Brigham Young, John P. Taggart, and the Federal Income Tax

On January 3, 1871, Brigham Young sent a telegram to  his counselor Daniel H. Wells. The LDS Church History Library only has the first page of the letter, but even the absence of subsequent pages can’t disguise the story lying under the surface. The first page of the telegram reads:

We think it will be wisdom for the Latter Day Saints to omit paying tithing Some of the Officers of the government seem determined to rob us of our hard earnings which are donated to sustain the poor and other charitable purposes We will carry on our public works and assist the poor by some other method If this agrees with your feelings have Bro Cannon[fn1]

I’m not sure I can emphasize enough how crazy this is: Brigham Young suggested doing away with tithing. While I don’t know the church’s revenue in 1870, in 1880, about $540,000 of the church’s $1 million in revenue came from tithing. And yet Brigham Young was willing to get rid of it in response to some kind of robbery. So what’s going on? [Read more…]

Lesson 17: The Law of Tithing #DandC2017

Learning Outcomes

At the end of class, students will be able to

  1. Describe the roots of tithing in the Hebrew Bible and in American Protestantism.
  2. Assess how scriptural text relates to contemporary practice in Mormonism.
  3. Explain how the blessings from tithing compare to Prosperity Gospel ideas.

[Read more…]

What Tax Folks (and Kyle) Talk About When They Talk About Tithing

Yesterday, I saw this tweet from Jana Riess:

The catch: younger members are more likely than their elders to say they’re paying tithing on net, rather than gross, income.

The question of why younger generations are more willing to cop to paying 10% of their net income is an interesting one, and I have no idea if it reflects changes in religious rhetoric or in their financial situations. For that matter, I have no idea if it actually reflects a shift: maybe Mormons have always moved from net to gross as they’ve aged.

What’s clear, though, is that few people, if any, are actually paying tithing on their gross income. I tweeted to that effect, and got into a fun rabbit hole of a Twitter conversation. So, for your reading pleasure: What Tax Folks (and Kyle) Talk About When They Talk About Tithing:
[Read more…]

Trump’s Tax Proposals and Mormons

It occurred to me this morning that Trump’s tax plan, if it passed in its current form, would impact many middle- (and some high-) income U.S. Mormons.[fn1] I mean, it would affect U.S. taxpayers in general, but it would have a particular effect on the deductibility of tithing.

The church cares about deductibility. In 2011, Elder Oaks gave testimony to the Senate Finance Committee that the charitable deduction is vital to the nation’s welfare.

And why might that be? Basically, because it reduces the cost of charitable giving, at least for taxpayers who itemize their deductions (more on that in a minute). For example, imagine I’m in the 25-percent tax bracket and I itemize. If I write a tithing check for $1,000, I’ve made a $1,000 charitable donation, and the church has an additional $1,000. But the after-tax cost to me of that donation was $750. [Read more…]

Tithing, “Interest,” and D&C 119

tithingThe modern Mormon understanding of tithing is rooted in D&C 119. According to Joseph Smith’s revelation, after the Saints contributed all of their surplus property to the bishop, they were to pay one-tenth of their “interest” annually.

And what does “interest” mean for tithing purposes? It turns out that, whatever we thought it was, we were wrong. We have new information that gives us a better idea of the original intent, and the kind folks over at Juvenile Instructor invited me to write about it over there. If you’re interested, check it out!

Ted Cruz and Tithing

TithingOkay, so this post isn’t actually about Ted Cruz; it’s more inspired by an article McKay Coppins posted today on recent Evangelical criticisms of Ted Cruz. In short, Cruz, a Baptist, is courting the Evangelical vote. But he’s facing pushback from some Evangelicals (including Mike Huckabee), who argue that his charitable giving (roughly 1% of his income) belies his claim of authentic Christianity which, according to them, demands a 10-percent tithe.

So tithing. As Mormons, we’re squarely in the 10-percent-(of-gross-or-net-or-something)-to-the-church camp. But is ten percent (a tithe, after all) to the church the inevitable conclusion for what represents appropriate religious giving? Not surprisingly, no. [Read more…]

Church Finances, 1947-Style

In April 1959, the Church published its last financial report. The last here is important, though, because, for almost half a century leading up to that report, the Church presented a relatively detailed financial report in each April General Conference.

Until a couple months ago, though, I’d never seen the financial reports that the Church issued. In the course of his reading and research, J. Stapley came across the Church’s 1947 financial report, and offered to let me blog it. I jumped at the chance, and the disclosure turns out, in many ways, to be as fascinating as I’d hoped.  [Read more…]

Is It Time to Reduce the BYU Subsidy?

Enter to learn; go forth to toil in obscurity.

My son was recently admitted to BYU for the upcoming fall semester.  Here are some things about BYU we discovered in the application process:

  • BYU is mind-blowingly cheap.  It is about a tenth the cost of other universities he applied for and twice what we would have to pay for an in-state tuition assuming we could somehow qualify as residents having lived abroad for two and a half years.  When room & board and other incidental costs are included, that gap is narrowed a little so that other schools were only 4 times the cost of BYU. [Read more…]

Should tithing subsidize BYU?

Malcolm Gladwell recently ranked America’s best law schools when taking into account value for the dollar. Perhaps unsurprisingly, under this new rubric BYU ranked number two.  In the past, I’ve often noted BYU’s value with a sense of pride and admiration.  But this time, perhaps because I’m currently paying for another school, I began asking why: “Why is the tithing I pay subsidizing the costs of education for a small subset of Mormons?” [Read more…]