add up
In Transition asked
a certified public accountant, in private practice but with tax experience
in a Big Eight accounting firm, to assess the financial impact of the WCG's
historic benefits to ministers.
The CPA, who has no current or past affiliation
with the WCG or its offshoots, used as an example a church pastor who is
paid a base salary of $40,000.
He noted that a dollar saved is worth more than
a dollar earned because a dollar earned is subject to tithe and tax and
therefore, depending on the tax bracket, can easily be worth as much as
$1.20 to $1.50.
The accountant compared a minister's compensation
to that of a lay member who paid second and third tithe, had social-security
tax withheld and provided his family an automobile in the range of a late-model
Dodge Intrepid, which was a common WCG fleet vehicle.
In the CPA's judgment, the lay member would have
to earn $60,000 to $70,000 to equal the pay of the minister at $40,000.
Ministers at Pasadena with executive duties would
experience higher potential tax exposure. Expensive housing provided them,
along with other benefits mentioned earlier, would easily exceed the salary
equivalent of $100,000, at which level a lay member living in the same region
of the country who did not enjoy similar tax, tithe and other ministerial
benefits would have to earn to benefit from a similar standard of living.
In fairness, however, the non-elder is often funding
his social security or other forms of retirement and may have superior benefits,
particularly in the health-care arena.
Are ministers paid too much?
Most ministers contacted by In Transition said they thought salary
ranges should be published and that their organizations should be more forthcoming
with financial information. However, they noted that compensation is a touchy
subject and that, regardless of what a minister's pay is, some will think
it's too high or too low.
One such minister is Melvin Rhodes, a UCG pastor
serving the Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich., congregations. Mr. Rhodes was
ordained by the Worldwide Church of God in 1978 and served as a salaried
minister with that organization until he affiliated with the UCG in mid-1995.
"I must admit I am a little sensitive to the
subject of ministerial pay," Mr. Rhodes said, "partly because
of correspondence going around on the subject, some of which smacks of minister-bashing.
I see preferring a noncareer ministry, and I am not convinced that is good
for the church.
"I also know that many full-time ministers
are now into one business or another because they sense the same preference
in their areas, that the full-time ministry won't last. Some lay members
may hurt themselves in the longer term by going too far in tearing down
the full-time ministry. There's a balance there somewhere."
Mr. Rhodes and other ministers said it is not uncommon
for a Protestant minister to earn $50,000. Mr. Dart said the pastor of a
large Protestant church in East Texas is compensated $150,000 annually,
with the full knowledge of the congregation
Ministers' wives: Two for the price of one?
Another factor, former WCG ministers say,
is that historically the WCG forbade elders' wives to work outside the home.
Even beyond this policy, wives were required to work for the church without
Ministers' spouses, in many cases, were scheduled
to visit with their husbands and required to sit in on visits to comply
with the policy that elders could not visit a woman alone.
In other words, in a high percentage of cases in
the past, the WCG got two employees for the price of one. This policy was
gradually relaxed over the past decade.
For many years, the wives of ministers serving
church congregations were not allowed to work, although their counterparts
at Pasadena were permitted to do so.
However, once field ministers' wives began to work,
one effect was that some of their husbands carried an increased load of
baby-sitting, transporting children to school and other domestic activities,
reducing accordingly the time available to their congregations.
Former WCG ministers are quick to note that their
former employer had no policy to reward those who worked harder and were
more effective in their jobs. Mr. Rhodes noted that pastors who carried
a heavy academic load in their pursuit of a graduate degree or those who
were avid racquetball players at the expense of their jobs made essentially
the same amount as others who worked 60 to 70 hours a week serving brethren
in their congregations.
What are the duties?
"In considering pay you should also address the duties ministers are
paid for," the daughter of a long-time elder, who asked not to be identified,
"Ministers are on call 24 hours a day, 365
days a year," she said. "They get phone calls at any time, day
or night, from anyone. Their personal lives and those of their families
suffer. They are subject to moves across the country or even overseas."
She said ministers' children are often moved from
school to school, and throughout a minister's career, his assignments often
do not allow him to be near children, grandchildren or elderly parents.
"I don't think the WCG ministry was overpaid
in general. There were some problems, but overall most of the ministers
I know worked hard and deserved the pay they received."