In the wake of the recent GA allowance leak, a Church spokesman made this statement: “None of the funds for this living allowance come from the tithing of Church members, but instead from proceeds of the Church’s financial investments.” I’m trying to figure out whether this caveat should make a difference in how we perceive this practice.
My gut reaction, which I’ve expressed a couple of times, is that I don’t think it should. That is, money is fungible, from Latin fungibilis (“capable of being used in place of another, capable of being replaced”). When you deposit $100 in your checking account, and then later withdraw $5 to buy yourself a Slurpee, the $5 bill the teller gives you was not actually part of your original deposit. But you don’t care; any $5 bill will do, because they all have the same value, and which one you get doesn’t matter. Or if you have 100 shares of Apple in a brokerage account, your shares are commingled with other shares. When you go to sell them, it doesn’t matter whether the shares you sell are precisely the same as the ones you originally bought; like money, shares of stock are fungible.
The Church’s statement is claiming a difference based on provenance or source; tithing dollars are red dollars, proceeds of financial investments are blue dollars. We pay these allowances with blue dollars, but not with red dollars.
But I’m not sure; maybe I’m thinking about this the wrong way. Accounting firewalls for various purposes can be meaningful. Maybe this claimed distinction is more significant than I originally thought. I welcome your insights either way.
Genealogically, I suspect the source for the allowances goes back to red tithing dollars at some point. If tithing dollars come in, you invest them, and only use the investment return and not the tithing principal to pay the allowances, is that a truly meaningful distinction? Even if we’re talking about proceeds from one of the Church’s for-profit businesses, if you go far enough back genealogically the seed money for that business in the first place was probably tithing dollars. GBH made it clear that the tithing of the people is overwhelmingly the source of the Church’s finances, that it could survive on its investments alone for only a very short time.
If the source doesn’t really matter, then it should be acceptable for these allowances to be paid directly out of tithing dollars. and I for one think that’s true. I have no problem with the allowances and I would have no problem if they were paid directly from tithing.
I suspect the Church insists on this distinction for more subjective and psychological reasons. It might be hard to ask someone scraping by on a very modest salary, especially in a another part of the world, to tithe her income when she makes a small fraction of these allowances. Or it might be hard to toss around rhetoric such that if one must choose between paying the rent or tithing, pay your tithing, between feeding your children or tithing, pay your tithing. Separating the allowances from tithing gives some distance to allow the Church to continue to push hard for tithing compliance.
Personally, I simply don’t accept the rhetoric we sometimes hear that if it’s between eating and tithing, pay your tithing. The miracles we hear about in those situations can be inspiring, but a miracle doesn’t always come. I think it’s irresponsible to tell people to pay tithing in lieu of the basic necessities of life.
So anyway I’m curious what you think about this. Does it really matter what the source of these allowances is? Why or why not?
 Other than the Church’s persistent touting of its “unpaid clergy” without qualification and its not being open and upfront about this with its members. That this is now out in the open is to my mind a healthy and a good thing for the Church. But the Church could have accomplished this proactively on its own instead of reactively in light of a leak. The Church needs to improve its forthrightness skills.