Questions about Tithing

I have some tithing-related questions. Your input and assistance is greatly appreciated…

1. Mormons don’t debate the intricacies of tithe-paying very often. At least not in my experience. To the extent one wants to argue about tithing, the “gross” vs. “net” distinction is where all the fun is. But, truth be told, there isn’t much to argue about (nor much fun to be had). After all, the Church doesn’t seem to want to micromanage how Churchmembers think about tithing. There don’t appear to be any hard-and-fast rules about how to perform one’s “income” calculations. If there are handbooks explaining how to think about “income” and “increase,” I’m not aware of them. The Church has no regulatory body that decides novel tithing questions. One cannot seek a “private letter ruling” from the Church. Yes, there are some General Authority quotations out there that you can hang your hat on if you want to argue that tithing must be paid on “gross” income, but I don’t find them dispositive. I’m not willing to grant definitive authoritative status to random General Authority quotes in other contexts (no matter how strident and self-assured the authorities), so I see no reason to do so here. And if the Church wanted to put out a handbook telling us all how to think about this question, it could easily do so.

Having said that, I personally believe that one should pay tithing on one’s “gross” income. I think this is the better practice. There are basically two reasons for this: (1) I was raised to believe one should pay on the “gross,” so I have always done so. In short, I’m used to doing it, and it just feels right; (2) If it is permissible to deduct federal and state income taxes before I calculate my 10%, it’s not clear to me why I shouldn’t also deduct sales taxes, medical expenses, rent, food, trips to the movies, etc., etc., etc. In other words, I don’t know where to draw the line, yet surely one needs to draw it somewhere. Thus, I figure it’s better just to pay on the whole enchilada.

However, after speaking with a friend last week — who happens to be a Bishop, a trust officer at a bank, and someone who has advised many, many high-net worth Mormons on tithing-related questions — I can perhaps add a third reason to my list. It turns out that paying on the “gross” is Church policy after all! And while we were on the subject, he let me know about a number of other Church policies with respect to tithing in certain “increase” scenarios that I put to him. I was somewhat perplexed by all this, and so I asked him:

“Bishop, how can you say that the Church has specific “policies” about whether X, Y, or Z constitutes a full-tithe, when there is no conceivable context in which a tithe-payer facing these questions would ever be in a position to learn about the policies? When we talk about tithing in Elders Quorum or Relief Society, the manuals provide no specific details on these questions. When someone goes in for a temple recommend interview, the Bishop or Stake President simply asks whether you’re a full tithe-payer. He doesn’t ask you how you personally define your tithing obligations, nor does he ask a series of follow-up questions that flesh out the nature of your compliance. So of what consequence are the Church’s supposed “policies”?”

The Bishop responded by insisting that while I was correct about the nature of the temple recommend interview process, in point of fact, Bishops are supposed to be instructing their congregations about the nuts and bolts of the Church’s policies on tithing; to the extent they don’t (and he acknowledged that they often don’t), they are failing in a crucial aspect of their stewardship. My reaction to this was to think that what the Bishop said made some sense, and yet it still seemed somewhat unsatisfactory. Even if Bishops should say more than they do, there is surely no way that they can anticipate and address the myriad tithing-related questions that are likely to be present in the minds of a large group of Churchmembers with diverse incomes and financial circumstances.

Interestingly, when I related the substance of this interchange to a relative who was asking me for some advice on certain tithing-related questions, she and her attorney decided to contact the LDS Church directly with a number of specific tithing questions that she had. While I did not participate in the ensuing discussion myself, apparently a Church representative talked with my relative at length and spelled out for her “official church policy” on some of her questions. I found this odd. My relative had no obvious religious obligation to contact the Church and pose her questions to anyone. The Church never would have made plans to initiate the conversation with her itself. Yet, had her attorney not come up with the idea to contact Church headquarters directly, she would never have been informed of “official Church policy” concerning her questions.

So I want to pose the same question to you that I put to the Bishop: What does it mean to say that the Church has a “policy” about how to calculate your tithing, if it provides no clearcut means for Churchmembers to figure out what the policy is? What is the point of having a policy, if you’re not going to communicate it to those to whom it applies?

2. As I understand the Law of Tithing, we are supposed to pay to the Church 10% of our “increase.” A potential question arises as to what constitutes “increase.” I see little justification for treating traditional “income” as “increase” but not treating gifts similarly. (Does anyone disagree with this?) Thus, if Mommie Dearest gives me $10,000, I owe $1,000 to the Church in tithing (and no issues of “net” vs. “gross” are implicated). But what if my $10,000 gift is in some tangible, non-cash asset? Suppose, in other words, that Mother gives me a $10,000 watch for my birthday. Do I have an obligation to determine the fair market value of the watch and cut the Church a check for 10% of the value? Does your answer change if the watch is only worth $100? What if the gift is a $5,000,000 piece of real estate instead?

Furthermore, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that I do owe the Church $1,000 for having received the watch. If there really is no way I can realistically raise the money, do I have an obligation to sell the watch in order to raise my tithing funds? Does your answer change if Mother really, really, really wanted me to have the watch, and to wear it religiously after she is dead and gone, because it is a family heirloom she inherited from her grandfather, and my parting with it would devastate her emotionally, and leave all my ancestors rolling over in their graves?

Finally, if you are someone who does believe I owe tithing on a large cash gift, but you don’t believe I owe tithing when I receive a large non-cash gift, what do you make of the scenario when Mother hands me $10,000 and says, “Aaron, here’s some money that I’m giving to you for the specific purpose of going out and buying yourself that $10,000 Rolex we saw at Ben Bridge yesterday.” Does your answer change if Mother instead says, “Aaron here’s $10,000. I want you to go out and buy yourself a really nice (unspecified) watch!” If so, why?

For what it’s worth, this is not just an academic exercise. As I already said above, I have a relative who is currently asking me for advice with respect to her tithing obligations in some rather novel, real-world “increase” scenarios, and your answers to my questions will hopefully help me better think through her (not entirely analogous) dilemmas and provide her with some concrete answers.

Aaron B


  1. Whatever happened to

    “The simplest statement we know if is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this.” ???

    Oh yeah, it’s still in the Handbook, even the new 2006 one (p. 154).

    Your Bishop friend is full of Sh!t, to put it mildly. There is no policy on the gross-net debate. “No one is justified” in saying otherwise.

  2. I’ll pay 10% on Social Security (if there is such a thing in 30 years) when it becomes my increase. Right now its just a number on my paycheck. You ask where to draw the line? I pay on money in my possession. Tax returns? Ofcourse. Cash gifts? Sure. If gross makes you feel better, go for it but paying on net has never given me problems with the Man upstairs.

  3. I’m now paying on gross – 401K contribution – social security deduction. Since there is a disconnect between what is removed from my check and what I will later receive in each case, I just find that that it is easier this way. I’ll pay tithing on both when benefits are received in the future. This of course means I’m paying tithing on money taken out for taxes, medical insurance, etc……which in theory I’m getting immediate value for.

  4. Aaron,

    This spiel is another reason why blanket church “policies” (such as they are) derived in the United States can make life difficult for international Mormons. It’s all well and good for American Mormons to harp on about gross tithing but you ought to bear in mind that for a European, “gross” income is a joke. If you’re being taxed at 30-40% that income is not your increase and it comes right out of your salary anyway (like it or not). So a European paying on his net income, and then paying again when he collects his pension or his unemployment benefit is square with the Lord, IMHO.

    Remember also that in some countries (like the UK) tithing is not tax deductible.

    So, in short, a European who pays 10% on his gross is making a financial sacrifice probably double what his American brueder does. One could talk about double blessings and pablum like that, but let’s see the Saints in Zion pay double tithing first.

    Sorry for the rant. You ask good questions, but I don’t want a European reading this who pays net to feel less of a Mormon.

    BTW, I posted on tithing a few months ago. Discussion centered on two questions:

    1. Does paying tithing disproportionately stretch the poor? (Yes. Note that in the Bible, one paid tithing on the first animal after 10. If you only had nine cows you couldn’t pay 0.9 of a cow, so the tithe only kicked in once you had ten.)

    2. What constitutes “increase”? Some argued for simple income, others for “surplus.” The latter argument seems congruent with the 19th century definition of “interest” but is it today?

    Anyway, I predict a large thread here.

  5. And to answer your question:

    What is the point of having a policy, if you’re not going to communicate it to those to whom it applies?

    There is no point!

  6. Actually, I do believe this is an academic exercise. Certainly your salvation isn’t going to be hanging in the balance of your interpretation of the tithing status of cash v. non-cash gifts, etc.

    Especially if you’re interested in developing a “tithing code,” then normative squishiness like

    I personally believe that one should pay tithing on one’s “gross” income. I think this is the better practice.


    I figure it’s better just to pay on the whole enchilada.

    won’t cut it. “Better” needs to be linked to salvation, not one’s feelings.

  7. Ronan is right about living in Europe, and it is my understanding that this is why the paying of tithing is left largely up to the individual. My bishop when I first came abroad would not answer the question, but only told what he did.

    I also recieve a housing allowance and some other non-cash benefits of which I know the cash equivalence (because I pay tax on them.) We had a long think about that as well.

    Maybe Ronan knows this:

    When I was in the UK, there was some sort of scheme whereby you could pay your tithing through the government somehow, and they would end up paying a section of it as well. I heard about it two days before leaving the country. What was that all about?

    Also, can someone explain the mystical experience of tithing settlements, I would appreciate it. I assume it has some historical relevance?

  8. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    In some European countries, people pay a Church tax. Yes, money is withheld from their paychecks and then distributed to state-sanctioned religious organizations. If the church is recognized in a country, it is often possible to have one’s church tax earmarked for the church. I assume that that is then counted towards one’s tithing contribution.

  9. Ronan is right about living in Europe

    Indeed he is. What he may not have made clear, however, is the 30-40% tax rate he’s talking about isn’t the highest bracket for millionares, it’s for pretty much everybody with a job.

    But I just thought of a wrinkle that could have a bearing on a lot of people–what should students do about increase they receive in the form of parental welfare? The minimum wage from buffing the Wilk might get you a berth at the Glenwood, but tuition fees, word processing equipment and use of the family Escalade–who’s going to tithe that increase?

  10. Norbert,

    If you donate money to a charity, the UK refunds the tax on that money, not to you, but to the organisation. I honestly don’t know if Mormons in the UK play games with this, i.e. by paying 8% tithing or something and letting HM Government pay the rest.

    I have to say that technicalities surrounding tithing give me the creeps a little, which is hypocritical of me because I recently initiated just such a conversation! It’s just that the idea of trying to hedge-around the law with all kinds of rules and complications seems so, well, Levitical. Which is why the only official policy I know — as given in comment 1 — is so sensible.

    As for tithing settlement…not a big fan. I’d prefer my annual receipt be given in a sealed envelope and that I express my status as part of the temple recommend interview. I have noticed, however, that tithing settlement interviews have morphed a little into “friendly chat with the Bishop time” rather than “is $3.33 an accurate reflection of your tithing this year, Brother?” I know, I know, it’s about accountability, but still…

  11. Aaron – 10 years ago I was a new bishop and had several people asking me about “the rules” of paying tithing and other matters. I was perplexed because I couldn’t find any such rules. I prayed about it. Shortly after, I attended the priesthood leadership meeting of a regional conference we had which was attended by President Hinkley and Elder Oaks. Elder Oaks was the first speaker and the first words he said were, “In our church we don’t have rules. We have doctrine and we have principles.” Then he repeated that line. I felt he was talking directly to me and it was an answer to my prayers.

    And so while I was bishop I counseled others that their decisions about “the rules” were between them and God. Study the doctrine and live the principles. And that is “the rule” I have used to govern my own life

  12. Ronan, in the U.S. many people pay between 28 and 35% in taxes. I’m not sure why “gross” income should be a joke for someone in Europe paying 40% in tax and not for someone in the U.S. paying 35%. What am I missing?

  13. See the U.S. tax brackets here.

  14. Ronan, from my perspective in the UK, it is pretty common for people who are savy enough to understand seemingly complicated (but in reality not so complicated) financial structures to pay 7.8% tithing out of their own cash straight to Solihol (rather than 10% — imagine that) and then the UK government pays the other 2.2% straight to Solihol on your behalf. This is resisted by people who don’t understand that you are still paying a full 10% of tithing. It’s just that the gov’t diverts a portion of what you have paid in the 40% tax you mentioned above (anyone making over £33,000/yr) to the church rather than to other programs funded by the gov’t. Thus, you have still paid a full 10%: 2.2% just goes straight from your paycheck to the gov’t and then from the gov’t to Solihol, rather to your bank account and then from your bank account to Solihol.

    For members who for some reason do not see this as paying a full 10% tithe (I hear there are many because they simply don’t understand this slightly abstracted payment concept), they should still pay their 10% directly to Solihol after filing out Gift Aide forms for the gov’t because then the gov’t will still pony up 2.2% to the church. The member doing this will never see that money anyway, and will never realize that in real terms, they have paid 12.2% in tithing, but it is a benefit to the church.

  15. re #13, those are just the federal tax brackets. Remember Americans also pay state, local, and property taxes, and sales taxes, on top of those.

  16. (it can easily equal 40% or more of gross income.)

  17. I agree with #2. I pay on money that has entered my back account.

  18. John,

    Inasmuch as wikipedia is accurate, here’s what’s important (and see Peter’s comment above):

    In the US, the 33% kicks-in when you earn over $154,801.
    In the UK, you pay 40% from £33,300 ($65,000).

    Where you have state, local, and sales taxes, we also have council tax (levied on property value not income) and a 17.5% sales tax (not to mention a myriad of other taxes, extortionate house prices etc. etc.) For you to suggest the American tax burden and cost of living is the same as Europe’s is silly, and you know it!

    Compared with the rest of Europe, the UK’s taxes are pretty low.

  19. A couple of questions if you pay tithing on the gross amount:

    Do you then tithe your tax return?

    Would you tithe your Social Security Income?

  20. Ronan, yes, I see that, of course, but my point goes more to why it has any relevancy to the gross/net distinction. I suppose that the argument is just that someone in the UK ostensibly making £33k doesn’t really make that but rather £33k minus 40%, and therefore tithing should be paid on the difference. But doesn’t that fly in the face of the justification for such extreme taxation in UK/Europe, that is, all the social benefits you get personally? So, you’re still getting something, only the gov’t is paying for it out of money taken from your paycheck. So how do you account for that in tithing?

  21. John,
    I glad you figured out the 7.8% Gift Aid thing. Paying 7.8% on gross is eminently sensible in that case and I regret that many British Mormons consider it unkosher. They’re paying too much and they don’t even know it.

  22. It’s my understanding that how members compute/calculate tithing is between each member and the Lord, not the church. And, a bishop is required to accept whatever answer is given when the magic question is asked during tithing settlement-no follow up or cross examination is allowed.

    For me tithing settlement is an exercise in tedium. My kids, however, seem impressed by the whole thing-so we go. A couple of years ago my then 12 year commented on the way home how impressed he was with the Bishop for taking time out of his busy schedule to meet with our whole family. (I also worry about how tithing settlement must make the holidays seem dreadful to Bishops of large wards-so many more meetings/interviews compressed into a two-three week window overlapping with what should be a fun time of the year. Maybe they could move tithing settlement to February. That would still leave enough time for Americans to file their taxes. Or, better yet, abolish the silly exercise altogether. And, why is the calendar year considered the sine qua non for calculating tithing or settling up? Does God really care what is paid from Jan. 1 through Dec 31? The IRS may, but does God?))

    Another tithing related question: if we pay a full tithe and have an LDS nanny, does she have to pay tithing on money that has already been tithed? When I was a missionary I was told not to pay tithing on the assumption the money my parents sent already had the tithing cut removed. Does the same then apply to our nanny or money I’m forced to pay my kids for their performance of household duties?

    My daughter recently asked the same question posed in the blog posting after she received a bunch of birthday gift cards from her friends. I didn’t have a good answer and still don’t. I don’t know if Ambecrombie, American Eagle, Target etc. gift cards can even be reduced to cash. Should she just take her complete allowance and other sources of cash to pay tithing on the gross amount of the gift cards, assuming tithing is required. Or, can she make an in-kind contribution and donate one of the gift cards as her tithing?

    Tithing opinions are always interesting and even if my simple questions aren’t answered, I’m very interested to read other opinions on tithing calculations.

  23. Ronan, I wasn’s saying that the American tax burden was the same as Europe’s. Believe me, I know how much more tax and costs are in the UK than in the US.

  24. Ronan, the British who don’t make use of gift Aide contributions aren’t paying too much. They are paying 10% to the Church. But they are missing the opportunity to have the gov’t redirect 2.2% of the tax they pay to the Church rather than to one of the other myriad social programs the gov’t is responsible for.

  25. (and paying 10% on net would probably be less than paying %7.8 on gross at a tax rate of 40%, although I haven’t done the math, so they’re still coming out ahead by skipping the Gift Aide approach, I guess.)

  26. John (20),

    UK social benefits are of two kinds, monetary and non-monetary. If I receive a monetary social benefit (unemployment, pension) I should probably tithe on it if I’ve paid net. If I’ve paid gross, then I’ve already tithed on that benefit.

    As for non-monetary benefits (school, healthcare) that’s where it would get ridiculous. Should an American worker tithe on his employer’s health insurance contribution?

    Actually, don’t answer that question! The tithing legalese does my head in. Tithe 10% of your increase and define that according to your conscience. But these should not be decisions agonised over because when they are it smacks to me of a gift given as an obligation to be tallied up with the help of some “tithing code” rather than a “good gift.”

  27. John (24),
    I mean that I think they pay too much if they pay 10% on gross then tithe on their pension etc. 7.8% on gross with the government repaying the 2.2% tax to the church, or 10% on net then paying 10% on benefits seems comparable. I don’t want to do the maths, though. Anyway, enough UK tax! (Enlightening though it was.)

  28. Ronan, that’s not what I’m saying either. What I mean is that if one’s justification for paying on “net” is that one is paying 40% tax, then I don’t know if the conclusion follows. The entire justification for the 40% tax is so that each person gets certain benefits. I am just alerting you to the arguments that will result from an attempt to justify paying tithing on “net” based on a high tax rate. This isn’t about trying to figure out whether Americans should be paying tithing on an employer’s health insurance contribution.

  29. John,
    I’m kind of regretting even bringing this up now. I’d prefer to leave net vs. gross out of it and stay with:

    “The members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this.”

  30. See the U.S. tax brackets here.

    Do London lawyers get paid more for acting disingenuous?

    What I see are tax brackets that start out at 10% and max out on income above $336,551 at 35%.

    Here’s the Austrian tax brackets.

    So let’s see, we start off with 23% between 10,000 and 25,000, jump up to 33.5% for 25,001 to 50,000 and then make the leap to 50% on everything above 50,000.

    That’s right, 50% on income above 50,000. Your hypothetical American is paying 35% on income above 300,000. So even if the 15 percentage points inbetween isn’t much to get worked up about, I’d say that’s a difference in income even a lawyer can appreciate.

  31. My bishop is the one appointed to receive my tithes and to whom I am accountable to deliver them. If there is some rule about tithing that he doesn’t know about, then no, it doesn’t exist, not in my life.

    It is conceivable that there are tithing rules that apply to so few people that there is no point in teaching them in our meetings, kind of like the perennial question “Can a murderer be baptized?” which is ususually answered by some second hand account of someone who knew of a murderer who wanted to be baptized. However, arcane financial arrangements aren’t just for aristocrats anymore.

  32. Ronan wrote, Tithe 10% of your increase and define that according to your conscience.

    That’s a much better argument in my opinion. Go with that one — don’t tell American LDS you are tithing on net because you pay higher taxes than they do.

  33. John,
    OK, but let’s reciprocate: let the Yanks not equate gross with the One True Tithe. And remember one big diff between American and European tax: we pay for healthcare through tax, you don’t. So if I tithe on something that provides me with a healthcare benefit (tax) it seems about the same that you should tithe on something that provides you with a healthcare benefit (your employer’s contribution). But really, I don’t give a monkey’s what you pay.

  34. And thus we see why God tells us that we shouldn’t be commanded in all things, for he who does is a slothful servant.

    I like the tithing commandment being vague. I like that I don’t have to worry if I didn’t give 10% of a gift watch my mother bought me for Christmas. I like that I can choose for myself to interpret whether or not 10% means 10% of net or gross.

    When the choice is left up to me, my efforts are counted by God as of my own free choice to follow His counsel to the best of my ability, and not because I was commanded to.

    I think that’s the principle we should gain from this question. Certainly the Lord doesn’t need the funds in order to run His Kingdom. This is a question of how much faith we have in Him.

  35. Dan,
    Amen. Because when we try to figure out whether we should pay tithing on this or that, it’s because we’re hoping we don’t have to pay tithing on this or that. I repent of the net/gross garbage. I pay 20% anyway. On gross. And I pay it for my non-Mormon neighbours too, because if they burn, I burn.

  36. What does it mean when we use an ambiguous scriptural passage to define what constitutes full tithing, and then refuse to provide clarity by stating that nobody is authorized to say anything more or less than that. Does it mean that what constitutes a full tithing may in fact be different for different people even though their circumstances are the same? Or does it mean that there really is a universally correct answer that is correct for different individuals, but church authorities don’t know what that answer is, and must rely upon God being willing to inspire the faithful to do the right thing? If so, how do we account for the different inspiration that faithful people seem to get?

  37. #11 sums this up for me.

    We need to leave this up to the individuals to decide how to pay. After all only we know if we are paying a full tithe anyway.

  38. The net/gross thing is a major point of debate, but it’s really only the tip of the iceberg for how complex these things can get. Suppose you’re on a business trip. Would you pay tithing on the reimbursement you receive for the plane ticket you bought? Or the hotel room? What about the per diem for food, etc., during the trip?

    Now imagine you’re a graduate student on a research trip. Research grants are often quite carefully budgeted; there’s a certain amount for research assistants, some for travel, some for photocopying, some for rent, some for food, etc. Obviously, the budget doesn’t include any line for “religious donations.” What, if anything, do you tithe in this situation?

    Now imagine you’re a graduate student not on a research trip, but rather living on a fellowship at your home institution in the US. Some fellowships specify what the money in question can be used for, and when they do, they rarely remember to mention “religious donations.” Do you tithe that money or not?

    What if you work for yourself, and your car is legally a business expense? Do you tithe the money that goes to car payments, or do you deduct it?

    What do you do when you’ve had a capitol loss? Mormons generally tithe capitol gains; if you make a $20,000 profit selling stocks, most of us would think it was important to tithe that money. But logically that would suggest that a year in which you lost $20,000 selling stocks, you should deduct that much money from your other income, right? Because your total income flow was lower than your wage total.

    These questions only scratch the surface. A legal code to resolve all issues of tithing would necessarily be the most complex component of our religion, since the number of variations on “income” or “increase” is quite large.

  39. Next year I’m delivering 1/10 of the tomatoes I grow in the back yard to the bishop.

  40. About paying tithing on gifts.

    There was a time years ago when my husband and I were both unemployed. We were barely making it thanks to my parents renting us a small house next door to them (for VERY little). My husband was doing odd jobs and cashflow was random. There were times when I’d have to choose between buying groceries and paying tithing. I paid tithing.

    Everytime that happened, and it happened a couple times, some stranger knocked on the door asking if the broken down VW in the yard (we had a few, my husband was a VW mechanic) was for sale, and offered $150-$200 for it. And we had grocery money.

    I felt like that money was a direct result of paying tithing, a gift from God, and thus did not pay tithing on it.

  41. Gary (36) said:

    “how do we account for the different inspiration that faithful people seem to get.”

    Why do we need to? In my view, all the concern about what other people are paying sounds a lot like the first hour laborers’ concern that the eleventh hour laborers were getting the same penny. If the Lord is telling me to pay gross, what does it matter if he tells somebody else to pay net? To paraphrase from the New Testament, if I will that he pay net, what is that to thee?

  42. RT,

    I wanted to address your second to last paragraph.

    The short answer is yes. You pay on increase. You would in my view pay on a large gain on a home sale and also a large loss on a home sale. In my ward some people lose money on home sales.

    Back in the stock market hey day my dad would purchase some stock in January and sell it in December for his tithing and make up for any shortfall at that time.

    Does the church accept stock gifts? I ahve heard that they do. Anybody know?

  43. I personally know people who figure up the value of their garden produce, divide by ten, and write a check. I also know people who tithe the value of their employer paid health insurance, on the grounds that it is part of their increase.

  44. bbell – Yes the church accepts stock gifts. They are paid directly to Chruch HQ rather than going through the local ward.

  45. Re: 42

    Say you buy a home for 300K and sell it for 250K. Are you saying the home seller should pay in the neighborhood of 25K tithing on the sale of the home?

  46. #45. Your kidding right? Why would you pay on a loss? I guess I phrased it wrong in my post with inexact wording. That is what I get while blogging on a conference call.

  47. Wow. Wow. Some of this is really anal intense. It seems like the reason for vagueness is to avoid these kinds of conversations in a bishop’s office.

  48. Mark IV – After 4 years of gardening, I doubt my yield has repaid the cost of my rototiller. Even if it were capitalized over 10 years, it would be a close call.

    On tithing for a gift – if you receive a gift of $5MM of real estate, and pay 10% of that as tithing, then sell in two years, do you pay 10% of the sale price, or the difference in value since you first paid a tithing on it? It makes more sense to me to pay when you sell it. If you don’t ever plan to sell it, it doesn’t necessarily have an intrinsic value proportional to market value, but perhaps replacement value, or cash flow value.

  49. re: john f/ronan’s wranglings over taxes. in my experience people rich enough to be in the US high tax bracket don’t actually pay anywhere near the stated tax bracket. the tax laws have been carefully written to favor the wealthy and the entrepreneurial. The AMT does finally kick in somewhere, but that’s pretty confusing and speaks to the fact that the wealthy are well protected.
    many honest, committed latter-day saints pay on US net and don’t pay on material gifts, some recognizing other opportunities for charity beyond tithing, others prioritizing aspects of family life over additional tithing outlays.

    Aaron can tell his friend to pray about it and do what seems right, that there is no need to consult church bureaucrats or try to uncover the secret code.

  50. As far as tithing on gifts, my parents recently gave us a very unexpected and generous check for the purpose of buying a minivan to fit our growing family. We used part of the money and payed tithing on the amount; on the other hand, we didn’t pay tithing on the $100 or so we got in various Christmas presents. To us, the van felt like a genuine increase; it made a real difference in our long-term standard of living and financial situation. The gift cards, etc did not feel like increase, they felt like gifts. That might be my answer to the watch dilemma. If the watch is a gift, no tithing. If it impacts your finances and makes a difference in your lifestyle, then I probably would. Obviously there is no way any rule or other person could determine this for you.

  51. re: 46 maybe I read #42 wrong during my conference call.

  52. And I personally think that discussions about the finer points of tithing distract from the fundamental goal of the Christ-centered society. Is it more important to calculate tithing indebtedness in a uniform way or to work to reform a fundamentally anti-Christian economic system? If you pay on gross and every gift but your money comes from distributing porn (as in Mormon hoteliers), what does that mean? What if you make money from investing in tobacco companies or companies that wreak environmental havoc with little oversight? What if you make money by failing to provide for employees or by working for someone who mistreats workers? What if you use the money that remains in your coffers to purchase goods and services from groups that severely exploit vulnerable workers? What if you pay tithing but vote to halt your government from providing needed medical care to vulnerable workers who serve as the backbone of cheap agricultural produce?

    This legalistic approach to tithing is casuistry that allows people to turn a blind eye to serious, even horrifying problems in the way we choose to continue to relate to each other and should be shunned in my view.

    Pay what you think right, but I think God wants your economic and financial attention focused elsewhere.

  53. I agree that setting out strict rules is impractical, but there are circumstances where a member’s declaration of being a full tithepayer is obviously wrong. My wife has a good friend who was shocked to hear her husband declare himself a full tithepayer a couple of years ago when he hadn’t paid a cent. Maybe he decided that since they were in the red for the year (partly because he would rather go golfing every weekend and pay greens fees instead of his mortgage), he had no “increase,” and no obligation to pay tithing.

    But then we also have a good friend, a former stake president, who, for tax reasons, doesn’t pay every year. It makes more sense for him to pay two years’ worth every other year.

  54. Sam #49, you are right that more wealthy and powerful people tend to manipulate the tax code in the US to pay well below their nominal bracket rate. On the other hand, our department recently had a job talk presentation in which evidence was presented that, in actual practice, the US tax system does more to reduce inequality than any other tax system among advanced industrial countries. (On the other hand, the US system of welfare and redistribution does less to reduce inequality than that in any other advanced industrial country.) So the upshot is that, exceptions notwithstanding, the US tax system manages to be relatively progressive in practice, compared with other peer countries. However, even that relatively progressive tax system only reduces inequality by about 5%; most European countries’ tax systems, in practice, don’t reduce inequality at all. This has a lot to do with how effectively different countries tax capitol gains.

    Sam #52, amen and amen.

  55. Back in the stock market hey day my dad would purchase some stock in January and sell it in December for his tithing and make up for any shortfall at that time.

    Your dad should have seen a tax lawyer. If he’d contributed the stock in kind, rather than selling it and paying tithing with the cash, he would have:

    1. got a receipt from the Church for the gift of the shares;
    2. been entitled to a tax deduction equal to the average price of the shares on the date of the gift; and
    3. paid no tax on any gain in the shares’ value between the date of purchase and the date of the gift.

    That leaves just one question: since the IRS doesn’t think the increase in value was a gain–at least, they don’t tax it–is it a gain for tithing purposes? :-)

  56. I have a friend who has suffered several strokes. She’s now mentally diminished. She survives solely on her disabilty check from the government, but because of her strokes, she doesn’t have the mental ability or willingness to debate or discuss tithing within herself, let alone with her family or bishop. She pays 10% on her very meager income and so often goes without some necessities. I’m not LDS so I’m not sure how this works — in a perfect world, would her bishop talk to her about how much she should be tithing, or should she continue to skip one of her medications each month to meet her tithing obligations?

  57. Mark,

    You are jogging my memory. That is exactly what he did.

  58. It dawns on me that tithing often looks like a bribe we pay God for his beneficence. We want to pay the right amount to guarantee his patronage (not more, mind you); if we underpay, we fear the bribe won’t work and we’ll lose our job, get cancer, or whatever else we imagine befalls the accursed non-full-tithe payer. At some point, tithing needs to become a gift, freely given and with no expectation of reward. I confess to not being there yet.

  59. Should she continue to skip one of her medications each month to meet her tithing obligations?

    No way in the world.

  60. Sam: You are setting up a false dichotomy. There is no reason that inquiries into questions such as what constitutes a full tithe would cause or encourage one to engage in the behavior you criticize in #52. It is the church itself that creates the need for questioning. We have a revelation that is ambiguous. The revelation does not say “give whatever you consider appropriate given your personal circumstances”. It says pay 10% of something, and we are required to declare in temple recommend interviews whether or not we do in fact pay 10% of that something. Is it really so unreasonable to try to figure out what that means? I don’t see what that has to do with the social evils you object to.

    JKC: The Lord can do whatever he wants, and that is indeed nothing to me. However, if two people claim, based on their own personal spiritual feelings or promptings, that God has told them apparently inconsistent things, I think it is fair to question whether God is really giving inconsistent advice, or whether they are simply coming up with different and inconsistent interpretations.

  61. re 58

    Does paying tithing w/o expectation of a reward include not having any expectations concerning how tithing money should be spent?

    I recall a recent thread discussing tithing and someone wrote about tithing monies being used to fund/subsidize BYU. BYU, imo, has ridiculously low tuition for the education most BYU students receive. (I write that as an east coast guy who attended private universities, but recognize that for the money, BYU is an outstanding bargain.) Does the low tuition stem from a tithing subsidy, like taxes do for state schools? And if so, would full tithe paying members be justified in being concerned about how much of their tithing is being used to subsidize BYU students instead of being used in purely Christian purposes throughout the world?

  62. My last post was lost into the netherworld, perhaps its in a que somewhere needing to be scrutinized before it can be posted.

    In the Marriage and Family Relations Manual:

    Lesson 8: Managing Family Finances,” Marriage and Family Relations Instructor’s Manual, 35

    It shows a blank form budget. It uses Income or Salary after taxes as the basis for income, and tithing comes out after that line.

    Just thought that would be of interest in this discussion.

  63. 12 years ago when I thought I knew about such things, I was certain there were no rules beyond “one tenth of increase, which is understood to mean income” (my paraphrase).

    There have always been and always will be people who “know” the truth — the deeper mysteries — and who sound certain about it. That doesn’t make them right.

    I’m sitting in my office with approximately 5500 pages of U.S. Internal Revenue Code and six volumes of regulations. Code Section 1 starts out “There is hereby imposed on the taxable income of every married individual a tax determined in accordance with the following table.” Sounds simple enough, and not too much different from the one-liner describing tithing (allowing for a table instead of a flat rate). But if you start down the road of defining “increase” or “income” you may end up at 5500 pages and not yet have the answer.

    For example, suppose you are a partner in a partnership that has net investment income for 2006, primarily because expenses are being capitalized in startup mode, and there is no cash distribution and no prospect of cash for several years. But with all that investment you are certain there has been an increase in value. Under the U.S. tax system you have income reportable on your tax return equal to your share of the investment income, even though you receive no cash and even though expenses are greater than income. But you do not have taxable income equal to your share of increase in value. Is the taxable income “increase”? Is the increase in value “increase”?

  64. Gary, i think the dichotomy is operationally/empirically valid. Tithing casuistry a) occupies intellectual energies, and b) probably increases the probability that one who has performed the necessary acrobatics will feel sated. Finally, I think it is an important question of emphasis, and further emphasis on these complex questions related to balance sheets and debits and credits pulls one away from a more clearly Christian vision of shared responsibility.

    Ronan, God is reportedly most susceptible to bribes in the televangelist south.

  65. And, continuing #61, should you paying tithing on the subsidy that all BYU students receive, if you’re a BYU student or parent of one? After all, most other private schools would cost much more. And there are LDS kids, from tithe-paying homes, who don’t get into BYU, and don’t get the subsidy, and have to pay full tuition other places– so isn’t that reduced tuition really an increase also?

  66. I recall a speech by my stake president in stake conference a few years back in which he counseled members that “increase” included any and all items of income including the value of items grown in a family garden. This speech set off a firestorm of debate in the stake, wherein people demanded clarification of whether they could then deduct expenses from the planting of the garden. After much conflict, the stake president gave a written retraction, and went back to the “it’s between you and the Lord” idea. It seems to me that any discussion beyond that is non-doctrinal and fraught with peril.

  67. Gary:

    I think you’re right that it is an interesting question. I just don’t think that makes it necessarily an important or urgent question. I guess I just don’t see the inherent value of consistency. Since none (or at least very few) of us keep the law of tithing (or the other revelations on economic relations, for that matter) as it was revealed in the Doctrine and Covenants anyway, and since the Church doesn’t seem to concerned about that, I think it’s kind of a non-issue how we define interest. Interesting to speculate about, but not likely to be definitively resolved.

    But the issue of ambiguity in commandments (or policies) is not unique to tithing. We are commanded to not do certain things, “or anything like unto it.” How’s that for ambiguity? “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy,” is incredibly ambiguous.

    The fact is, we just do what our conscience tells us, and we hope that the Holy Ghost has something to do with it. What more can we expect?

  68. Personally, I believe it is up to the individual/family and the Lord. I think that rules can vary for different people.

    For me personally and my family…I don’t believe that a wage or salary accurately reflects “increase or income” according to the laws of nature or of God. Every venture “life” has costs…you cant have an “increase” until those costs are met and surpassed in you resources.

    I pay tithing on my “increase” or gain in net-worth annually. I try as best I can to break this up monthly and compensate for my true annual increase at the end of the year.

    This method may seem completely foreign to some but it requires that you look at your finances completely different.

    It is a mistake for poor and middle-class Americans to look at their paycheck and think that they have a profit or increase there that they can dispose of as they please. This is not a profit or increase…it only represents the recourses you were able to gather in a certain amount of time. There were costs involved in gaining that paycheck (travel, food, housing, clothing, etc.) True profit, increase, or worth, is only measured buy subtracting costs & liabilities from assets.

    It should be our goal to increase this net worth…monthly and annually and pay tithing accordingly. This makes much more financial and natural sense to me. It may not be for you.

  69. Sam: I am sympathetic to your argument, but it seems that you are saying that we are all justified in paying whatever we feel good about and we should do so and get on with the weightier matters. However, the declaration that we are full tithe payers implies that there is a standard, and that we meet it. That requires us to know what that standard is. I wish it was otherwise, but it is not.

    To the extent that you are correct in defending the dichotomy you set up, could one not apply the same argument to the vast majority of the time and effort spent by so many in reading and posting on the bloggernacle?

  70. I’d like to think that ultimately we’ll be judged by the intents of our hearts and our honest and sincere efforts to act according to the best of our knowledge. With that, of course, also comes the responsibility to gain the knowledge. If I’ve tried my best to determine what tithe the Lord requires of me and feel that I’ve received confirmation from him through prayer or personal revelation or whatever that he has accepted my offering, then shouldn’t that be enough? We can’t deceive the Lord–he’ll know if our offering comes from a sincere desire to be obedient and show our gratitude or if we’re just trying to meet some kind of minimum requirement or if we’re trying to score extra credit/brownie points with our “righteousness”.

  71. So I guess paying 10 percent to groups other than the Church is out of the question? Can that still count as tithing?

    I mostly feel that if you’re asking God about what you should do then you’re probably right with him, that you’re not trying to shortchange or manipulate him and consequently people will get all kinds of different revelations in that regard. So if your mom ever gives you said watch I say keep it. Maybe wear it to church so we can see/enjoy it too. That seems like tithing enough to me.

  72. There is a strong argument to be made, consistent with the views of the Church’s early leaders, with the Joseph Smith Translation of the Genesis account of Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek, and with the doctrine that a man should not run faster than he has strength, that “increase” means increase in net worth. That is consistent with the “increase” being “income” — so long as you define “net income” as meaning income net of the necessities of maintaining a basic household.

    That’s pretty much how the IRS defines taxable income. Right out of the gate, there is a large ($10,000 or so, isn’t it?) standard deduction, meant to reflect a policy not to tax an amount necessary for basic human needs. The cost of housing is also deducted (although renters get hosed); you’re not taxed on the portion of your housing expense that constitutes interest rather than equity buildup (which increases your net worth). There are further deductions for medical care, education, child care, etc.

    Now, this view of tithing could easily be abused. It’s easy to convince yourself that the “necessities” of life include another ATV or a nice vacation. They don’t, obviously, and while you might technically not have a higher net worth after having spent surplus income on luxuries, you’ve essentially enriched yourself by those luxuries’ value. So you absolutely should have paid tithing on that amount.

    But I simply can’t justify people living on the economic margin in “paying tithing first,” as the Church seems to recommend. That’s simply inviting insolvency. I know this from personal experience. I do not believe there are any “magic” blessings to be obtained from paying tithing. God sends the rain on the just and the unjust, and on those occasions where I sacrificed the most to pay tithing I could least afford, it rained pretty dang hard. If losing my job, suffering a miscarriage, being forced to move, and getting unhealthy in my navel (literally — there’s kind of a disgusting story there we won’t go into) are the windows of heaven opening up on me — keep the blessings, thank you very much.

    No, only blessings that can be confidently expected from paying tithing are the sense of doing one’s duty and the satisfaction of contributing to a worthy cause. Period, full stop. So the idea, promoted by the Church, that the poor “can’t afford not to pay tithing” — that the more you pay, the more you are blessed — is simply not true, as Utah’s consistent ranking in the highest tiers of bankruptcy filings bear out.

  73. #61, regarding BYU, yes, a decent portion of tithes funds the University. And you will frequently see visiting General Authorities reminding the students of that fact and of the sacred obligation to not waste the experience. I think Elder Holland said “If you’re here for the secular education, please leave. You can get that somewhere else. Leave the spots here open for people who seek the religious education that is available” (my paraphrase).

    I’ve heard some say tithing settlement is just an excuse to get every member of the ward in front of the Bishop once a year. And I do know of a couple people who don’t set foot in the church other than for that, so it may have some value.

    As all this discussion proves, once you go down the path, you can’t stop. So I think it’s better just not to go. For example, if my employer pays my health care, is that an increase? If you think it is, then what about the following:

    Do I still pay for it in a month that I don’t go to the doctor? If yes, then what about when I’m in the hospital and insurance pays for tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills? If I didn’t have insurance, I’d be paying that. So the health insurance benefit is really much more than the coverage. Where do you stop???

  74. Wow, I never thought of increase as meaning “increase in net worth.” That seems to open the definition up to all kinds of creative accounting principles. I think that’s problematic, but if it satisfies you in your relationship with the Lord, have at it.

    Ronan: I never thought of tithing as a bribe. It seems to me that we are paying tithing because we have been commanded to do so and, like all commandments, we are told that we will be blessed for our obedience as in Mosiah 2:

    22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
    23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
    24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

    Where does the bribe part come from?

  75. re 58, I want you for my Bishop.

    In our most recent tithing settlement the Bishop posed such a hypo to my kids and came down on the side of foregoing meds. I did not have the courage of my convictions to disagree with him in front of my wide eyed children. I sat there mute. In the couple of months since, I have not figured out a way to disabuse my kids of that notion w/o very publicly, w/in our family at least, undermining the Bishop at the same time.

  76. “So the idea, promoted by the Church, that the poor ‘can’t afford not to pay tithing’ — that the more you pay, the more you are blessed — is simply not true, as Utah’s consistent ranking in the highest tiers of bankruptcy filings bear out.”–Thomas (#72)

    This is a common opinion which is not supported by available data. I wrote on it a year ago; see Closing the Windows of Heaven at Millennial Star for the details. The short of it is that Utah’s bankruptcies are filed by non-tithers.

    A few weeks ago in our stake’s conference, Elder Dallin Oaks lent some support to that concept by sharing a conversation he had had with a Utah bankruptcy attorney. The attorney claimed that of the thousands of filings his firm had filed over decades, not a single one was for a full tither.

  77. Very recently, and in spite of my best intentions, I thought I would like to start tithing again. I’m not sure why I felt that way; it was just something I felt it would be good to do again. This discussion leads me to think that I was mistaken.

    Apparently an offering to God, freely given, based on my personal and prayerful understanding of the guidelines for that offering, is simply not good enough.

    Pharisees everywhere, I tell you.

  78. From BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson diaries:

    May 11, 1961, conversation with [First Presidency Member] Henry D. Moyle about the need to provide “authoritative definition of what constituted full tithing, particularly that it should be paid before the payment taxes. Moyle agreed, but “said as long as President McKay and President Clark were in the First Presidency there was no chance to get any authoritative interpretation.” Moyle “informed me also that President Richards, and he thought Bishop [Thorpe] Isaacson, only paid their tithing after the deduction of taxes and that there was not a chance at the present time to change that situation.”

    April 30, 1959, part of a private meeting with McKay: After comparing faculty salaries to tithing records, Wilk learns about 100 faculty aren’t paying tithing. Wilk tells Pres. Mckay he was shocked. “He said he was shocked also. I told him that it had been suggested to me by my Executive Committee that no salary increases should be given to those who were in that situation, but that I had my doubts that that was the proper way to handle it because that had the effect of requiring the payment of tithing when as a matter of fact it ought to be a voluntary matter. He said he agreed with me and that salary should be predicated largely on professional ability.”

    D. Michael Quinn’s typed notes of excerpts from Ernest L. Wilkinson diaries, 1952-196, 1 Uncat. WA MS.119, Beinecke Library, Yale University.

    Then, from another folder in the same collection, some excerpts from President’s Mckay’s diaries:

    April 16, 1959, meeting with EL Wilkinson who raised “question of whether President Wilkinson should have access to the tithing records of the faculty of the Brigham Young Unversity. The faculty itself has already voted that compliance with Church standards is one of the criterions [sic] for promotion. This question was discussed at our meeting of the First presidency today.”

    April 30, 1959, part of a private meeting with McKay: After comparing faculty salaries to tithing records, Wilk learns about 100 faculty aren’t paying tithing. Wilk tells Pres. Mckay he was shocked. “He said he was shocked also. I told him that it had been suggested to me by my Executive Committee that no salary increases should be given to those who were in that situation, but that I had my doubts that that was the proper way to handle it because that had the effect of requiring the payment of tithing when as a matter of fact it ought to be a voluntary matter. He said he agreed with me and that salary should be predicated largely on professional ability.”

    March 22, 1961, EL WIlkinson asks to receive BYU faculty tithing records more promptly so he will have the information in time to decide on “eligibility of faculty members for reappointment, etc.’

  79. Kevin Barney says:

    My thoughts:

    1. I agree with comment no. 1. There is no policy, or if there is and it is uncommunicated, it isn’t a meaningful one. It is between you and God, and the Church is very wise to do it this way, as this thread demonstrates. My view is that anyone insecure enough to go running to SLC bureaucrats deserves whatever advice they dole out. Do you really think they’re going to tell you to pay less tithing?

    2. Re: gifts, you could use federal tax law as a proxy for determining a concept of “income” if you feel so inclined, and gifts are not income on that basis.

    3. Re: tithing settlement, One day in mid-January I popped upright and realized that I never went to tithing settlement! Never scheduled an appointment or anything. And the sky didn’t fall. That is dangerous knowledge; I might make a habit of that. (Like Ronan, I’m not a big fan. And if I were a bishop I would hate devoting my entire holiday to it.)

    4. The RLDS/CoC have a different system of tithing. They actually have a little form that you fill out, and it is net of basic living expenses.

    5. My parents didn’t attend my temple wedding because of a disagreement over tithing calculation he was having with the bishop that prevented them getting temple recommends. According to the bishop, he paid the highest tithing of anyone in the ward (probably privileged information the bishop shouldn’t have revealed), but he had an idiosyncratic view that “interest” literally meant interest, so he tithed the interest on his investments, which were substantial for that community. I disagree with my father’s view of “interest,” but in theory at least the bishop shouldn’t have questioned his interpretation.

    6. I agree with RT and others that trying to define “income” is way, way more complicated than simplistic gross v. net arguments ever realize. That is again why the Church is so smart not to even try.

  80. I recall a study from a couple of years ago that asked tithepayers questions such as whether they paid tithing on the value of gifts? Does anyone else remember reading that study? It was interesting to see how people classified certain increases as subject to tithing and other increases as not subject to tithing.

  81. Aaron, I’ve wondered the same things you have. Bill and I have paid enough in tithing to have our house paid off and a nice yacht in the Bahamas. Not that I miss it :).

    #2, CJD, but I tithed my tax refund when I tithed my gross income.

    One thing I do is deduct the amount taken OUT of our check for social security and our 401K, intending to tithe it when I actually receive it, because who knows if I’ll actually receive it?

    Besides that, #34–mega dittos Dan. That’s exactly what I was feeling, but unable to say.

  82. I don’t know if this means a whole lot, but my bishop said that only about 20% of the members of our ward (maybe most wards?) ever come to tithing settlement. For the other 80%, he has to decide whether they’re full-tithe payers or not. I assumed that meant paperwork goes to SLC on it. Anyway, he said that he tends to assume negative when deciding whether someone is a full-tithe payer if they didn’t show up to declare it themselves. So, the sky won’t fall if you don’t go to tithing settlement, but apparently you’re leaving it up to the bishop to guess based on what he knows of you and your job/income whether or not you paid your tithing.

  83. SFW,

    You may be referring to “Does Where You Stand Depend on Where You Sit? Tithing Donations and Self-Serving Beliefs,” American Economic Review 89(September 1999), p. 703.

  84. For Mormons, doesn’t priesthood get involved somewhere in this “between you and God” business?

  85. If you stop to think that tithing is just a fragment of the law of consecration, it’s pretty easy to skip the casuistry and move on to greater things.

    If a person needs help meeting living expenses–rent, utilities, food, clothing, medical costs, etc.–I’d tell that person, pay your tithing, and I’d tell the bishop, give the person whatever help he or she needs.

  86. David Brosnahan says:

    I was taught to pay on gross and gifts. I would pay a 10th of the fruit of my garden but my bishop didnt want it.

    Remember that Europe, Australia, and Canada have Universal Health Care. So, should we in the US deduct the cost of our health insurance from our tithing. Just because you think your government wastes your tax money, I dont think it’s justification to deduct it from what you owe the Lord. If you don’t like how much the government taxes you to provide for your defense, education, and health services than its your civic duty to change that.

    I have been a student for years and made little increase except for gifts. I am thankful for paying a healthy tithing again and hope to be in that 35% tax bracket soon and I’ll happily pay a fat and full 10% on my gross + gifts + garden produce if my new bishop will take tomatos.

  87. There was a nice article in the American Economic Review that used LDS tithing survey data in its empirical analysis:

    Dahl, Gordon, and Michael Ransom, 1999, “Does Where You Stand Depend on Where You Sit? Tithing Donations and Self-Serving Beliefs,” American Economic Review Vol. 89, pp. 703-727.

    The article contains some interesting survey responses that will give you a sense of how people tend to handle some of the income issues mentioned in this post’s comments. For example,

    1 A) Imagine your parents give you $500 for Christmas. Would you pay tithing on this gift? Yes = 61.9% and No = 32.7%

    1 B) Imagine your parents give you a sofa worth $500 for Christmas. Would you pay tithing on this gift? Yes = 33.2% and No = 60.8%


    3 A) Imagine you inherit land your family has farmed for generations. You continue farming the land, which as an assessed value of $700,000. Would you pay tithing on the value of the land that you inherited? Yes = 41.0% and No = 40.2%

    3 B) Imagine your inherit land your family has farmed for generations. You sell the land, for which you receive $700,000. Would you pay tithing on this money? Yes = 80.3% and No = 12.2%

  88. David Brosnahan says:

    “render onto Ceasar the things that are Ceasers and onto God the things that are God’s.”

  89. In answer to your question #85,

    Not really….I guess “practically”, it would depend on the issue…but on this issue of tithing it really is the official policy of the church that each individual determines with the Lord what constitutes a full tithing.

    – Letter from First Presidency – March 19, 1970

    “What is a proper tithe?”

    “For your guidance in this matter, please be advised that we have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this. We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly.”

    – The General Handbook of Instructions (for church leaders)

    Definition of Tithing

    The First Presidency has written: “The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this.’” (First Presidency letter, 19 Mar. 1970; see also D&C 119:4)

  90. Forgot about the gross versus net question. From the article,

    Imagine you receive a paycheck totaling $1000 before deductions. If $150 is deducted for federal and state taxes, would you subtract this amount before paying tithing on the paycheck? Yes = 26.5 and No = 68.7%

  91. Tithing settlement used to mean more when my great-great-great grandfather could write in his journal:

    “Working tithing at the gates to Temple Block” March 19, 1855

    Settling things when the church was both employer and grocer meant much more than the current version of tithing settlement.

    On the keeping the Sabbath comment above, I just came across the following journal entry for June 12, 1859:

    “Made two frames for Bessy $4.00 & batten door & 2 frames for Clarke $6. in all $10.00. I do not like the idea of working on the Sabbath & will not except I can make good wages.”

    Interesting standard–sounds like some of the professional athletes whom I’ve criticized in the past.

  92. I love it when individual members create their own policies they feel should apply to others when the church leadership has expressly chosen not to do.
    Oh, wait, that’s wrong. Whether a BYU prof claiming the church “really” has a policy that abortion should be illegal, or McConkie claiming policies here and there for everything (Sunday activities, suicide, evolution, blood atonement, etc.), I hate it when that happens.

  93. I pay tithing on my net income. For me, that means I pay after taxes are deducted, and then I also deduct costs such as the amount I pay my nanny for in-home care, and in some years I deduct extraordinary health costs of myself or a family member (cancer treatments, for example).

  94. Here’s a question.

    What if I save my tithing throughout the year collect interest on the amount (INGdirect pays me 4.5%) and then just pay it all in (minus the earned interest) at the end of the year.

    Is that still OK?

    Oh and US tax rates are ridiculously low I just finished my taxes on Turbo Tax and I think my percentage of actual taxes (fed) paid comes out to about 4%. Love that GWB war mongerer.

    god bless america


  95. Steve Evans says:

    cje, you are supposed to pay a tithe on your increase. The obligation to pay tithing arises as you receive the gain. If by not paying your tithing all year you have reinvested those funds and made money, it seems clear that all profit related to those funds are not yours, but the Lord’s.

    That said, what if you didn’t pay your tithing, but instead spent your tithing (say $1000) buying stocks on the stock market, and lost money (say $500). Would you argue that you only have to pay $500 in tithing for the year?

  96. Income is so complicated that the only way the church could have a “policy” would mean we’d all have to be trained like tax accountants in order to do it “properly.”
    There are too many “what ifs” like in the original post and subsequent posts. What if this, what if that.
    I support the church’s position that we need to figure it out for ourselves.

  97. Let’s settle this once and for all with a quantitative formula.

    Tithing = (Gross Income * (10%))/(1 – Faithfulness) + (Net Income * (1%) * (Probability of Exaltation)) – ($10 * (# of Book of Mormon chapters read in the last year))

  98. cantinflas says:

    JNS: How do I quantify “camel passing through the eye of a needle” to substitute for your 4th variable?

  99. I’m in a stake presidency and have never heard of an official set of rules on tithe-paying from the brethren, and I’ve never read anything about it in Church handbooks. I believe it’s a personal decision based on Church doctrine and principles and personal inspiration. My personal rule is to give generously. For tithing, that means 10% of my adjusted gross income. I would not impose that rule on others, however.

  100. Cantinflas, there’s a set of well-established experimental criteria for quantifying things like that. Ask yourself, how much would the payoff have to be for me to be willing to bet a dollar that a camel would pass through the eye of a needle? Using the expected value formula, you can then determine your subjective probability of the event in question. Or just approximate it by throwing in a shiny nickel.

  101. If it is permissible to deduct federal and state income taxes before I calculate my 10%, it’s not clear to me why I shouldn’t also deduct sales taxes, medical expenses, rent, food, trips to the movies, etc., etc., etc. In other words, I don’t know where to draw the line, yet surely one needs to draw it somewhere. Thus, I figure it’s better just to pay on the whole enchilada.

    This may have been addressed above already, but I pay on net because I consider any income tax a cost of doing business, in the same way every farmer I know pays his tithing after his expenses for supplies and the like. If I didn’t work, I wouldn’t have to pay it, so it’s a cost of my working as far as I’m concerned.

    I don’t deduct the other things you’ve mentioned because those are things I’m free to control: I don’t pay sales tax unless I choose to buy something; I don’t pay rent unless I choose to live somewhere that requires rent; etc… They are costs that are related to why I work, but not a cost of me working.

  102. With regard to US tax rates, a recent study [1] which examined fiscal incentives found an marginal tax rate of 40%–almost independent of income or age. This was the mean and median value; stdev was 5%. This study considered a vast array of taxes and incentives/disincentives. Two of their salient conclusions were 1) the US had an effective flat tax of 40%, and 2) tax codes in the US make this almost impossible to figure out.

    With tithing at least I know what I pay–because I choose to pay it. Tithing is vastly simple if the fringe debate (as seen here on this blog) deals with gross/net and gifts. How this is relatively simple!

    [1] Laurence J. Kotlikoff and David Rapson, “DOES IT PAY, AT THE MARGIN, TO WORK AND SAVE? — MEASURING EFFECTIVE MARGINAL TAXES ON AMERICANS’ LABOR SUPPLY AND SAVING”, National Bureau of Economic Research, December 2006.

  103. Re: 56, 59, 75

    Typically, the bishop will ask the person to pay the tithing. At that point, the bishop will typically offer assistance from fast offerings and the bishops storehouse. People won’t go without meds, or food, or power, etc. because they paid tithing. Bishops can be very creative in helping people.

  104. Julie M. Smith says:

    OK, canon lawyers, here’s one for you.

    We buy company stock at a 15% discount via my husband’s employer. Let’s say we buy the stock with money that has already been tithed. We periodically sell the stock and use the money for really important and/or whimsical things. Because the stock is purchased monthly, it is bought at all different rates. How do we figure out how much tithing to pay when we sell the stock?

  105. rbc (#22)

    I don’t know about other Bishops, but my dad (who was Bishop of a rather large ward) and my brother-in-law (Bishop of a small-ish ward) both have commented that tithing settlements are their favorite part about being Bishop. They get to meet with all of the faithful members and have pleasant conversations with them, instead of only dealing with the problems. Sure, it makes for a busy holiday season, but it was (is) definitely worth it to them.

  106. #105. If this is a “what is income” question, your answer is on line 7 of Schedule D of your form 1040, assuming you are a U.S. citizen.

    If the question is what is income and what isn’t – the U.S. tax system is a handy proxy for finding rational answers primarily because the arguments that have already been hashed out on either side of an income tax question tend to be the same arguments that would be made if tithing questions were either litigated or legislated.

    It’s useful to keep in mind that the roots of defining income in the tax system lie in what is produced from the application of your personal labor or capital that you own. Thus, income is how we measure the creation of wealth, not the mere transfer of wealth. From this definition it is easy to see why gifts aren’t income, since they represent a mere transfer of wealth that was previously counted as someone else’s income.

  107. Steve Evans says:

    Julie: “Because the stock is purchased monthly, it is bought at all different rates. How do we figure out how much tithing to pay when we sell the stock?”

    Julie, I would follow some kind of FIFO system.

  108. My wife and I are a blended family. When we married, I paid taxes on gross income and she paid on net. We discussed this issue and came to a conclusion we agreed upon. I have faith we have been blessed based on our decision. I’m not going to say what the decision is, because it’s between me, my wife, and the Lord. Because I own my own business, I have to say that the calculation can seem complex.

    Whenever I have a doubt about some tithing decision, I make the best decision I know how, and I might reach a little farther down for fast offerings, just to make sure I’m not too attached to the mammon. I think that’s my biggest worry – how attached to this mammom am I? “Lord, I think I have paid a full tithing. I’m sure thou hast read all those blog posts just like me. Thou understandest them. I do not. Please accept all my offerings, no matter how imperfect they may be.”

  109. My basic belief with repect to tithing, The Matrix, DVD ripping, and green tea is that if it makes you uncomfortable, you are not doing what God expects of you. If you are living a spirit-filled life and you feel comfortable, you are very likely to be in the right path. The measurement of the qualifier is difficult, but filling our lives with the Holy Spirit is either the object or biproduct of God’s path for us. I would focus on that and let questions about tithing answer themselves over time.

  110. Sam DB,

    You’ve conflated tithing with consecration. Tithing is a commandment with boundaries, just like church attendance. The fact that we’re commanded to remember God always, all week and outside of church, and to offer all of our possessions to God, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider what it means when we’re asked in a temple rec interview whether we “attend our Sacrament and priesthood meetings” and “pay a full-tithe.”


    I completely agree with Lief, the IRS has spent a lot of time defining income, and most of their decisions are rational and reasonable.


    The best argument against paying net is to point out that in an economy where the government took all of your salary but gave you everything you have now, you’d be in the same position and have the same increase, even though your “net” would be zero.

    In Dallin Oaks’ conference talk about the renewed emphasis on teaching, he discouraged teachers from straying from the manual or discussing their hobby horses. One of his for-examples was that it would be inappropriate for teachers to say that tithing should be paid on net or gross income.

    Oh, and Steve, the tithing commandment says we should pay 1/10 of our *annual* increase. That’s the rationale for annual tithing settlements.

  111. My basic belief with repect to tithing, The Matrix, DVD ripping, and green tea is that if it makes you uncomfortable, you are not doing what God expects of you.

    Dave, the problem with this formulation is that it fails to acknowledge that there are sources of guilt besides God. A Muslim might feel guilty speaking to the missionaries, or reading the bible or Book of Mormon, but the guilt she feels comes from her culture, not God. Members face the same challenge of determining the source for their guilt or discomfort.

  112. no thanks says:

    The question of Net Vs. Gross aside, when a decision between providing the necessities of life for my family or paying tithing arose, I always took care of my family first. I found it inconceivable that a loving Heavenly Father would want me to pay tithing before my family.

    Tithing destroyed my testimony of the church. The total unreasonableness of the tithing system always grated on me. It seemed inevitable in church when a discussion on tithing came up that someone would bring up the saying “would you like blessings on the gross or the net”. The whole system seemed to be designed to guilt me into paying as much as possible, just to be sure that I paid enough. It didn’t take long for me to settle on paying on the Net, simple financial necessity gave me no choice.

    Paying tithing just drained my bank account and sucked all the fun from life. So I started compulsively searching the internet about tithing trying figure out exactly what I owed. In hopes to minimize the burden of paying tithing. I eventually came across information that called into question the entire premise of the church into question. I likely would have never found this information if it weren’t for the unreasonableness of tithing. And I would probably still believe.

  113. “I found it inconceivable that a loving Heavenly Father would want me to pay tithing before my family.”

    Isaiah, on the other hand, claimed that God is not bound by the limits of our imaginations.

  114. Steve Evans says:

    Matt, I never said anything to intimate that tithing was other than an annual obligation, did I? Easy there.

  115. Is it possible to pay back tithing for years when a person was not a full tithe payer? (I know it is practically possible-just write a larger check and nobody in the church is going to turn it away.) If so, could a person then have their church records amended to reflect or show they made amends/repented for prior year(s)? Or, will a notation on church records as a “non full tithe payer” for a particular year(s)become a scarlet letter that will, perhaps, dog someone for years. (Kind of funny to think of church records as a spiritual credit report based upon actual financial activity.)

    It’s not funny when you consider stories like #79 above. If my career were subject to the whims of a busybody church official or a busybody snoop like Wilkinson-see #79 above-who has access to church records, I can see where I would want to file an “amended tithing statement/settlement declaration” to protect my career, or else find other employment.

    The big brother/busbody scenario is not limited to church employees. For example, federal employee salaries are available publicly. On the WAPO website there is a section where one can type in the name of a federal employee and find out how much that person makes. (I’m not sure if the database lists base pay or GS level.) I suppose an acolyte of the Wilkinson school of oversight/leadership could have a field day with the internet.

    How does a tithing sinner who has since repented correct the official record, assuming the official record can be corrected.

  116. There’s an official record of tithe paying?!

  117. Steve Evans says:

    rbc, nobody audits your tithing but you. You can always pay tithing you feel you owe for previous periods of nonpayment, but there’s no church record of tithing sinners.

  118. The main problem I have with tithing is the non accountabily of where the money is going.

    What about if I want to direct my charitable funds and lets say instead of paying “tithing” I place my donation wholy towards humanitarian aid.

    Even though in a purely legal sense I wouldn’t be paying tithing as defined by the church. I would still be tithing my increase and giving it to the church–wouldn’t I?

    I guess I’m just tired of financing the downtown revitalisation of SLC.


  119. re 118

    I want to believe you but I’m not convinced there isn’t something that’s recorded re: tithing status as declared by tithe payer for X year(s). As I recall, during tithing settlement, when I respond to the question the Bishop makes a notation on something. In my experience the Bishop is sitting there, pen in hand, as he goes around the room asking everyone the magic question and when a person responds, the Bishop puts pen to paper and writes something down. Perhaps he’s jsut writing down the person attended and participated and responding to the magic question makes the attendance official. Perhaps he’s recording the contents of the actual response, i.e. full or less than full tithe. Perhaps he’s just making notes so he doesn’t forget something. I don’t know what he writes or what he’s writing on, i.e. a form or just a scratch piece of paper.

    Until I read the anecdote about Wilkinson and other comments on this thread, I never thought about the church records portion of tithing status. Someone else posted earlier a comment that if someone doesn’t show up for tithing settlement, the Bishop has to guess about that person’s tithing status. If that’s true, then is it just a mental exercise for the Bishop where he muses for a few moments about Brother X and Sister Y, and then moves on, mentally, to the next ward member? Where does the Bishop record his best judgment for members who don’t declare? How can people spout off stats about percentages of people who pay tithing, down to the stake level, w/o some type of record keeping that is tied to at least the stake level, if not the individual?

    Like I said, I want to believe you, but at the same time I can easily imagine church busybody beauracrats putting a small tab in MLS or other church records indicating tithing status for each church member, if only to keep an eye on BYU employees. I hope you’re correct but would not be surprised to learn you’re not.

  120. Steve, I was responding to your #96, where you said tithing wasn’t calculated annually but compounded: “The obligation to pay tithing arises as you receive the gain. If by not paying your tithing all year you have reinvested those funds and made money, it seems clear that all profit related to those funds are not yours, but the Lord’s.”

    No Thanks,

    Paying tithing just drained my bank account and sucked all the fun from life.

    Social research overwhelmingly suggests you’d be happier and have more fun if you abandoned your “glass is 10% empty” mindset. You’ll live longer, too. I recommend talking to your doctor.

  121. rbc,

    The bishop records your tithing declaration.

    The issue with working for the church (including BYU) is their ability to know your salary and your tithing. Wilkinson appears to have thought that, armed with those two data points, he could tell whether a BYU employee paid a full tithe. He could do that only by ignoring or doubting the possibility that those paying less than 10% of their salary had offsetting financial losses that made their annual increase less than their annual salary.

  122. Back to my original question, can those tithing declaration records be amended or are you stuck with your answer until the statute of limitation runs?

    Re: Wilkinson. I agree with your assessment of Wilkinson’s error prone approach to gauging the tithing worthiness of BYU employees. I will never run a university of any kind, but I would imagine Brother Wilkinson had more important things to do than snoop around BYU employees’ church tithing records. Unless, of course, he had an ecclestiastical reason for doing so, which, at the moment, I can’t think of a single one.

  123. Well, gauging by those diary excerpts in comment #79, the president of the church considered Wilkinson’s inquiry to be part of his job.

  124. The bishop is required to indicate the tithing status for each person who has a membership record in his ward (regardless of whether or not they come to tithing settlemet). In tithing settlement he’s checking off his options: full-tithe payer, partial-tithe payer, non-tithe payer and exempt.

    A clerk enter this into MLS (the church software on each ward computer) where it is transmitted to SLC.

    The bishop also prints a copy and gives it to the Stake President. I’ve only seen this used to calculate the total nubmer of full-tithe paying Melchizedek Priesthood holders, which is part of the information required on an application to create a new ward. All ward/stake financial records are to be shredded after 3 years.

  125. Recording someone’s self-declared tithing status is not the same as an audit, folks.

    Matt, please stop putting words in my mouth: “where you said tithing wasn’t calculated annually but compounded…”

    I said NO SUCH THING, man. Don’t be disingenuous. I mas merely getting to the issue of what to do with gains made on tithing not paid during the course of the year.

  126. Thanks Ken.

    Can the records be amended for folks who were short one year, but made it up the following year or years down the road?

    And, the big question, how long does SLC keep the tithing records? I’m sure there are more than a few people who are curious about the tithing records of prominent members of the church seeking high elected office, and those people are not friendly to either the church or members from the church running for office. If SLC keeps these records longer than 3 years, and it’s a safe bet they do, how secure are they? What protections are there from busybody snoops?

    Another question, does a tithing deficit from one year carry over to the next year? Following the tithing on gross amount approach and assuming no other income/increase/interest and/or losses, if I made $100,000.00 in 05, but paid $7,000.00 in tithing, as of December 31, 2005, do I start 2006, 3,000.00 in arrears from a tithing perspective? Or, by declaring myself a partial tithe payer during tithing settlement at the end of 05, have I confessed my sin and, at the same time, repented. If not, how does one repent for failing to pay a full tithe? Is there any other way to make amends than by paying off the what I shorted the Lord in previous years.

    Stretched out over a lifetime of earnings and occasional years of less than stellar tithe paying, the bill for back tithing could grow quite large, even w/o interest computed. It may be simpler just to have the church garnish my wages until I reach the overall, lifetime 10% minimum amount. Perhaps Brother Wilkinson can manage my installment plan.

    Sorry for the threadjack.

  127. Steve,

    If tithing is on annual increase, then there is no such thing as “tithing not paid during the course of the year.”

    We’re commanded to tithe on our annual increase, not our bi-weekly paychecks. For example, a person who considered tithing money they received on January 1, but invested it instead, would pay 10% of the appreciation come December 31, because we’ve been commanded to tithe on our _annual increase_.

    I said your way was compounded because your saying tithing should be calculated as earned. This is analgous to how compounded interest works by making interest due daily, rather than annually.

  128. Matt, fair enough. I think we are largely talking past each other. I agree that the D&C specifically says “annually.” I think you are fixating perhaps a little too much on that word, however, if you think somehow it would be inappropriate to pay tithing during the course of the year.

    And I don’t think that everyone would agree that you pay 10% of the appreciation come Dec. 31, under your example, although I think you’re probably right.

  129. no thanks says:

    And I don’t think that everyone would agree that you pay 10% of the appreciation come Dec. 31, under your example, although I think you’re probably right.

    That’s the whole joy of this debate, it’s hard to get any two people to agree on it, let alone everyone.

  130. rbc,

    I’m afraid that the answer to your question really is, as are many questions about tithing, “it depends.”

    I have been taught that being a full tithepayer is considered to be prospective; that is, your status of paying tithes starts when you start paying tithing. I will use myself as an example:

    Because of extraordinary medical expenses (more than 12% of my gross) last year, for the first couple of months it was impossible to meet most of our financial obligations, including tithing. With a combination of a stroke of good fortune and our meeting the catastrophic cap of our medical insurance (meaning insurance no longer required copay or coinsurance), our financial situation improved to where we could pay full tithing and meet our other obligations. When we met for tithing settlement, I declared as a full tithepayer, since I had been paying in full since we were able. My wife asked the bishop whether we could be considered full tithepayers, since there were a few months that we had not paid. Our bishop told us that, as long as we continued to pay from the time we could forward, he did not believe we were under obligation to “catch up.”

    That has helped me, since I know that there were times I was not able to pay a full tithe, that once I started paying, I could consider myself a full tithepayer. It seems that any other answer would be inherently unfair. We also had a period of time where our bishop made a deal with us (again because of extraordinary medical expenses), that as long as we paid tithing, he would help us with rent, utilities, or food. I would hand him the bills together with the tithing check. It seemed kind of awkward, but it worked for us.

  131. Steve, I don’t think it’s wrong to pay tithing during the year, only that it’s not what the commandment says. It’s like paying 11% tithing — more than we’re commanded, but no reason to gripe. I paid tithing to coincide with my paychecks back when I received paychecks. Now that my finances are more complicated I have no choice but figuring our my increase once a year.

    No Thanks, I think most everyone is smart enough to understand “annual increase” — if they disagree now it’s probably because they don’t know the standard, haven’t thought about it, or are wrongly comparing it to federal income tax withholding.

  132. Last Lemming says:

    It’s always fun to educate people on what economists consider to be income, but it’s way too late in the thread for that. Still, I want to respond to #103 in which it was incorrectly stated that Kotlikoff and Rabson have concluded that the U.S. effectively has a 40 percent flat tax rate.

    First, K&R are dealing strictly with marginal tax rates–the rate you would pay on the next dollar you earn–not average tax rates. That distinction is important in a progressive tax system with no exemption, but not with tithing where both the marginal and average rates are 10%. That’s how cje in #95 comes up with an average tax rate of 4% even though the lowest marginal tax rate is 10%.

    The other point is that K&R are including all welfare benefits in their calculations. This means you could have 40% marginal tax rates even if you don’t actually owe any tax at all. There is, for example, a point at which you lose a dollar of food stamps for every dollar you earn. K&R count that as a 100% marginal tax rate. But you can be sure that the food stamp recipient is not paying 40% of his or her income in taxes.

  133. Thanks CS Eric.

    Sounds like you have a smart bishop. Best of luck with your medical condition(s).

  134. Aaron B says:

    Matt Evans,

    For what it’s worth, my Bishop friend also said that Church policy really mandates paying tithing as you receive it. The “annual” requirement should not be read to suggest it’s kosher to wait until the end of the year to pay up for the prior year. In doing this, one is technically preventing the Church from earning the interest that would have accrued on the timely payments.

    In short, you’re a flaming liberal apostate from the True Gospel. But then, everyone already knows that.

    Aaron B

  135. Matt,

    While I agree with your interpretation that we are required to calculate our increase and tithe on an annual basis, that system creates an incentive to recklessly speculate. The incentive is tempered by the fact we are required to tithe only 10% and not some larger amount.

  136. Aaron,

    One of my flaming liberal apostate “friends” is curious about something. How will your bishop friend respond when you show him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Comment 1 would be a good start. Report back soon, my friend really wants to know.

    Here’s the Oaks conference quote I mentioned earlier:

    Teachers who are commanded to teach “the principles of [the] gospel” and “the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77) should generally forgo teaching specific rules or applications. For example, they would not teach any rules for determining what is a full tithing, and they would not provide a list of dos and don’ts for keeping the Sabbath day holy. Once a teacher has taught the doctrine and the associated principles from the scriptures and the living prophets, such specific applications or rules are generally the responsibility of individuals and families.

  137. Mathew,

    I don’t believe it creates an incentive to speculate, because if I put my “January tithing” into a risky investment and lose it, I’d still have to tithe on the 90%. (January increase of $100, lose the $10 set aside for tithing, now annual increase is $90, leaving $81 after-tithing dollars instead of $90.)

  138. Rather than paying on your income, why not pay on your expenses and defer your total payout until you retire or die???

    My sister, who happens to be a high-net individual, pays her and her husband’s tithing each year based on how much money they have spent. Their financial adviser sends them a year end summary of expenses every December and they pay 10% on what they have spent for the year. Then, the remainder of the money is invested and continues to grow – both making them more money and creating more money to be tithed on.

    When her and her husband retire, they have setup a plan to pay tithing on their net (liquid) worth. That net worth will be substantially higher in 20 years (assuming that is when they retire) than it is right now.

    In the meantime, my sister and her family enjoy the security of a larger nest egg while creating more tithe-able income for the Church. It’s a win-win situation.

    So why aren’t we all doing this?

  139. #139
    Because your sister has morphed the 10% of her increase into a 10% consumption tax.

  140. Matt,

    I’m not talking about January tithing. If a person expects to transfer 10% of a $100 to God on Dec. 31, but only if on Dec. 31 she still has that particular $100, then she may take the view that $10 of the $100 total is the house’s money. If she loses it, she hasn’t lost anything that belonged to her in the first place. If she makes a killing, all but 10% of any gains redound to her. Since in relation to the $10 she has nothing to lose and and theoretically an infinite amount to gain, this would increase her risk appetite. Any increase would be kept in check, however, by the fact that most of the risk remains with her in the form of the other $90.

  141. Aaron B says:


    Be serious. That isn’t a win-win situation. A dollar to the Church today is worth more than a few dollars to the Church 20 years from now.

    Aaron B

  142. she may take the view that $10 of the $100 total is the house’s money


    Since her view is incorrect (it’s not tithing until possession is transferred to the church), it seems to me that bishops should ensure their members understand basic tithing concepts like this. Squandering money that at one time was intended to be tithing isn’t tithing.

  143. The best argument against paying net is to point out that in an economy where the government took all of your salary but gave you everything you have now, you’d be in the same position and have the same increase, even though your “net” would be zero.

    I disagree, because the example given doesn’t really reflect what I’m being “increased” from the government now. My income taxes go to lots of things, almost none of which benefit (or “increase”) me directly. In your hypo, I’m getting a house, a car, a bank account full of money (or in my case full of change), etc. Of course if I was given those things, it would be “increase” to me. But as it stands now, my income tax dollars don’t really do much to my “increase,” as they are being spent on items that don’t do much to help me out personally such as welfare for others and wars in foriegn countries. Possibly these are indirect benefits, but how I quantify them as my increase, I don’t know.

    Also, given your formulation, we should not just pay gross, but then also pay for the portion of the roads and welfare system, etc., that we are not contributing to on a pro rata basis, as technically, we are being “increased” those gifts without having to pay our fair share of them.

  144. Jimbob,

    Your tax dollars benefit you indirectly. You likely paid for your children’s schooling through the tax system, plus the roads, libraries, protection, etc. A portion of your taxes are altruistic, but most of them are designed to benefit the people paying them. Citizens put money into the treasury and through our elected representatives decide how it will benefit us most.

    I agree with your final paragraph, that many people receive more from government (or church)than they contribute. This poses the same problem as scholarships and gifts in Aaron’s post.

  145. COB Employee says:

    I’ve been following this post with interest and have repeatedly hesitated to post, but I can’t resist any longer.

    As someone who once worked in the SLC Church Office Building in the membership records area in a “past life”, I can speak (anonymously) about what is kept in the records re: tithing and for how long. I don’t believe I will be violating any agreeement of confidentiality I made when I took the job if I make this post.

    Basically, apart from the information that appears on your membership record (Birth date/place; parents; marriage info; ordinance info; first Mission place/language; children; etc.) there are only 3 things that the Church keeps forever with respect to a member:

    (1) Patriarchal blessings (technically these are not kept with membership records–they are stored in a separate department altogether)

    (2) A letter from your mission president sent to Church HQ upon your release, reporting on what type of missionary you were (from your first mission only–i.e. if a senior person went on a mission as a youth the Church does not keep the second or subsequent letters)

    (3) Tithing declarations from each year since your baptism. There is no permanent record kept of the amount of tithing paid–all that is kept forever is a one-letter indication of your tithe-paying status for each year: F=Full; P=Part; N=Non; E=Exempt.

    I can confirm that these three pieces of information are never destroyed and are kept forever. Most of the records are in the mountain vault, and it would be difficult, though not impossible, for an employee to dig up the tithing status of a prominent Mormon. It would be impossible to find out how much they paid.

  146. Re: 145

    Your tax dollars benefit you indirectly. You likely paid for your children’s schooling through the tax system, plus the roads, libraries, protection, etc. A portion of your taxes are altruistic, but most of them are designed to benefit the people paying them. Citizens put money into the treasury and through our elected representatives decide how it will benefit us most.

    That’s kind of my point. I almost certainly can’t quantify those benefits to know what “increase” they’re giving me. And I certainly don’t have any relevant say in how they’re spent.

    Re 146

    (2) A letter from your mission president sent to Church HQ upon your release, reporting on what type of missionary you were (from your first mission only–i.e. if a senior person went on a mission as a youth the Church does not keep the second or subsequent letters)

    Oh man, would I love to see that. Can I get to it somehow? Or have I already seen it? I don’t recall any document from my MP when I was released.

  147. This has become the topic of the pharasees! “You must do it this way, or you are not righteous.” I read some of these opinions and I am saddened that so many people want to impose silly rules of righteiousness on others. Be guided by the Spirit. You can’t go wrong here!

  148. Eric Russell says:

    I’m not sure if it’s kosher to reproduce the text, but my trusty e-CHI comes in handy sometimes.

    Definition of Tithing
    The First Presidency has written: “The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this” (First Presidency letter, 19 Mar. 1970; see also D&C 119:4).

    Who Should Pay Tithing

    All Church members who have income should pay tithing, with the following exceptions:
    1. Members who are entirely dependent on Church welfare assistance.
    2. Full-time missionaries. (However, missionaries should pay tithing on personal income beyond the amount they receive for their support.)

    When and How to Pay Tithing
    Local leaders should encourage members to pay tithing as they receive their income. However, members who wish to pay annually may do so.

  149. COB Employee says:

    Re 147:

    You probably haven’t seen the MP letter, unless he gave you a copy (which apparently some do). I don’t know if you could get a copy or not. You certainly could ask–just write a letter in and see what happens. I don’t recall ever seeing a letter of request to get a copy of it, probably because not a lot of people know the letters exist.

  150. Aaron B,

    I thought this was a discussion about a spiritual law – a law of obedience, not a fiscal/temporal law?!

    The money that we pay to tithing is considered “important” to the church only because of how the Church handles it. It is secondary to the real reason that we pay it, which is because of a covenant that we have made and the blessings we receive from keeping that covenant.

    But to imply that it is more important to the Church that I pay my tithing every month vs. once a year (like I do) – to imply that the blessings of tithing are directly related to how quickly the church receives our funds – that implication is foolish.

    Pay once a week, pay once a year, pay once every 10 years… it’s all still tithing. And since the concept of time is man made, I doubt that God himself cares if I pay my tithing on January 1st 1996 or on 10-10-2010.

  151. 151 CP – I agree with you exept one small point – it’s interest ‘annually.’ I would think that means you figure it out (declare) about once a year.

  152. re 146,
    Thanks for the interesting information. I’d be interested to see the letter from my mission president as well, but I recall getting a nice letter from him as I left the country. Maybe they’re the same letter.

    Can you tell us why tithing status is information deemed necessary to keep forever?

  153. Lonny Mower says:

    30+ years ago, I was employed by ZCMI, and I had my tithing deducted from my paycheck, just like Fed, State, FICA taxes. 10% of the gross was taken for tithing; I couldn’t specify a different amount. Can COB/BYU/CES employees confirm the percent taken now through auto deduction. The answer help identify the Church’s “default policy” on what tithing/% is, at least for wage earners. This may have already been addressed above, and apologize if this is the case.

    Also, a true story: A relative recently sold his(San Diego)California house, and elected to pay tithing on the sales price, before the agent’s commission and closing expenses. He moved to Utah, to a rented home, and now wants to move back to SoCal, and now grumbles that he can’t afford to to so/purchase his old house or equivalent, due in part because of paid tithing, plus additional housing inflation. He did not want to offend the Lord on what he believed was an increase/or a tithing required event. Can he petition to have this tithing returned?

  154. COB Employee says:

    I couldn’t tell you with surety why the Church keeps forever what they keep (apart from the patriarchal blessing, which is kept largely for family history purposes I imagine). We just did what we were told, naturally. I do remember one general authority speaking to employees once and telling us that the membership records and documents that are kept are part of the “books” spoken of in the scriptures from which we will be judged. I guess it just emphasizes how important it may be whether or not we are full tithe payers, since the Church puts it up there with ordinances in the record-keeping departments.

  155. Sheldon Miller says:

    I was thinking last night about this interesting thread and it occurred to me that the discussion of how tithing is paid is yet another symptom of how we view God. Since it is common in Momondom to view our final state as a product of our zeal and diligence we tend to see God as the Great Bookkeeper, making a list and checking it twice. This God would separate us for eternity from those we love because we missed some observation or extension of the Law. The fact that the church steadfastly states the tithing guideline in ambiguous language is a testimony to me that we are led by the Lord. After all, the primary funding mechanism of the church is tithing and it would be in the interest of the organization to make sure we pay as much as they can get. That it forgoes this opportunity supports my view that the Great Bookkeeper God is a product of our fear and not of revelation.

  156. Darrell says:

    As a Bishop, I had a great lesson taught to me last Dec. by an 8 yr old concerning tithing. I had a large family in to tithing settlement and I asked the kids why we pay tithing? They gave me the usual Primary answers: to support the missionaries, to build temples, upkeep of buildings, etc. So I asked them, “Why doesn’t the Lord tell Pres. Hinckley where all the gold in the world is then we could use that gold to pay for all those things.” The eight-year old looked at me with his best Bishop-you-should-know-better-look, put his hands on his hip and said, “Bishop, the reason Heavenly Father asks us to pay tithing is because He is turning us into His gold.”
    What more can be said? I guess it depends on what purity of gold we want to be.
    I agree with 156. I believe that the “Great Bookkeeper God” does not exist. We will be judged by what (who) we are rather than what we do–what kind of gold we have become.

  157. Re: #149…”trusty e-CHI…” Eric, where would a person get ahold of one of these?

  158. OK, judging by the lack of responses I guess the CHI isn’t available…Year and a half convert here, still learning about all of this stuff.

  159. Bueller…Bueller…Bueller?

  160. Steve Evans says:

    Sorry Tony. There is no official source by which to read the Church Handbook of Instructions. You could probably google and find an old version of it however.

  161. Eric Russell says:

    LOL Tony, I forgot about this thread and am just now checking in. I found it somewhere online a few years ago, but I think it has been removed from the site since.

    I should add that it’s really pretty dry though. There are a few interesting bits of policy here and there, such as tithing above, but for the most part it’s just instructions on how to perform each calling, the section of which you should receive upon getting that calling.

  162. I am chiming in real late here and wonder if this will even get read. Regardless, after reading virtually all the posts in this thread, I have seen that the discussion upon “interest annually” has been superficially treated. I want everyone to know that what I am about to reveal is my own opinion and should be concluded as their own status.

    First, and foremost, “interest” is defined to be that above and beyond what has actually been given. In other words, if I decide to work for an employer who has agreed to pay me $25.00/hr for my labor, there is no interest in this exchange. It is an even trade.

    Second, having researched income tax laws for the last seven years, I find nowhere in the code that I am actually liable to pay income tax. As “income” is usually defined as a “gain” in most accounting circles, there are no regulations (definitions of statues) for the term “income;” only those who are liable to pay it, i.e., federal workers, income derived from foreign corporations, and nonresident aliens.

    Having said this, and realizing that I have no legal obligation to even pay an income tax, this clears up my question of tithing obligation, at least in terms of gross vs net.

    However, I am still left with the “interest” question. If I trade my labor evenly for my wages, is that “interest” and do I pay a tithing upon this money? Before you answer this for yourselves, or as a response to me, consider this:

    Back in the day when tithing was paid in many situations in goods instead of coinage, we may be able to derive the nature of “interest.”

    If a farmer owns 100 sheep and he had 10 extra sheep that year, then, he is required to pay one sheep in the “interest” (the 10 extra sheep) of tithing. He does not pay on the 100 as that is the original substance. He only pays a tithing on the interest of the original substance, which in this case is 1 for 10.

    Now, this begs the question? Does this same accounting apply to the use of coinage? And if I trade my labor evenly for a wage, is that considered an interest? And if not, then am I required to pay a tithe?

    In closing, I only want to add one more food for thought. The church wisely leaves tithing as a personal issue. Not even a Bishop can or should presume to define ones tithing obligations. If I conclude that my wage is not tithable, and in my conscience, I believe that to be true in the spirit of tithing, then it is me, and me only, who must pay every farthing of Justice IF I was wrong; and IF it was something I could have done for myself, meaning, that which is not covered by the Atonement. In other words, if I conclude that an even trade is not an “interest,” then I am willing to suffer whatever Justice demands. And if I am willing to suffer whatever Justice demands and ultimately fulfill that obligation in some other way, then, I believe I will not be denied the Prize (Eternal Life) in the end.

  163. Good luck with those views on income tax and tithing, Arrow, and be sure to let us know how federal prison looks from the inside.

  164. You have convicted me already? Tsk! Tsk! ;^)

  165. Your views convict you. They have already been weighed and found wanting by many courts of the land!

  166. You mean like the recent case of Robert Lawrence in Peoria, Illinois whose case was dropped by the IRS in a federal district court in which the defense proved that the 1040 form is not even a federally registered form with no OMB #? This is the second of such cases, not to mention many other cases which cover various aspects of the perpetrated fraud as is the federal income tax.

    I probably know more than even you, the cases in which you never cited. Those are probably those whose kangaroo courts never even allowed the law to be debated, succored by those judges whose moral centers amount to being bent, bought, and then, benched.

    And never mind the cases I can cite in defense of my position, as if yours were the only that mattered; with a major difference being that the judges I cite stood against status quo powers seeking to circumvent their constitutional prescriptions; as opposed to those idiosycratic puppets on a string aforementioned.

    Frankly Sir, I am ashamed of this so-called government of the Free. And assuming you are a brother/sister in the church, I am ashamed that you would defend economic tyranny so easily. But, I would be a fool to think that even within our ranks, there are neo-cons who have sold out their moral centers for a worthless federal note.

  167. Mark IV says:

    Arrow, do you have any of those worthless federal notes cluttering up your house? If so, could you please do me a favor and send them my way? I make a hobby of collecting as many of them as I can.

    And what is it about you people with unsold moral centers and Leavenworth, Kansas? Lots of you take up residence there.

  168. Marcus, Sorry. I do not carry them around or I would feel obliged. As far as Leavenworth is concerned, if I end up in the same place as other unsold-moral-centered-stalwarts such as Paul, Stephen, and even our beloved Joseph, I will look upon my stay at the Leavenworth Lodge with honor.

  169. My grandpa home-taught a member in prison who held the same views as Arrow.

  170. activmo says:

    First of…I pay what I think is a full tithe on my net income. However, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines “INTEREST” as:
    “5. Any surplus advantage.”

    The word interest was re-defined by Howard Hunter in 1964. He said, “The law is simply stated as ‘one-tenth of all their interest.’ INTEREST MEANS PROFIT, COMPENSATION, INCREASE. It is the wage of one employed, the profit from the operation of a business, the increase of one who grows or produces, or the income to a person from any other source. The Lord said it is a standing law forever’ as it has been in the past.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 35).
    I believe that the church modified the definition of interest because of their massive budget problems of the late 1950s.

  171. activmo says:

    sorry for the typos – no spell check

  172. Arrow,

    Legal questions aside, one could infer from your posts that you are defining the laws of tithing in such a manner as to pay as little as possible. I am struck with comparisons to the stories of the widow’s mite, the legalistic interpretations of the Pharisees, and Thomas B. Marsh and the milk strippings, only you claim to be the one with the higher virtues.

    I hope your actual feelings are not as strident as your posts portray them. I have so many other things to worry about that if the Lord lets me keep 90% for all that I get, that’s okay. And if the government wants another 10-20-30% (pick your favorite number here), and I get fire protection, police protection, mostly beneficial laws, and fairly decent public schools for my kids, that’s okay as well. That way, I can focus on my family, my church callings, my blues guitar chops, and immense collection of science fiction novels.

    If you need a reason to pay tithing, go beyond Malachi 3:10, and look at the next verse:

    11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts

  173. Apologies are in order. I meant to include the widow and her offering as the opposite of the other two examples of strident legalism as relates to consecration and the church.

  174. I don’t think that there’s any requirement to tithe on our gross or net. Most people get that out of the verse that says to honor God with our firstfruits, but really that’s talking about Israel’s separate offering that they gave before anything else called the first fruit offering.


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