Why I Tithe

Natalie Brown holds a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. She is writing in her personal capacity, and her views do not represent those of her employer.

A voice on the internet recently noted that some portion of Mormons would tithe even if the Church burnt their offerings. This voice arose from understandable frustration that the Church has generated billions of dollars from tithes while oversight of how that money is spent (or not spent) is lacking.

I share this frustration. I believe that such revenue should be spent on projects that address the pressing economic injustices of our moment, including reinvesting that money in LDS families who increasingly struggle in our present economy. Indeed, I have found myself thinking about tithing lately because I have recently taken a second job in order to replenish my family’s budget by approximately the same amount we pay in tithing. From the standpoint of efficiency, tithing does not make sense.

While the membership can and should discuss how tithes are spent to promote more effective stewardship, the question of how tithes should be spent is, for me, distinct from the question of whether I should pay them. God will hold those in charge of administering funds accountable. As someone who believes in God’s existence, the more pressing personal question is whether I’m willing to make the sacrifice He asks of us today.

Tithing provides money to run the Church, but it is also a commandment that comes with a spiritual promise expressed in Malachi 3:10:

 “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

We are instructed not only to pay our tithes but also, in doing so, to “prove” God. Tithing is the hardest commandment we are asked to keep today, and it’s understandable that we frequently balk. Unlike other commandments like the Word of Wisdom, we are not being asked to merely refrain from actions. We are being asked to give up a tenth of the material goods essential to sustaining our lives in exchange for the promise of a bountiful blessing. For me, that tenth is the difference between having the childcare and not having the childcare to pursue my career and talents. For people with less financial privilege, that amount might be their ability to visit a parent, provide education for their children, or access basic needs. These are big sacrifices—for many of us, bigger even than the time we routinely give to the Church.

It has become popular on the internet for people to say they are tithing by making charitable donations to other organizations. Donating to charity is a worthy cause and undoubtedly the right decision for many members. Commandments are rules designed to promote the happiness of the community. As with all rules, there are times when they hurt individuals. Personal revelation can tell us when following the rule is not what God wants us to do.

But, for me, tithing is not a mere charitable donation. It’s not about efficiency. It’s not about exercising my power to determine where money can promote my values. It’s a commandment—and a faith test—designed to help us “prove” or know God. It’s an exercise in letting go of our resources and power in exchange for aligning our will with God and in so doing knowing Him. It’s the path to godliness. That we do not control or dictate where the money goes is the point because we are learning to liberate ourselves from the economic and power dynamics of our society as we hand over our lives to Him.

Christ did not shy away from economics. Our relationship to money (and the food it can buy) is a constant theme of His ministry. He applauded the widow who gave everything she had and instructed that a rich man who wishes to inherit the kingdom of God must do the same. Giving up our money is entwined with the idea of following Him.

Christ’s Atonement is most frequently described through a debt metaphor. We will never have enough money to pay our debts. We can’t find salvation through our endeavors in the market. In accepting Him as our Savior, we reject the money economy for a gift one and in so doing find liberation and our divine potential. Christ is asking us in metaphorical terms to burn our money—to make an offering of it—and thereby extract ourselves from the power relations that bind us.


Cover photo by Karolina Grabowska.

Comments

  1. Yes to all of this. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Natalie. Truly.

  3. What were tithes in Old Testament times? Hasn’t Kevin Barney written about how “tenth” was ordinal, meaning tenth part, not 10%? Although, there were the esretu in Babylon and other 10% taxes historically. For the OT, we have Abraham “tithing” using goods he recovered from the Sodomites in Gen 14. But Numbers 18 and Deuteronomy 14 outline QUITE a different “tithe” (2 different tithes, I guess) than we might envision today.

    But did tithes continue into New Testament times? Not exactly, but something more in the spirit, it seems to me, of people like Jana Riess the OP seems to be alluding to. See Mosiah 18:27-28, Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-35, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3. Further, see the Didache 4:7-11, 13:1-8, Justin Martyr’s 1st apology, chapter 67, Tertullian’s apology, chapter 39, or the Didascalia Apostolorum, chapter 9.

    Tithes were _required_ of the medieval church only during times of famine, and finally by Charlemagne as a kind of tax upon the people he conquered. The 3-fold division of tithes among the clergy, the poor, and cathedral and church maintenance ended by the late middle ages, but I guess as church members we don’t care about the middle-1500 years, do we?

    Regarding the LDS context, I’m not sure we have any revelation that is clear-cut regarding tithing, and the history is quite full of bumps and interpretive twists, but I’ve taken enough space. This just to say, you can reason your way into or out of paying tithing as you like, but please be mindful that all scripture has historical context, which we shouldn’t ignore. Exagesis is more valuable than eisegesis.

  4. *exegesis

  5. Thanks Natalie. I think your pointing out that tithes aren’t a question of efficiency is a critical point: too often we want to Moneyball our lives and I’m not convinced that living quantitatively is really the highest form of living.

  6. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    This resonates with me, Natalie, as it pretty much sums up the reasons I continue to pay tithing. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. For me, it’s not a matter of efficiency. I accept that the Church (as with any organization) is going to “waste” some of what I contribute. I also get that some of what I will contribute will be a “waste” because the Church will do nothing with that contribution (ok, letting it sit and collect interest isn’t nothing, but it also isn’t doing any material good in the world). But I do take issue when what the Church does with my contribution is used for things I am unable to support, or that conflict with my personal values. Some of my money (to the extent that all monies are fungible) go to support a university system that subsidizes the education of many students who simply don’t need that subsidy, and that education is often below par (depending on the program), and that it also allows that system to underpay their faculty while continually treating them poorly. I have no illusion that my widow’s mite makes much of a difference, or that it will be missed if it disappeared. But, to a very small extent, it does enable the Church to do things I don’t like. But it also keeps the light and heat on in the building where I worship, so I guess it does something.

  7. “Tithing is the hardest commandment we are asked to keep today, and it’s understandable that we frequently balk.” For me personally, loving God and my neighbor has proved to be the hardest commandment. YMMV.

    “It has become popular on the internet for people to say they are tithing by making charitable donations to other organizations. Donating to charity is a worthy cause and undoubtedly the right decision for many members.” I’m beyond excited to have your approval.

    “It’s a commandment—and a faith test—designed to help us “prove” or know God.” Oh. Did you pass?

    I’m glad you pay tithing and that it’s the right thing for you (and for many BCC readers). FWIW, many may find that providing wealth to other causes feels very similar to the way you describe finding God through paying tithing.

  8. I strongly believe in paying tithing for many of the reasons cited in the OP (although test of faith is not one). But like Jana Riess – and many others – I can’t in good conscience give my tithing to an organization that: (1) isn’t using it to “build the kingdom of God,” which is what I taught poor people about tithing as a missionary, (2) has built up such a huge surplus that the return on that surplus is far in excess of what it needs to fund the operations of the church, (3) refuses to disclose its finances and how those funds are used.

    My widowed mother who is financially secure and beginning to suffer from dementia constantly tells me she wants to give more than 10% to the church because in her mind, more is better. I try to explain to her that any tithing funds she gives simply go to an investment fund and don’t help anyone in need, and that if she really wants to do something good in the world with her money, there are organizations that will alleviate more suffering and help more people with her donations than the church. But she has a hard time grasping how giving to the church isn’t the greatest good of all. By not being fully transparent about this to the membership – especially to the poor and widows who are giving their mites – the church is guilty of a great wrong in my opinion.

  9. “While the membership can and should discuss how tithes are spent to promote more effective stewardship, the question of how tithes should be spent is, for me, distinct from the question of whether I should pay them. God will hold those in charge of administering funds accountable. As someone who believes in God’s existence, the more pressing personal question is whether I’m willing to make the sacrifice He asks of us today.”

    I have a few reactions to this:

    (1) Why do you think that tithing must be to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? I get what you mean about sacrificing what God wants you to sacrifice, but why do you assume that God wants you to give your money to the 100/200+billion dollar Church? There is plenty of scholarship (some of which is referenced above) that the “law of tithing” as currently taught has nothing to do with what’s in the scriptures or even earlier in LDS Church history. So I am not sure about your premise to begin with.

    (2) I think the idea that “God will hold the leadership accountable” is the same problematic line of reasoning that “if I follow the prophet, and the prophet leads me astray, it’s not my problem because the prophet will be held accountable for that and I will be blessed for following the prophet.” That’s an outsourcing of our moral authority and (that supposed most precious gift) our agency. I think it’s an incredibly problematic line of thinking.

    ***

    I am not going to say it’s immoral to pay tithing to the LDS Church (although for me, it’s immoral). But I do think it’s immoral not to think about whether that’s actually what we should use our resources for in light of the pressing needs around us.

    ***

    Jesus didn’t ask us to burn our money. He asked us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and minister to the sick and imprisoned.

  10. A couple quick responses to a couple ideas that have been raised here:

    First, why does Natalie assume tithing has to be paid to the Mormon church? Probably because this is a Mormon blog and we’re looking specifically at Mormonism. So sure, there are different definitions of tithing, both across time and across religious traditions. But if we’re talking about the Mormonism of today, “tithing” means a 10%-of-income payment to the church.

    Second, what about the fact that tithing has changed across time? I’d respond, what of it? I mean, I’m part of the group of scholars who have looked at the development of tithing within Mormonism. A friend of mine who teaches tax at Arizona State has published a couple really insightful articles about tithing as defined in the Hebrew Bible. And it’s different from what modern Mormons do! And it’s different from what 19th century Mormons did! And it’s different from other Christian and religious traditions! Which is fine. I know sometimes in our rhetoric at church we take the idea of our being a Restorationist church to read our practices back into antiquity. But the ancient church and ancient Israel didn’t do prophets like we do. They didn’t do priesthood like we do. They didn’t do tithing like we do. Heck, the early church didn’t do the Word of Wisdom like we do. Which is fine; I’d have trouble finding a scriptural mandate that our religion be practiced identically to some previous time. The practice of tithing has changed over time. That change doesn’t somehow mean either that previous iterations were wrong or that our current iteration is wrong.

    Third, isn’t giving to charity outside of the church honorable and good? Yes. Probably. (My policy preference would actually be that we pay more in taxes and that government fully fund social safety nets and other things, largely obviating the need for charity, but that’s not the world we live in or one we’re likely to be in soon, and in our current world, charity is good.)

    But it’s not Mormon tithing. Which is fine—if you believe that you shouldn’t pay tithing to the Mormon church, frankly that’s between you and God. But charitable donations are not tithing as defined by the Mormon church.

    There’s a lot of ambiguity about tithing. Ultimately, though, I believe (roughly along Natalie’s lines) that it’s a commandment where the ambiguity is part of the point: it’s not easy, both because we’re (or at least I’m) selfish and because it’s not self-defining. And figuring out what it means, how to do it, whether to do it, all of those things are a critical part of both loving God and loving our neighbor. And frankly, anybody who tells you the answer is easy is, well, wrong.

  11. Roger Hansen says:

    I have no problem with paying 10 percent. I don’t care what the OT says. But I do have a problem giving it to Church leaders so “they can burn it.” I disagree with building mctemples, what’s going at the BYUs, and the enormous rainy-day fund. Financial disclosure needs to happen now. It’s stupid to burn money when there is so much need n the world.

    And I disagree with the idea that the poor should pay tithing before they feed their family. That belief is immoral and probably illegal.

    The quote from Malachi comes dangerous close to the Prosperity Gospel. Pay your tithing and you will prosper. This concept creeps into too many GA talks and sermons.

  12. I’m fine with the definition of tithing changing over time. And yet leaders (and this OP) cite OT verses and context as precedent to support, justify, and encourage current practice as if they are the same. Like with the concern about lack of current financial ransparency, people generally just want an honest narrative, especially when it comes to their money.

  13. “What of it” is that I don’t take for granted that just because some Church leaders tell us we have to pay tithing to the Church they happen to run means that’s what God thinks tithing has to be or that paying tithing the Church without a thought about whether that’s the moral way to use your resources means you’re squared away with God. (Please note I am *not* suggesting that people who pay to the Church aren’t square with God or are immoral. I am only suggesting I don’t think that’s all there is to it without any actual thought or reflection. Clearly this OP has thought and reflected.)

    “But charitable donations are not tithing as defined by the Mormon church” – sure, with respect to correlated Church materials but clearly not the case that every person in the Mormon church thinks that. I think it’s fine on a Mormon blog to discuss different ways different Mormons view tithing even if those views aren’t going to let you sail through tithing settlement.

  14. @Sam “But charitable donations are not tithing as defined by the Mormon church.”

    Agreed. But the question is why not? What is your scriptural and ethical reasons to separate the two?

  15. I am unsettled by this post, maybe because it is so very Mormon. I have had to opt out of this “obedience culture” of the church because it is so very damaging. I believe that the first law of heaven is to love God and fellowmen and we show our allegiance to God by doing just that. I don’t believe that This life is a test. I see the process of this life as a sanctifying experience, just trying to becoming a little better each day.

    So what does this have to do with tithing? I have never found routinely writing a monthly check to be particularly a sanctifying process. I know those who pay tithing like my wealthy brother-in-law, who do it begrudgingly. My husband and I began paying charitable contributions outside the church a few years ago, mostly to local organizations that better the community around us. During the pandemic our local food closet was a high priority. It has nothing to do with efficiency or how much money the Church has. Contributing locally has brought about so many changes in how I view my community and neighbors. So wonderfully healing for me and sanctifying.

  16. Chadwick, it’s purely a definitional thing. I mean, I love a Humpty Dumpty epigraph of “When I use a word… it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less” as much as the next tax attorney. But in the end, “tithing” has a specific meaning in the Mormon tradition; I would turn your question around and ask, why should “tithing” mean my donations to Doctors Without Borders? I think that donation is important (with my caveat of I wish it were unnecessary) and good. And calling it “tithing” would not somehow make it better or more legitimate.

    And maybe there are people who see tithing as the only legitimate charitable contribution (though I confess I don’t know anybody in that boat). And I guess if that gets them to be more charitable then why not? But short of that, I don’t see any reason to equate two things that aren’t the same.

  17. I sympathize with the thought that we can do more to help rampant economic inequality. And when I say inequality, I’m not complaining about Bill Gates having a really really nice house — but rather every single person on this forum having any kind of western standard house while many millions still live in hovels. We are all part of that inequality — pointing fingers at the guy who has more than us, can easily be pointed back at us when we see someone in South Africa, etc.

    I find the frustration at slow-going similar in principle, in tandem, to the spiritual inequality around the world (although not necessarily always correlated, sometimes its inverse).

    Just as we’d like to reform the world overnight through a herculean effort to remove inequality, we (at least some of us, I’m sometimes not sure what the aims are of some here) would like to increase the faith and spirituality of the world. Missionaries go out with dreams of prophesying on a wall or soap box. Instead, they add a small, but meaningful drop in the bucket.

    Can’t you see the corollary? Just as some old school “Mormons” might get frustrated at the progress of missionary work or even spiritual teaching/growth in a ward, we are equally as frustrated by the slow moving changes in alleviating suffering. And whenever we make a step forward in spirituality (less people going to war with their neighbor, generally people accept that compassion for others not of our tribe is the ideal), we have all kinds of spiritual set backs that go with the increases in prosperity and technology (less belief in God, porn, wasting away hours/days/years of our mortal probation on literal distractions to pass the time).

    That’s happening everywhere, even in the impoverished places that are also getting better.

    So…. I think we have to look at some of these things like our Father in Heaven. He hasn’t come down and wiped us out for not doing a good job home teach..minstering. And he hasn’t wiped us out for not getting all the poor rich.

    Much like the concept of repentance, you don’t have to be perfect to face in the right direction and move in that direction. You just have to be moving towards it.

    And we are. Even though we take a few steps back.

    I think the same foolhardiness that says, “lets baptize the whole world and shout from the rooftops and get everyone converted by setting some lofty goals on the mission or in ward council” is similar to the one who says, “let’s tax wealth like crazy and redistribute it all over the place”.

    The are different, obviously, in a variety of ways. But neither will end up producing lasting changes. What is changing is increasing kindness and consideration, and also increasing opportunity and economic growth, property rights, rule of law, liberty, etc.

    Them might be fighting words for a good neomarxist who assumes he can do better. But the truth is poverty is being reduced in the world. Since 1990 extreme poverty has fallen 80% world wide. Covid response predictably made millions worse off at the cost of protecting some wealthy able to isolate and weather the storm in the west. So extreme poverty actually increased the last couple years. That’s a cost no one wants to count, but it’s real.

  18. “I would turn your question around and ask, why should “tithing” mean my donations to Doctors Without Borders?” Because I believe that God is really ok with an expansive vocabulary and an expansive view of helping others. YMMV.

    Elder Bednar earlier this year said that the Church doesn’t need our money but the members need the blessings. If that its true, then it seems logical to me that the act of giving to other organizations would still fit within this framework as it still instills a culture of giving in our hearts without harming the Church that doesn’t need the funds.

    My read of the OP is they are unhappy that some members have chosen to give differently than they do. The OP states that their form of giving is “the path to godliness.” I believe there are multiple paths to godliness, and it would be a much better use of our time to simply celebrate each person in the way they choose to show up and participate.

  19. Chadwick, Yes! Thank you.

  20. Steve Hardy says:

    I am a life-long tithe-payer and, for now, plan to continue to do so. A few random thoughts:

    1. I used to tell people that the fact that my tithing goes into a “black box” which is inscrutable was in some way the point. In my mind I was giving the money to God and I wasn’t going to provide council to God on how to spend it. My gift was without strings attached, a free gift. Think of how different our church culture would be if our donations were public or if they were dedicated to some end (as they used to be for certain charities.) The bishop might thank a particular family during sacrament meeting for something, or parts of the ward building, a window or pew might be dedicated to someone. We have successful avoiding that kind of virtue signaling, for the most part. And I am glad for it.
    2. Therefore I have long insisted that I was not interested in how my money was spent. It is not my concern. I believe that God wants me to be less selfish and to understand that anything good in my life flows from God. So I was fine with giving some of my money to the church with no strings attached.
    3. But of course there are strings attached! Because I couldn’t go to the temple nor could I participate in ward and stake leadership the way I have without paying my “membership fees”, er, tithing.
    4. I am among those who have been dismayed at understanding that the church is apparently sitting on a pretty handy sum, and as I have aged I have seen the church more and more as a construct of men. By “men” here I don’t mean “humans” but I mean “males.” The more I view them as normal humans the more I want transparent accountability in relation to my donations.
    5. When I donate significant money to charities I get a lot of attention, and I am glad that donating to the church does not make a similar “splash.” It makes it feel, to me, more like I am doing it for the right reasons.
    6. I understand, of course, that the church likely spends gobs of money on things I wouldn’t want to put my money towards. I ahve observed that our government spends money in ways I wouldn’t, even in ways that I think are counterproductive, wasteful, and wrong-headed. Just as I see government spending with some degree of concern I still do not want to stop government spending because I think that it results in lots of benefits for me and others. I don’t want to withdraw my support for my government nor for my church.

  21. An another Old Woman says:

    The law of tithing is what it is today because it’s the most efficient way for the church to extract as much as possible, even from the very poor who can’t feed their children. And build lots of temples in those poor countries too to keep the money coming in. Temples are cash generating machines.

    Steve Hardy doesn’t like the way other churches publicly recognize their donors. “Thankfully, we have avoided that.”
    Yet the church issues news release after news release every time it makes a “charitable donation!”

  22. Pardon my ignorance, but what does YMMV even stand for? It keeps showing up in this thread.

  23. Adam F., it means “your mileage may vary”, or in other words, you might see things differently.

  24. Someone let me know how I get can all that attention for donating to charities. So far, it’s just been thank you letters so maybe I’m going about it all wrong. It is also possible to give anonymously if you are concerned about corrupting yourself. I do, however, really enjoy being able to look around my community–with my kids–and talk about what needs we see around us and how we can meet those. It’s a process that has helped us feel much more connected to our community & to our responsibilities to use our resources wisely.

    An excuse I commonly hear people make for the Church & tithing is, “Of course you shouldn’t ONLY donate to the Church. You should tithe to the Church so that it can continue buying gamestop and Apple and Amazon stock and property in Florida AND you should also donate to charity.” People are making this argument in the comments too. I don’t find this persuasive. When we are talking about money it is LITERALLY zero-sum.

    Money I give to the Church is money I don’t give to someone else. Sure, I can do both, but it’s still a finite resource for me even if I gave away everything I have. And for some people, many or even most people, it’s so finite that the tithing they pay to the Church is the *only* charitable donation they make all year. They simply don’t have cash beyond 10% of their income to give elsewhere. How many LDS folks, honestly, give even a fraction of the amount they give to the LDS Church to other charities? I would be interested to see data on this, but I would suspect that there is a very large cohort for whom the Church is their only charitable giving, and another very large cohort–perhaps the majority of tithe-paying Church membership–for whom the Church is the lion’s share of their charitable giving and they give pennies on the dollar to other places.

    Again, I want to reiterate that I am not casting judgment on anyone who chooses to give their money to the Church. That’s not my place.

    But frankly I am casting judgment on an abominably wealthy Church that continues to ask of it when it doesn’t come close to spending 10% a year of its own asset on other charitable causes. I think that’s immoral and unchristlike and I don’t have a ton of patience for the continued defense of it.

  25. “Mormons would tithe even if the Church burnt their offerings. ”

    I guess that’s what happened to the offerings of those in biblical times when the commandment was given.

    Natalie, appreciate your compassion and wisdom.

  26. I read Luke 18 today. It tells of the rich man who could not do what Jesus asked him to do. It also warns us it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. It reminded me tithing is more about one’s heart than money. Is one more loyal to the kingdom of God over the things of this world? Once a year it is good to check the heart.

  27. Natalie: I echo what Ardis said. Truly. In Malachi, I love the “prove me” and the fact that the verse does not merely say, “I will open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing”, but rather it emphasizes “you” in “I will open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” One experience came from a trip to Florida with my children. My 16 year-old was caught it a riptide over a 100 yards from the shore. I swam out to be with him and help him back to shore eventhough, being from Tennessee, I knew no more about riptides than he did. In prayer, I found out how to counteract the effects of the tide pulling us away from the shore and we both made it back safely in over 30 minutes of fighting the tide. On the local news that night, another 16 year-old about a mile from us at the same time of day was not as lucky. I will always remember “and there shall not be room enough to receive it” and truly believe that my 10% to the Lord needs to be given directly to the Church.

  28. BlueRidgeMormon says:

    What Natalie (OP) said.
    What Sam Brunson said.

  29. BlueRidgeMormon says:

    I agree with Elisa on a great many things, and have often found her thoughts a balm… however, here i think things are, in fact, pretty straightforward. Be a believer who doesn’t pay tithing to the church, if that’s your jam. Jana Reiss articulates that position well elsewhere, and I respect it. I share many of the well-articulated concerns about the use of tithing funds. The church is a big tent, and there’s room for all of us: those who don’t pay tithing, those who use curse words, those who attend church services only sporadically, etc. I see the act of withholding tithing payments as a form of conscientious objection, and hey, perhaps that’s the right move, personally. Sure.

    But doing so while also straining to “redefine” the word tithing to encompass one’s substitute donations to other worthy causes just seems like an effort to have one’s cake (I object!) and eat it too (but I’m still a mormon tithe payer!). It’s a sleight of hand, and honestly just unnecessary. If you’d rather donate to the Patagonia Foundation, or Amnesty International, or the Salvation Army, or the local food bank, by all means do it! It’s an intellectually defensible position and I understand the impulse. And feel free to think of it as “this is what i do instead of paying a modern Mormon tithe.” Knock yourself out. Own your path.

    But redefining the word to just mean what you want it to mean seems disingenuous. It reminds me, for instance, of Pres. Nelson’s whole ‘love is conditional’ doctrinal position that I personally find repellent. Yet once I realized that all he’s really doing is redefining the word “love” to basically mean “blessings”, it seems a bit more harmless. Though also silly. (Why take a position that rests on redefining a commonly-understood concept to mean something entirely different? Weird.) So I guess I’m saying: don’t do that. No need. We all choose to accept or reject callings, or decide whether to attend that optional stake activity, or any number of other things. But there’s no real point in skipping the stake activity while somehow insisting that you were really there after all. Just skip it. It’s ok. I might even, deep down, admire your decision to put your donations more effectively to work elsewhere, where the dollars do more good at solving the world’s (or your community’s) problems. It might very well turn out that this is the “better” choice, in the end.

    But it’s not tithing. And that’s ok.

  30. BlueRidgeMormon says:

    Interestingly, as a volunteer early morning seminary teacher, I just discussed with my highschoolers the tithing promise of Malachi earlier this week. We had a surprisingly robust discussion about it. And while in the end, my own actions align more consistently with Natalie’s OP here, I would love to have given my students this post AS WELL AS the Jana Reiss article from earlier this week (https://religionnews.com/2022/12/14/on-mormon-tithing-and-a-100-billion-investment-fund/). These are contrasting views of how to deal with the tithing issue, and i think both the complexity and the struggle are real. I wish we could generally have more substantive discussions where these different views are represented, in mainline church meetings and classes. So much richer than the typical oversimplified pablum that passes for a standard ‘tithing lesson’. Ultimately one’s own ‘wrestle’ with the concepts and making a decision about how to deal with tithing is the point. And it’s important!

    But the comments that seek to simply redefine the word to mean any sort of alternative donation activity? As already articulated, that seems less useful. But the underlying choice is a great one to grapple with.

  31. my response to blue ridge has been lost to the moderator gods but tl;dr is that I am *not* redefining tithing as the institutional LDS defines it. I don’t declare myself a tithe payer and I lost my recommend as a result. Instead I am challenging whether it’s right that the institutional church defines tithing in that way and whether it’s right for all of us to simply ignore the way the Church spends money and claim to be giving money to God by tithing to the LDS Church.

  32. Thanks for the post Natalie. Although I do not personally feel the same as far as “proving” God, or really the idea of receiving blessings in return for tithing, the idea of both sacrificing the 10% and also giving up any control over it as an act of faith is very powerful.

    In our house, we split our 10 percent 50/50 – my husband agrees with Natalie, and I agree with Jana Reiss and give my portion to charity. It may not be a Mormon tithe, but it is my tithe, and I see no problem with calling it that.

  33. Tithing has two aspects: a material side and a non-material side. If we neglect either of these aspects, tithing loses its power. Natalie’s post ignores the material side, as if tithing is a way to transcend material concerns. I don’t think she’s right about that. However we use our money (or if we pass the responsibility for stewarding the money to someone else), it retains its ability to heal or to hurt within the framework of the power relations that Natalie wants to escape. The power of tithing is not that it allows us “to liberate ourselves from the economic and power dynamics of our society.” Tithing’s power is in helping us to unite as a church, to consecrate our resources, and to turn the economic and power dynamics of our society for good.

    The Church’s vast wealth makes it necessary to find new ways of thinking and talking about the need for tithing.

    Tithing as we know it today was not originally a basic obligation of membership in the Church. Church leaders made tithing obligatory as a way of keeping the Church solvent. That made sense! It made sense not only from the standpoint of leaders who were managing the Church’s finances, but also from the standpoint of members who paid tithing. By paying tithing, members made a meaningful contribution to the Church’s viability as a going concern. Tithing and other offerings visibly mattered to the health of the communities that members lived in.

    That is no longer true. The Church has so much wealth that it’s possible that tithing is no longer necessary for the Church’s long-term prosperity. But even if the Church still needs some amount of tithing in order to survive, that fact is no longer clear to members. In these circumstances, the actual utility of tithing has become hypothetical. That’s a really bad situation. It’s just not good when people seriously start talking about tithing as being worthwhile even if they’re tossing the money into a furnace.

    I’m all for talking about the devotional meaning of sacrifice. Sacrifice is essential for spiritual growth. But burning money instead of using it to teach the gospel, to make peace, and to alleviate suffering is not the kind of sacrifice that leads to spiritual growth. The fact that we need this discussion is a sign that we’re becoming disconnected from both the material and the spiritual things that make tithing make sense.

  34. One point I noticed missing here is the idea of stewardship. Not the stewardship of the Church over the funds but the idea of our stewardship over the funds given to us by God. It makes no sense for us to say that “my money” is going to be given by “my donation” to whomever I may think most deserving. That fundamentally misunderstands the stewardship that we have — we own nothing except what God places in our hands.

    Tithing — even if the money is to be burned by the Church — is a fundamental acknowledgement that all that we have belongs to God. When we seek to avoid this commandment — even when we might be attempting to put that money to what we perceive to be a good use — is to act in a manner inconsistent with that stewardship (to treat the money as if we were ours rather than the Lord’s). If God wants us to give 10% of God’s money (which He allows us to have and use for our benefit as a blessing in our lives) how in the world can we reasonably say no? And if we are saying no, it is because we are denying by our actions (if not our words) that all that we have ultimately belongs to Him and we are merely stewards rather than owners.

  35. @jonathan why should one delegate to someone else (a church authority) the decision of what God wants you to do with the resources he entrusts with? Isn’t that being a neglectful steward?

    I’m really quite baffled that people take at face value that we should give (God’s money in our stewardship if that’s how you want to think of it) to the church because the church tells us to and call it responsible, without any consideration of whether the church is making good use of those resources. It’s very “when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done.”

  36. These are such thoughtful responses. Thank you! I love the idea of reading this piece alongside Jana’s. I’m a huge fan of Jana Riess, and I wrote this piece largely to understand why I’ve decided to pay tithing to the Church despite the many thoughtful considerations others have articulated. I look forward to many subsequent discussions as we all wrestle with this topic.

    I know this will sound delusional to many, but I believe in an abundant God who can print money (or multiply fish or whatever). So I don’t see paying tithing as a choice between finite resources when I’m most attuned to my faith. And while I appreciate historical analysis–and fully anticipate instructions around tithing evolving in the future–I’m choosing to follow what I interpret to be today’s ask and understanding of how to apply the scriptures. I didn’t come to this position blindly, but very intentionally after deep self-assessment of my shortcomings and beliefs. Paying tithing is something I need to do in order to shift my focus towards what matters in God’s eyes and have an eternal perspective. This focus does not come easily to me. I’ve also tended to see that God does know my needs and provide.

    To be clear, I would never want to diminish the noble choice to give to charitable causes. They are important in our current, flawed society. I also have a spouse who supports my views on tithing, so I don’t have to face family tension when making my choice on this subject. It goes without saying that my views in the OP and this comment are mine alone–not the Church’s, not my spouse’s, not my employers. And while I can’t say that I don’t judge others’ choices–I have serious envy of those who feel able not to pay some days–my best self knows that this is a personal decision between us and the Lord. I feel that He wants me to pay it, and that’s why I do.

  37. @Elisa:

    Doctrine and Covenants 119
    1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,

    2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

    3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.

    4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.

    The clear reading of this is that it is a standing law to God’s people that they pay one-tenth of all of their interest annually into the hands of the bishop of God’s Church. This is not coming from the Brethren — this is coming from the Lord. If you disagree on that point — if you claim that this is just Joseph Smith making things up — then we probably lack common ground sufficient to come to an understanding. But if you accept that this is coming from the Lord then it is hard to dodge the obligation to pay a tenth of your annual income and that a proper tithe is to put that tenth into the hands of the bishop.

  38. Natalie, you don’t sound delusional at all. Your post has reminded me (as Loursat pointed out, and who I agree with) that the non-material side of tithing is also essential, and that I easily lose sight of it. It’s something to consider.

    Jonathan – I think the disconnect is that many who have stopped paying tithing to the church have done so because of a fundamental loss of trust. That failing goes both ways. I have too little faith to surrender my tithe to a black box, without trust it will not be burned. And the church has failed (as I see it, and I may be wrong) in accountability, transparency, and charity.

    Anyway, we are all just trying to do the right thing with 10% of our income, and that’s no bad thing.

  39. @jonathan, you’re right, we are not living with the same set of assumptions and I totally get that. I once lived in your universe and I don’t anymore and sometimes that is jarring.

    I just find it strange that some people (maybe not you) are willing to say that church leaders (including Joseph Smith) have gotten some things wrong and haven’t always spoken for the Lord, but unwilling to apply that scrutiny to the way the Church currently defines tithing when it seems so obviously a candidate for a real conflict of interest for church leaders to tell us that God just happened to tell them to tell us to pay the Church 1/10 of our income.

    In such a case, I tend to go with “fruits” as a test for determining whether something comes from God because it’s not possible for me to know the intent or private mind of a Church leader. And I don’t think the fruits of the current iteration of the law of tithing are good.

    As someone defined above, YMMV.

    @natalie I enjoyed your post and the discussion. I do hope it’s clear I’m engaging with arguments / ideas and not judging people. I am troubled by the idea of relying on God to print more money when there are 300 homeless people sleeping in 9 degree weather in my city tonight. I wonder where the line between “faith in God” and “abdication of responsibility” to steward resources is drawn. I may very well have too little faith but that’s not how I experience it.

  40. I’m a faithless apostate so for those of whom that matters, you may feel safe to completely ignore the rest of this comment.

    I want to respect the insight from Natalie’s post that tithing is

    an exercise in letting go of our resources and power in exchange for aligning our will with God and in so doing knowing Him. It’s the path to godliness. That we do not control or dictate where the money goes is the point because we are learning to liberate ourselves from the economic and power dynamics of our society as we hand over our lives to Him.

    I want to respect that because, like Sam Brunson added, I’m “not convinced that living quantitatively is really the highest form of living.”

    But maybe this is just the sin of pride within me…but I cannot help but feel that this kind of language always gets leveraged in a way that conveniently serves to reinforce or turn a blind eye to a particular power structure or status quo.

    When certain people complain about the injustice of gender roles and call for the expansion of priesthood, others say, “But we are learning to liberate ourselves from the economic and power dynamics of our society as we hand over our lives to Him” as an argument of *why* people should be content to be servants without formal priesthood.

    We are commanded to be humble and to repent, and to apologize for the trespasses we make to others, but when we point out that the church does not seek apologies or give them, we are just supposed to let this go, because “we are learning to liberate ourselves from the economic and power dynamics of our society as we hand over our lives to Him.”

    Here, tithing to *a particular organization* feels like much of the same. We are advised not to expect accountability or to question how tithing is used because this is not sufficiently “liberating ourselves from the economic and power dynamics of our society.”

    Is it purely faithlessness to doubt that “God will hold those in charge of administering funds accountable” and that therefore, no human action or attention is required?

  41. I appreciate the discussion. Like Jana’s, my mite now goes to alleviate suffering that I see around me. Organizations to which I now donate let me know where they’re spending, rather than hoarding, their funds.

    John 21: Jesus asks Peter thrice whether Peter loves him. Then tells Peter to “feed my sheep.” Feeding sheep demonstrates both love of God and love of neighbor.

  42. Remember when Susan’s husband asked members of the church, ‘I know you have the faith to be healed, but do you have the faith not to be healed?’

    Well, so many people here have the faith to pay tithing, but do you have the faith not to pay tithing?’

    ’tis easy to be commanded in all things, but try not being commanded in all things. Try the apostate path of thinking for yourself, relying on your own moral judgment, determining on your own the best allocation of resources rather than a priesthood leader, handbook, or D&C. Try this exercise in faith.

    We are all free. You are free to do whatever you want with your money. Give it to whoever you choose, burn it, eat it, bury it – or give it to a $100 billion corporation. We can all pat ourselves on the back, because we all think we are right regardless of what we choose.

  43. “I am not convinced that living quantitatively is really the highest form of living”. I assume that living quantitatively means to live to accumulate, i.e. money, property, portfolios, assets, or just stuff in general. Is this not what the Church is doing, not withstanding their limited efforts at humanitarian service? Does it not limit the poor by extracting a tithe that the poor can ill afford, thus affecting their ability to enjoy any kind of qualitative life? I think the Church needs to come to terms with reality and have it’s own “Come to Jesus” moment.

  44. @Jonathan: “The clear reading of this is that it is a standing law to God’s people that they pay one-tenth of all of their interest annually into the hands of the bishop of God’s Church.”

    Jonathan, yes, that is what it says, but whether its meaning is clear is another question. Church leaders usually justify the current interpretation of the term “interest” by quoting a 1970 1st Presidency letter which says that interest “is understood to mean income.” (Note the passive voice.) But Bishop Edward Partridge thought that it referred to the amount one would earn if they invested their net worth at the going rate, so perhaps D&C 119 isn’t as clear as we make it out to be.

    “But if you accept that this is coming from the Lord then it is hard to dodge the obligation to pay a tenth of your annual income and that a proper tithe is to put that tenth into the hands of the bishop.”

    And yet we dodge the requirement in verses 1 and 5 that all who gather to Zion give all of their surplus to church, so apparently there’s some flexibility in how early church revelations translate into current practices.

  45. Natalie, I appreciate your humble approach to this issue, and I admire your sacrifice of taking a second job in order to pay tithing. I sincerely hope it works out well for you and your family.

    You’ve mentioned three potential reasons for paying tithing:
    1. Because God asks us to.
    2. Because we want our money to accomplish good in the world.
    3. Because we are promised blessings.

    And you’ve pointed out that reason #2 may not be compelling given that the Church may not spend the money in a maximally helpful way.

    I’m ashamed to admit that for most of my life I’ve been mostly motivated by reason #3. But I find it less motivating lately as I consider the following:

    If God rewards us for paying tithing to the LDS Church, it seems unfair that He wouldn’t also reward others who pay tithing to the churches to which they belong. After all, they’re sacrificing as much as we are, and it’s not their fault that they don’t know the “right” church to which they should be paying tithing. And by the same reasoning, it seems that non-religious people should likewise be blessed for donating to non-religious causes. In fact, we could argue that donations by atheists are more praiseworthy than donations by churchgoers, since the latter expect a reward and the former don’t. So it would seem, ironically, that God would be more inclined to bless charitable atheists than tithe-paying theists.

    At the end of the day, we don’t really know how all of this works, which is why I so appreciate the unpretentious way in which you share your views and leave room for others to approach it in different ways.

  46. Tithing in the LDS church is just another example of mingling scriptures with the philosophies of men. Lets promise the poorest among us if they just pay there far share they won’t be poor. We must require the poor to exercise more faith than the well off, it’s for their own good. The scriptures are full of condemnation for those who purden the poor and ignore their struggles.

  47. Millennial Member says:

    Looking at the surrounding scriptures of the Widows Mite, it’s apparent that Christ isn’t so much praising the woman for giving all she had, but chastising greedy temple priests for exploring tithing funds for gain.
    Christ asked the rich young prince to give all he had because his family made their money by defrauding their employees.
    Stop with the prosperity gospel nonsense and we’ll finally break this cycle of emotional manipulation by the Church.

  48. @stevehardy You have articulated my own reasons for continuing to pay tithing. Many of us share similar objections to the BYUs, etc. Moreover, a 10% tithe is sharply regressive. And I am certain that God welcomes and smiles at the well-intentioned contributions of those who give to any good cause, religious or secular. But in that same sense, I have always felt that God approves my paying tithing to the LDS Church. Ultimately, I will account to Him for my intentions and actions, and as best I can discern, He is pleased when I pay my tithing.

  49. , a 10% tithe is sharply regressive”

    No it isn’t. Do you even logic??

  50. For many decades my husband and I together paid tithing as the standard 10% gross income. In fact, I was such a financial idiot that for 5-6 years I paid 10% of my gross income on my private business pre-expenses before my MBA daughter pointed it out, so maybe 40-50% for awhile. But I became more and more concerned with the harm done by church leadership to the very clients I serve and eventually stopped paying tithing at all to the church. I gave up my recommend and have slowly slid out of belief and activity. I pay 10% to local, national, and international anti-hunger charities instead.

    My husband understands my concerns with the church and doesn’t argue with me. He still pays a full standard tithe. I also don’t argue with him. We have a tacit agreement not to talk about church too much. It bothers me that we as a couple are still putting so many of our resources into what I consider a misguided and even immoral endeavor. I wish we were on the same page. But I can only remember when I had the same belief and commitment and would have probably negatively judged someone who did what I’m doing now. Loyalty is a prime value of my husband’s – not so much for me if I don’t believe it’s earned. He also does a lot of good in our ward watching out for people who need attention and care, whereas I became quieter and less involved over time.

    At this point for me 10% tithing to the church is just one of those things I put up with in my husband because otherwise I love him so much.

  51. @Ambercat An across the board 10 percent tithing requirement on one’s gross income functions like a regressive tax. See the definition below.

    “A regressive tax is one where the average tax burden decreases with income. Low-income taxpayers pay a disproportionate share of the tax burden, while middle- and high-income taxpayers shoulder a relatively small tax burden.”

    The ten percent tithing requirement places an unfair burden on those who struggle to put food on the table and pay bills from month to month – hence it is regressive.

    I understand there are four possible ways to pay a ten percent tithing depending on one’s perspective: 1. On the gross, 2. On the net, 3. On your increase (what is leftover after all necessary expenses) and 4. (The new one, although it probably doesn’t count towards a temple recommend.) Give your ten percent to community organizations. Regarding the first three it is my understanding that bishops are not to inquire about which way you choose. I think there is some latitude in these choices to help ease the burden that many experience.

    My husband had a professional career that paid well, so I have no personal experience with poverty but have had friends who struggled greatly financially. My heart is with them.

  52. As an older single person currently living in greatly reduced financial circumstances, may I weigh in. I consider paying my tithing a privilege and wish all you who are crying alligator tears for me and mine misguided. I have had the privilege of watching God open the windows of heaven in my behalf in truly miraculous ways several times in the last few years. I am thrilled with the blessings He has poured out in my life and feel pity for my richer friends and acquaintances who seem only to exist to preen and parade their belongings for others to admire, as if they cannot exist if they did not have others they believed envy them. And do not get me started on the truly rich I know that have begun preaching that it is their donations that are behind the success of the Church and not the widow’s mite. They are pathetic.
    As an older person, I am very busy preparing family names for temple work. The family history centers, programmers and temples cost money, quite a bit more than I personally can pay for. I am grateful Church leaders have invested wisely so that we have these resources available when my ancestors’ records are finally available. I hope I can live long enough to organize the remaining 200,000 records. I have spent enough time in cemeteries and churches gathering data not to have multiple experiences where the dead showed up to help me. I cannot doubt their reality or the gratitude they feel for this work. Funny thing about the veil, you no longer doubt once the dead poke their way through.
    When I left high school, my grades and test scores were such that I got to choose between BYU and the Ivy Leagues. I choose BYU. My career opportunities and economic welfare would have been greater if I had chosen the other way but somehow I believe the Ivy Leagues would have failed to teach me how to pull down the powers of heaven. Would I have survived and could I have saved others when faced with truly evil people in Africa and Asia without that power? I know I would not have. I have enjoyed freedom of movement in this world because of all the tithing money spent on seminary, institute and BYU religion classes.
    I am grateful for the commandment of tithing. It has blessed me immeasurably. But only because I was willing to live it with all its required sacrifices. And by the way, where exactly do people think so many food banks got their food during covid? The LDS Church grew that food, raised those animals on their ranches (Florida property), and purchased milk about to be dumped to be redirected to cheese manufacturers that they could then donate. That takes money and cannot be done by those who have not invested in infrastructure. How ignorant and short sighted so many comments here have been.

  53. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue Natalie. Curious if anyone has ever approached their bishop about possibly paying their 10% exclusively or in a higher proportion into Fast Offerings? That’s a form of direct support, fills the storehouse, and any local surplus is supposed to be redistributed to needed places in the world.

  54. Bro. B. I don’t think we can safely make the assumption that Fast Offerings stay in the fast offering fund.

    Several years ago, (someone with more time that I currently have might be able to track down when this happened), but now all donations read this at the bottom: “All donations to the Church are free-will offerings and become the Church’s property. In furtherance of its overall mission, the Church may shift donations from any designated use to other uses, at its sole discretion.” A major blow to those hoping their offerings don’t disappear into an investment project.

  55. Brian, I checked and yep that’s what it says at the bottom of the donation slip, including on-line donations. Guess I’ve never read the fine print. I suppose with charities like the Salvation Army you have a certain percentage going to overhead, which isn’t the same thing but nonetheless a qualifier on direct aid.

  56. Thank you Cary. I agree.
    I had a confrontation with some Al Qaeda operatives in India back in the mid 90’s. I feel my safety and even survival came as the direct result of God’s intervention to stop my kidnapping. Paying a full tithe really does open the windows of Heaven. And not just with respect to money.

  57. Thank you for the essay, and apologies for coming to the discussion so late.
    .
    I’m at a point in my life where I’m feeling unsure about tithing, for many reasons:
    – I have received funds from the Church at various points in my life, as a child, as a missionary, as a young family
    – I’ve spent time as a Ward Clerk and seen the variations in how people tithe and the strength of auditing.
    – I was employed by the Church for ten years, working in software development for facilities and Church History.
    – I have seen the depth of funds needed just to keep the properties maintained, much less updated as needed.
    – I am keenly aware that my employment was not a cheap resource. Even though pay is below local average, it’s still software development. (and yes, I tithed that income)
    – I am currently not able to hold a Temple Recommend because I have chosen to pursue medical transition to appear more female.
    – The past year has been especially difficult, with losing an income and trying to work out the finances of being a working stay-at-home mom to three children on the autism spectrum.
    .
    This past year I only managed to tithe about half the time. Sometimes it was just forgetting and others the funds simply were not available. And I’m certainly not homemaker enough to ask for a food order; most would go to waste before I’d have the knowledge or energy to use it. So now, every paycheck, I have to make a judgement call. A prayerful one, to be sure, but still a difficult decision. Bills or tithing?
    .
    Anyway, through it all I know one thing; what I tithe is between me and God. The Churches tracking and usage of it has always been incidental to me.

  58. Like a couple of other posters here, I tithe because I cannot live without the blessings that accompany paying it.
    I have witnessed what I consider miraculous protection and blessings in my life. I believe my willingness to forgo certain material comforts a cheap price to pay to qualify for those blessings.
    My miraculous protection experience took place in 1986 in North Africa. I shudder to think of what might have happened to my friends and me if the Holy Ghost had not promised me that protection would literally surround me and that the man who came out of the shadows to grab my young friend could be forced away from us using that shield. I do not believe that promise would have been made to me if I had not had the faith to pay tithing. I have to pity the younger generations who cannot see the power in obeying the commandments. You really cannot receive the witness without first obeying the law. Show at least the desire to put your faith on the line. You might be surprised. Indeed, you might be literally stunned at God’s willingness to bless you.

  59. Chris William Davis says:

    Tithing is a matter of faith. If you do not believe that the LDS Church is the Kingdom of God on the earth, under the direction of God through His living prophet, you should not be expected to pay tithing to the LDS Church. If you do believe, however, tithing is not an obligation but a blessing. It is a recognition that everything I have is a gift from God and I am just returning a tenth to God for the building of his kingdom. Members of the LDS church covenant not only to give a tenth, but to consecrate all that God asks to the building of the kingdom of God. What God monetarily asks now is that we pay “one tenth of all their interest annually.” D&C 119:4. As far as I know, the determination of that amount, gross, net, etc., is a personal choice guided by personal revelation. While I am asked to declare whether I am an honest tithe payer, no one has ever asked my annual salary, or asked for a specific dollar amount to be paid. Those that claim to be faithful members of the LDS Church and publicly declare they refuse to pay at all because the disagree with how the LDS church expends those funds should ask themselves why they believe they are better suited to make that determination and why they feel the need to influence others to follow suit. Maybe they believe they are better suited to be God’s prophet, even though they don’t claim that God has chosen them for that calling. Again, it is just a matter of faith that God’s way might just not be your way.

  60. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I struggle with tithing being an exercise in faith. Faith in what, or toward what? Faith that the offering will be used wisely? Faith that Church leaders have a plan for it? Faith that I will receive blessings, or be rewarded, or protected? Faith that God just wants to see my faith and it’s not actually about the money? “All of the above” isn’t a suitable answer.

    I have recieved blessings. I feel strongly that there are instances when I have been protected. I never was tempted to chalk those up to tithing (some of those instances came when I was unable to pay tithing).

    Do I pay tithing for the simple reason of having faith in tithing? But I don’t know where that comes from.

  61. Roger Hansen says:

    According to Bednar, the Church doesn’t need our money. But the members need to pay tithing to get to blessing from paying. (Prosperity gospel music on steroids?)

    If that’s in fact the case, why not let members specify where they want their tithing money to go? Global humanitarian work, McTemples, the BYUs, other CES programs, medical research, GA salary increases (reward for better decisions), etc.

  62. I hate giving away money. Which is, I think, the point of tithing. All criticisms of the modern practice are valid. Thank you, OP.

  63. I don’t think the point of tithing is that it’s difficult to give away money. (Is it generally difficult to, say, provide monetary subsistence and help to your children?) I think why we find ourselves giving money (to help someone; to further the goals of an organization; obligation; to have ability to be seen as generous; to enter the temple; so our spouse will be happy; so the kids have a present they were wanting) is the factor that determines the level difficulty. Do we believe in the cause or not? If it’s difficult to give money to the Church, one reason might be because you don’t believe in its cause. If difficulty were the point, I think it’s a bad one. There are much easier difficult things to require: self-flagulation and intentional public self-shaming, for example.

    Likewise, I don’t think tithing is a ‘just because I said so’ commandment either. It’s a terrible way to motivate people and spur them to action. It also weakens the support of the individual because, though it’s a great way for impatient, insecure people and organization to manipulate others, it’s simply an unsustainable method to nurture and maintain a mature relationship.

    For me, my rejection of both of these reasons (that it’s difficult, so we should do it; and that we do it for no reason other than authority says we should) are why criticisms of the modern practice of tithing are appropriate and valid.

  64. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    In all the ways that offerings have played out over time, two things seem consistent to me: something of an internal wrestle about what to offer, and the usage of priesthood authority.

    If you were gathering the best of your flocks and fields, that was something of a judgement call, and you were probably the only one who really knew how your offering measured up. In a largely cashless 19th-century economy, you paid in kind while juggling different variations on the law of consecration. Today we figure out where to draw the line on net/gross, in/out of the church, ect. If this ever became a strictly auto-pay commandment, we’re probably losing out on some of it’s purpose.

    Those who had agricultural offerings did go to great lengths to get them to the temple, as did the widow with her mite. The first century Saints were a little hit-and-miss with their community economics, but they were using their priesthood leadership to direct those efforts. Ditto for the Joseph and Brigham era. All this while the church leadership/temple were in varying degrees of full righteousness. Maybe there were acceptable extra-church alternatives in those eras, but they don’t seem to be popping up in the historical record or scripturally (no suprise, really).

    I am struck by how consistently the $100B number is referenced the trigger for directing money away from the church. My sense is that the great majority of that amount has accumulated in just the past 10-15 years, and the Q15 with longer memories is still waiting to see if this is the new normal, or transient market windfall that could dissipate in another two or three decades just as easily as it materialized. In fact, if their stock portfolio looks much like the rest of America’s, that 100bn from a few years ago probably looks more like 68bn now. That’s still a number that I can’t really wrap my head around, and could still justify someone deciding to go elsewhere with their funds. But with the church’s demographics shifting away from the suburban US, and that fund having a very recent and dynamic run up to that amount, I can understand the rationale behind letting much of it sit until it’s been healthy through some ups and downs.

  65. I tithe because I love God. I love the poor. I love my ancestors.
    It is not cheap to provide temple work. The last figure I remember reading, back when President Hinckley was president, was $12 per person for temple work. Given that familysearch currently holds record on about 12 billion people, we will need $144 billion just to complete the work for those for whom we hold records now. And about $1.44 trillion to complete it all.

  66. To Natalie: Tithing the most “difficult” commandment? Really? More difficult than the 10th Commandment (do not covet)? More difficult than loving our enemies and forgiving their offenses, sometimes grievous, against us? More difficult than praying for our enemies? Otherwise, very well analyzed in terms of sacrifice and faith.
    To Jacob: Why analyze tithing as practiced in medieval times? We believe that the church in that time had lost divine guidance.
    To Sam Brunson:
    First point: Some of the brethren have given good credence to tithing to other churches for members thereof. Elder Mark E. Peterson paid tribute to great tithepayers of other faiths who never gave anything to the LDS Church. I believe that one of the most needed reforms at church schools is a modification of the required ecclesiastical standards to include tithepaying in the standard manner for members of the LDS Church but a full 10% to any alternative church or synagogue or mosque, etc. to which that student is a chosen adherent (compliance should be determined in the same manner for others as for Latter-Day Saints, by declaration). For the truly nonaffiliated, 10% to a chosen charity might be a fair expectation incorporated into that standard (also determined by declaration). This is utterly fair, since so much of that education comes out of the tithing fund of the Church.
    Second point: Yes, the details of tithing have changed over time, even during the time since the Restoration, but we believe in ongoing revelation, so that practice can be updated by the Lord when expedient.
    Third point: You wish for higher taxes to fund “social safety nets” so that the need for charity will be eliminated severely tramples on personal agency in trying to make charity compulsory. It is equally as evil to make charity compulsory as it is to make church attendance compulsory or the Word of Wisdom compulsory. Compulsory charity, as practiced in the modern welfare state, does not contribute to our progress in learning celestial living. No one gets “celestial credits” for anything done due to compulsion (such as paying taxes except, perhaps, for personal honestly in their computation), so burdening our customary lives by governmental action makes it that much more challenging to find acts of charity to perform. Furthermore, there is some character defect in wishing for the government to perform the duties that we should perform for ourselves. Wishing that the government should perform our charitable duties for us is similar to wishing that the government do our repenting for us, our gospel study for us, and all other celestializing activities for us. The biggest problem with this is that we cannot learn to be celestialized beings without actually going through the learning experiences and practice of the commandments ourselves (called “obedience” in the scriptures) any more than one can become a concert musician or a champion athlete without the relevant practice.
    to sute: concern with material inequality is a reasonable Christian concern; you have it well balanced with your realization later in your entry that we are making major world progress in elevating the poorest of the poor. Incidentally, I recently read that, measured by one of the leading formulas for ranking material inequality, Utah was the state with the lowest material inequality among the 50 states, and Wyoming was in 3rd place (also in 3rd place for percentage of church membership). Perhaps the gospel has more of a leveling effect than we or the world generally realize.
    to another Old Woman: How in the world are temples “cash generating machines?” They require building costs, maintenance/repair costs, utility costs, and many other costs, and the admission charge is … NOTHING!!! Try to imagine ANY secular business attempting to operate in such a manner; how long would it take to crash irreversibly? No time at all.
    to BlueRidgeMormon: right on in insisting that other ways of paying “tithing” are perfectly honorable ways of exercising one’s own agency but are not honorable ways of describing it. “Tithing” is what is donated to the church on the tithing line of the contribution document (or a comparable arrangement in other denominations). Those who prefer other means of charity support should be honorable enough to use other terminology; otherwise, it appears that deception, not charity, is their highest motive.
    to Jonathan: Thank you for the essential concept of stewardship; it is part of the KEY to understanding all contributions to the Church, some of which are more important than tithing. The church could operate for awhile without financial contributions, but consider the situation if time and talents were withheld; the operation of the church would collapse quickly without sermon and lesson preparation and other nonfinancial contributions.
    to Robert: There is no reason to assume that the blessings of tithing are less to those of other denominations. Some other Christian denominations believe in tithing the same as we do: 10% is expected to be given to the church for its various religious functions. It is reasonable to assume that the same blessings will result to those tithepayers. Perhaps it might also happen to those who are truly secular in their beliefs but practice a more diverse manner of charity simply because they do not have a central focal point for their beliefs.
    to Karla & Old Woman & all others struggling to decide that a full tithing is 10% of WHAT (gross, net, something else)? The brethren have not given much in the way of specifics for several decades but did speak once in my youth about 60 years ago, setting this rough standard:
    1. Wage earners should consider their tithable income to be their gross income before withholding taxes.
    2. Those in business should consider their tithable income to be their net income remaining after the deduction of reasonable business expenses from their gross income but before the payment of personal taxes.
    3. Farmers should consider their tithable income to be their net income remaining after the deduction of reasonable business expenses from their gross income but before the payment of personal taxes but should also include an estimate of the value of food consumed from the farm.
    Why has this not been repeated since then? Perhaps the Lord wants to allow tithing to be a manner of personal conscience while He observes where our conscience leads us.
    Early in my marriage my wife struggled with the second above (most of my income has come from personal business). She believed that the entire gross income of my business should be our tithable income; that would have truly been a heavy burden. My accounting explanations did not bring understanding, but I finally conceived this explanation that allowed her comfort with business net income as proper tithable income. I explained that not all of our gross income even belonged to us. The payroll belonged to my employees, who owed their own tithing on their paychecks. My business rent belonged to my landlord, who owed his own tithing on his rental income. And so forth throughout my other business expenses; the tithing obligations percolate through those various expenses to others. She finally accepted the concept that we owed tithing only on what actually belonged to us for our own family use: our net income after business expenses. Whether others paid tithing or not was none of our concern; we were not expected to pay tithing for them.

  67. You wish for higher taxes to fund “social safety nets” so that the need for charity will be eliminated severely tramples on personal agency in trying to make charity compulsory.

    Your model of freewill offerings assumes that the point of charity is to bless the benefactor. But what if the point of charity is also to, say, alleviate poverty and not just bless the already blessed a little more? If that’s the case, what should we do as a society if we find that the hat isn’t full enough after it has been passed around?

  68. to peterlic:
    Although our Heavenly Parents and the Lord above are deeply concerned about the status of the poor and dearly hope for our ministering to their needs, the law of agency is apparently the highest of their laws. They could alleviate ALL human suffering by immediate divine intervention but choose not to do so. They allow us to treat one another poorly, sometimes very poorly, while they observe this with sorrow. Their direct intervention is withheld until judgment day. We humans are foolish and very vain (one manifestation of the pride warned against by President Benson) to believe that we can and should intervene COMPULSIVELY to relieve poverty; we are free to intervene VOLUNTARILY and to invite and encourage others to join us, but state intervention fits the pattern of one called Lucifer, who propositioned and promised that a world under his dominion would be free from sorrow, poverty, and all social ills; it would also necessarily be free from personal choice (agency), since that utopian world could not otherwise be achieved by the free choices of fallen human nature. Perhaps the most repulsive part of Lucifer’s rebellion against our Heavenly Parents is that no one could be celestialized in his unrestrained environment because no one could learn celestial living by choosing between good and evil.
    My model of freewill charity does not assume that the point of charity is to primarily bless the benefactor, although that is part of the outlook of our Parents above; they are more concerned about poverty than we are, more even than those who in their vanity think that compulsory state action is worthy of their advocacy and support. The point of voluntary charity is to alleviate poverty and human suffering; the point of compulsory state charity is to substitute the pride of Lucifer for what our Heavenly Parents prize most of all, our agency.

  69. also to peterlic:
    Analyzing charity from a more secular viewpoint should also cause us to reject the popular welfare state actions of our contemporary society. A simple test for the ethical analysis of various state (governmental) actions was proposed by Frederick Bastiat (an ethical French economist of the 1850’s). It is simply to see whether an individual could perform the same action without committing a crime. If an individual sets out to alleviate poverty by forcibly taking from some thought to be adequately affluent to facilitate giving to others thought to be unfairly poor, he would be guilty of theft and should be delt with as such. We see this clearly in the behavior of individuals, but most seem unable to apply that ethical understanding to governmental action and believe that the identical actions of governments (actually, just a mob of many individuals acting somewhat unitedly) become virtuous. But proxy crimes committed for us in our name and supposedly by our authority are no different than individual crimes.

  70. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    “The point of voluntary charity is to alleviate poverty and human suffering”. Ummm, only if you want to fail at that task. Voluntary charity is wholly inadequate. The goal of state-sponsored, compulsory “charity” is to actually provide care and resources for those whose poverty is not self-imposed. And a God who is looking down and seeing the suffering of the world knows that relying on His children to voluntarily take care of each other simply isn’t working. He is pleased with the efforts of those who have enact policies that provide for those of His children who need assistance.

  71. Personally, I’m just simply ashamed of “the Church’s” generation and hoarding of wealth; and whether we want to admit if or not….its’ ostentatious displays of wealth. This behavior makes it more and more uncomfortable for me to even declare my allegiance to an organization which conducts itself this way. While I declared my “full tithe” status to the Bishop this year, the amount I paid is significantly less as a result of my studying and “deciding for myself” what an appropriate tithe might be to a multi-billion dollar/real estate enterprise.

  72. “A Turtle”….Which TCOJCOLDS is very clearly not doing….

  73. to a Turtle named Mack:
    It is a good guess that voluntary charity might be, is very likely to be, rather inadequate, but how arrogant can one be to declare that our Father above looks with favor on violating agency to relieve poverty. Our Father wants poverty alleviated by the exercise of agency only, not by the exercise of state power, not even as a second choice after agency. The claim that agency is insufficient for poverty (or any other social ill) and should be overridden by compulsory state “compassion” is the message that Lucifer advocated, and the Father rejected, in the War in Heaven. Daniel Webster warned us of those who would use compulsion as a means of improving the world. In a speech in 1837, he issued a warning free citizens must never forget, “There are men, in all ages, who [might] mean to exercise power usefully; but who mean to exercise it. They [might] mean to govern well; but they mean to govern. They [might] promise to be kind masters; but they mean to be masters.” How much that sounds like the seductive pleadings of Lucifer. How interesting it is that it is intertwined among blogs that advocate deception in tithing declarations to our bishops. I do not advocate compulsory tithing, far from it; however, those who are disenchanted with the present system should have the integrity to inform their bishops that they are withdrawing from the customary tithing system and not use words like “full tithepayer” in a deceptive manner.

  74. A Bensonite devotee who knows not the history of Benson and his relation to the Brethren while he spouted such nonsense. Let’s let it die at that. No reason to keep responding to the man.

  75. LHL,

    Let’s not forget the members when we’re speaking of the church. How much on average do active members of the church give to charity–above and beyond tithing? What does that amount to on an annual basis? And what would be the grand total over the last 30 years?

    The church is in the business of converting people to the Lord. And in the process of conversion they become more Christian. And as they become more Christian they tend to give more to charity–as their circumstances allow.

    So, overall, there’s been a lot money (and time) given by the church (including the independent offerings of its members) probably totaling in the billions.

    The church gives a lot.

    As to the billions that the church supposedly has stashed away–I don’t think anyone (accept those who are controlling those funds) really know exactly where that money’s going. The one hint that I’ve heard came from Elder Bednar when he said (in so many words) that he wished the U.S. government would try to follow the church’s example with the way it allocates its funds.

    Even so, my sense is that what the church is doing (in part at least) with its “excess” is storing away enough to see us through seven years of famine–as did Joseph of old. And if such is the case, would we suppose that Joseph was being insensitive to the needs of the poor by keeping so much of Egypt’s assets under lock and key? Of course not. He knew the future–and acted in a way that would preserve the entire local civilization through difficult times.

  76. Thank you bagofsand for a most sensitive addition to this conversation, especially your last paragraph. The ignorant secular world focuses on the problems of the immediate present, very reasonably so, since that secular world cannot see beyond the present; however, one of the blessings of a church led by prophetic insight is that such an establishment will be better prepared for the future than one operated only on current earthly knowledge. Yes, there are temporal secular problems in the world with which the church has chosen not to intervene or assist, but the secular world cannot imagine how much worse secular circumstances might become in the near future. The governing brethren of the church are not required to know all about the future, either; they must know only WHAT should be done NOW (the ongoing present as it moves forward); they need not know WHY certain actions should/must be taken for the benefit of the world. The highly criticized “wealth” of the church might someday result in the physical survival of some of its most ardent critics. Hopefully, they will be more grateful then than they are now!!!

  77. Wifey handles the money says:

    The LDS concept of tithing is dependent on a fundamental flaw that every adult is financially independent (and that dependent women and children are not adults.) When we become entangled into complex financial obligations with multiple people who may have different attitudes about tithing, then we are unable to determine our personal honest “increase” and it is affected by the decisions of other people. The most common example is when people marry, share expenses and do not have completely separate financial obligations and income. Any differences in approaches to tithing are going to create financial conflict and guilt on at least one party.

    If a unpaid homemaker desires to tithe and her sole wage earning husband does not, then she is not paying tithing. What about a woman with a 6 figure income that leaves the church and refuses to pay tithing, while her 5 figure husband desires to tithe to maintain a temple recommend. Perhaps he should pay her share of the tithing which might be 100% of his income since he is benefitting from that income, while she is not happy if he pays any tithing. If a man has an expensive hobby that consumed 10% of his income and infuriates his wife, would it not be wise to abandon the hobby for a season?

    What about inheritances or debts from wealthy or poor parents who were either faithful tithe payers or not. What about family businesses where homes and cars and other valuable capital is owned by the business while members of the family have various approaches to tithing. What about paying tithing in bonds and let the church assume the risks of falling value in a bear bond market.

    What about the couple who could not agree on tithing so they created a tithing fund which would be turned over to the church at some future date when they reached an agreement. Years pass and the fund might grow to be worth millions or it might bomb and the couple is supposed to pay back tithing? Are the taxes on the capital gains of the tithing fund also deductible from tithing? What about the borderline poor, zealous family that decides to pay double tithing while basic needs of their children are not met and the monetary windows of heaven remain shut for them.

    In hyper inflationary economies, paying tithing at the end of the year (decade?) with greatly inflated money might make sense. I knew a guy who was unable keep a job but was a good auto mechanic. He gave the Lord 10% of his time, 16 hours a week fixing cars of the poorer members of the ward for free except parts. Did they pay tithing on the money he saved them? We moved families in the military and they pocketed a few thousand dollars. Was that tithe-able ? If we saved the government money on these moves, it is a gift of monetary value made from our labor and perhaps should be tithed.

    I have some ferns in my yard that spread rapidly. A similar clump of ferns costs about $10 at the garden store. I gave several dozen clumps of ferns to one of my kids who will inherit money from us. Who should pay tithing on my gift of ferns? What if they die or the deer eat them?

    Critical thinking skills are not enough to untangle this morass of contrived expectations.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Last week, Jana Reiss wrote a follow-up article to her 2020 article announcing her decision to stop paying tithing to the LDS Church.  I won’t reiterate her reasoning here–you can read it for yourself–but I have been curious about some of the responses I’ve read to her position both on her article and in a recent BCC post.   […]

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