We didn’t have anyone signed up to do this lesson, but since I just taught it today I thought I’d give a report on what transpired here in case it is useful to those of you who have not had it yet.The lesson manual had an attention activity where you show a piece of money and ask what it might represent. I normally don’t like the suggested attention activities, but I thought this one was pretty good, so I did it (with a $20). The main point of the discussion was to convey the point that there is nothing inherently good or evil about that piece of paper, but it is our own attitudes towards money that color what it means for us. (I often circulate pictures, articles, or books of interest for a topic, and several suggested I should pass around the sawbuck. I replied that I can’t even count on getting my pen back, so I wasn’t going to pass around a $20 bill!)
I then had someone read D&C 119 (including headnote for context). I suggested that the unusual terminology such as “increase” and “interest” resulted from tithing originally being revealed in a Law of Consecration context. We pointed out that originally you were supposed to contribute all your “surplus” first, and then tithe thereafter. I asked what “surplus” even means–it’s not at all clear to me. So in the 19th century pretty soon that morphed into a requirement that one contribute 10% of all you possess (assets), to be followed by annual tithing of income. We talked about what a challenging proposition this was, which resulted in very low rates of compliance. Imagine the drag on missionary work if upon baptism you had to contribute 10% of your assets! A class member insightfully pointed out that this was a cash-poor society, so doing this would be very hard. I translated it to trying to do it today. Let’s say my house is worth $200,000; I’ve got to contribute $20,000 cash. Where does that come from? Do I have to liquidate my house? What about my 401k? That’s not designed to be tapped for this purpose, so I’d have to pay a 10% penalty for the withdrawal. But my 401k is subject to market fluctuations (over time I’ve lost a quarter of a million dollars at various times, making it up at other times; reifying the position of the fund at a single point in time like that is a problem). So this just didn’t work, it wasn’t well thought out. When Lorenzo Snow did away with that aspect of it in 1899 tithing started to take off, because the annual 10% of income donation was much simpler and easier to do in practice.
We also talked about older practices of things like ward budget allocations and building funds. The point I wanted to drive home was that it is a blessing to be a member of the Church in 2013!
Then we read D&C 120 (again, with headnote). We pointed out you have to “translate” the ecclesiastical offices there to modern church polity to come up with the Council on the Disposition of Tithes, which is the 1P, Q12 and Presiding Bishopric. Then I asked what tithing is spent on, and we talked about the various categories of expenditure. I talked about GBH keeping a widow’s mite in his office as a constant reminder of the responsibility involved in the expenditure of tithing funds.
Then we talked about the word tithe itself, how it derives from West Saxon teotha, where the th is spelled with the thorn, which looks like a p with an upward extender on the tail. (I wrote the word “thorn” this way, “porn” [with the extender], and it looked like “porn,” which gave everyone a good laugh. I’m glad people had a sense of humor; Mormons aren’t usually given to laughing about porn.) [I had to take the opportunity to point out that in the comics, "Ye Olde Shoppe," that y is not our letter y but a handwritten form of the thorn, and the "ye" was pronounced "the."] I pointed out that “tithe” was the original ordinal (we distinguished cardinals from ordinals), and that ‘tenth” was a developed form influenced by the cardinal “ten,” but tithe continued simultaneously in English from its use in ecclesiastical contexts.
I read the 1P statement that no one is authorized to say anything more than that interest or increase means income, a policy I fully support. We talked about how GBH hailed this honor system and our lack of a tithing code.
We then talked about how challenging it can be to define “income.” The 10% part is easy, the “income” part is not. We then covered some of the information from my post on Tithable Income.
So that was the gist of it, and I thought it turned out very well.
How did this lesson go in your wards?