Material History of American Religion Project

A Lutheran rebellion

American ministers have often felt underpaid, especially in comparison to denominational executives. On occasion this leads to rebellion in the ranks. In 1938 a group of pastors asked the convention of the United Lutheran Church in America to reveal the salaries paid to denominational officers and to set a minimum and maximum for them. That convention appointed a committee, which reported two years later.

The Special Committee appointed to study the Compensation of U.L.C.A. workers, in accord with the action of the [1938] Baltimore Convention on a memorial on this subject made a thorough investigation of the salaries and other income received by workers of the United Lutheran Church, and its Boards and Agencies. The Committee also studied the service obligations of the principal workers as well as the living conditions in their places of residence. The Committee agrees:

  1. That the United Lutheran Church should not take action requiring all Board and Auxiliary Agencies of the Church to mention, in reports submitted to the Church, the names of Executives, Secretaries, etc., with the details of their income. The Church selects the members of each Board with entire confidence in their judgment in respect to the conduct of the business to be transacted. It is contrary to the best business practice to lay down regulations with respect to such detail; and it savors of a legalistic spirit in the affairs of the Church.
  2. That it is not desirable that the Church establish a minimum and a maximum salary. It is the conviction of the Special Committee that the Executive Secretaries are receiving comparatively modest salaries. Many pastors receive a larger income. The fact that many pastors do not receive so large an income is no reason for placing such a restriction upon the Boards of the Church which require the most capable men available.
  3. While it does not come within the compass of the Committee's assignment, the Committee also agrees that the Executive Board should study the whole question of inadequate salaries for pastors. The Church ought to devise a plan which would ensure every minister an adequate income.

The rebellion continued:

Recommendation 1. It was moved and seconded to strike out the entire recommendation and substitute the following: That the boards and agencies of the United Lutheran Church be requested to report the amount of salaries, paid to all who serve as executives or board secretaries or editors or the like, in a uniform manner as determined by the Executive Board of the Church. The substitute was adopted. Recommendations 2 and 3 were adopted.

The minutes for the next convention, 1942, report the salaries of top denominational officers.

Minutes of the Convention of the United Lutheran Church in America, 1940, p. 547. Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Chicago, Illinois.

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