I obviously cannot know what Peggy Fletcher Stack’s intentions were in the writing and timing of her recent Salt Lake Tribune article about me entitled “Mormon facing excommunication makes his living off his podcasts.” I will say at the outset that I consider Peggy to be both a longtime hero and a friend of sorts. I was also very grateful for many positive things that Peggy mentioned in her article.
Overall I felt like the article was balanced, but I can also imagine how many active, faithful LDS Church members will respond to an article written primarily about my compensation(???) on the eve of my disciplinary council. Within the active, believing LDS context (Peggy’s context, frankly), it could easily be interpreted as an attempt to elicit shame and ill-will, given our tendency as a church to condemn those who profit from religious endeavors (i.e., “priestcraft”). Again, I do not necessarily believe that this was Peggy’s intent, only that this will likely be the reaction for many, which (again) raises questions about the timing of the article.
I only have a few responses to Peggy, all of which I would have appreciated mention in the article for a more balanced perspective within the LDS context:
1) I am very proud that, unlike the LDS Church, I have been transparent regarding OSF finances and my own compensation. This has been intentional.
2) I would very gladly swap my OSF compensation package with any member of the LDS First Presidency, Quorum of the 12 Apostles, or 1st Quorum of the Seventy. If Peggy wanted to do some groundbreaking reporting, this would be a fantastic opportunity. Not to shame them…mind you…but to provide much needed transparency (which is one of my major concerns with the modern LDS Church).
3) Just like employees of any non-profit (e.g., NPR, PBS, Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America…whose CEO reportedly makes $1.6 million/year), I believe that the world benefits when those who spend their lives in the service of others are compensated for their work. In addition, physicians, teachers, politicians, corporate profiteers, LDS Church employees…and yes…even journalists like Peggy….are also compensated for their work. I do not believe that non-profit employees should be publicly shamed for what they are paid (not that this was necessarily Peggy’s intention…only that it could appear this way to others).
4) Having given up six-figure-salaried and fully-benefited jobs at Microsoft and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to do my work with Mormon Stories, I believe that it would have been worth mentioning in the article that I could have made (and still could make) much, much more money through other channels. All in all, I do not believe it a stretch to estimate that I have forgone well over $1 Million in compensation over the last ten years as the result of my decision to go back to graduate school, and to start Mormon Stories (with a wife and four children courageously at my side). Nonetheless, I have intentionally chosen to make much less money to try to alleviate suffering and promote health within Mormon culture through my work with the OSF. I am proud of this decision, even though it has resulted in a significant financial sacrifice for me and my family.
5) Words cannot express how grateful I am for those who have financially supported Mormon Stories over the past six years. As the article graciously mentioned, I made a deal with listeners back in 2010 that if they would support me with the podcast, I would use the money to help pay for groceries, health insurance and medical bills (both of which we pay out of pocket), clothes, tuition, etc. I have used the money exactly as promised, and my family and I are forever indebted to you for your generous support. I literally could not have done it without you.
6) Peggy – My wife’s name is spelled “Margi.” A correction (at least online) would be very much appreciated. 🙂
Finally, I was so very grateful this morning to receive this email of support from a listener:
“Dear Ms. Stack:
Your recent article on John Dehlin me a bit bemused by its odd focus on how he is paid.
He is, after all, among other things a journalist just as you are. He produces high-quality podcasts, each one hours long, clearly preceded by even more prep time, just as you too must do for your professional writing, time which could be otherwise spent more profitably to yourselves, however much a loss to your respective readers.
Or am I wrong in presuming that the SLTrib compensates you for your reporting? Or that you imply that he is deceptive to his donors? That his motives are “tainted”? Or that you believe he’s just plain not worth the money?
I am one of those donors. Every month I get a disclosure notice with the OSF mission statement and link to a transparent financial statement. Please be reassured that I do not expect a highly impactful, hard-working, college-educated, computer- and media-savvy non-profit director with years of experience in IT to work for free.
For my money (and as a donor, it is my money), John Dehlin’s effectiveness is clear. As a podcast listener, I have been exposed to diverse perspectives. As a gay man, I am inspired by John’s tireless advocacy on behalf of LGBT youth.
The implication in your article that John Dehlin is “in it for the money” is unjustified and unjust.”
Again, while I don’t necessarily believe that it was Peggy’s intent to imply that I was “in it for the money,” and while I was grateful to read many positive things in the article, I did feel like the focus and the timing of the article was very odd, given my pending excommunication. It is hard for me to imagine a similar article being written about any other non-profit professional in a reputable newspaper.