Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Public forum to discuss questions about Mormon history and doctrine.
Post Reply
User avatar
On Own Now
Posts: 1606
Joined: 18 Jan 2012, 12:45

Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Post by On Own Now » 01 Mar 2012, 14:25

Probably my biggest struggle in supporting my children in the church is tithing... I don't want to meddle in my kids' faith, but at the same time, I want to ensure that they don't tithe themselves into welfare... or into living in my basement... because they took it with undue faith. I'd appreciate your experiences and insights in talking to your faithful children (young and adult) on the topic.

There are two aspects of tithing that I find downright disturbing... and I find both of them in the following from the church's newly published For the Strength of the Youth:
Choosing to live the law of tithing will be a great blessing throughout your life. A tithe is one-tenth of your income... Pay it first, even when you think you do not have enough money to meet your other needs. Doing so will help you develop greater faith, overcome selfishness, and be more receptive to the Spirit. -- For the Strength of the Youth, 2012
1 - There is an age old argument about whether tithing is 10% of gross or net. Not meaning to rehash that here, though it is part of the issue. I believe that 10% of net is perfectly valid... My real concern is that I really dislike how the church is intentionally vague on the specific tithing requirement, but then insinuates that if you are not paying a "full tithe" on the gross, that you are cheating God and not faithful. The oft-quoted 1970 First Presidency statement, which is in-turn quoted, in part, in the Church Handbook isn't especially helpful in regards to what constitutes a full tithe but is clear that it's up to the individual, not anyone else:
For your guidance in this matter, please be advised that we have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this. We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly. -- First Presidency Letter, March 19, 1970
I think that speaks for itself. Official policy is not to delineate how much is a full tithe, so you and I are perfectly free to give 10% of our growth, if we determine that that's what we can give. It's ironic that Robert D. Hales called for "strict observance of the law of tithing" in a 2002 GC address, yet the law itself is not strictly defined. I know that for me, my gross income has little resemblance to how much more I am worth at the end of each year.

I've heard lots of over-the-pulpit talks over the years that say outright that it is gross. Most of these are unchallenged local talks, but there is a talk from Daniel L. Johnson, of the Seventy, from October, 2006, GC, in which he quotes a statement from a source that he referred to as "President Howard W. Hunter". Although the quote was, in fact from Hunter, there are two very important omissions from Elder Johnson. First is that Hunter was not "President Hunter" when he made the remark, but was "Elder Hunter" of the Qof12. Second, the statement was made prior to the clarifying First Presidency statement of 1970, so should have been superseded by the latter. Here's the quote from "President Hunter":
The law is simply stated as ‘one-tenth of all their interest.’ Interest means profit, compensation, increase. It is the wage of one employed, the profit from the operation of a business, the increase of one who grows or produces, or the income to a person from any other source. -- Elder Howard W. Hunter, General Conference, April, 1964
"Wage of one employed", of course, means how much your employer pays you, not how much you take home. Interesting that business owners only have to pay on profit, but laborers are expected to pay on their gross income. In any case, this stems from early 20th century statements that say the same thing, at a time when personal income taxes were negligible, so I don't find any value in the statement...

But, OK, Elder Johnson's talk was not consistent with church policy. I hear that kind of stuff a lot, but the church's policy remains vague on the issue.

Yet, the church continues to insinuate gross. Here's how they do it.

They explain tithing in child terms. You get an allowance of 10 dollars, you pay one dollar. While that may be true for a child, if you project that explanation onto an adult, you are now preaching gross. A great example is Earl C. Tingey's April 2002 GC talk.
a journal in which I was taught to record on a weekly basis my income and expenses [as a young man].

As an example, my entry for the week of 29 July 1944 records that I started the week with $24.05 on hand and earned $7.00 working on our family farm. For expenses, I spent 5 cents for candy, $3.45 for a purchase, 20 cents for a movie, and $2.37 for personal clothing. I also invested $20.00 in a war savings bond and paid 70 cents tithing. I ended the week with $4.28 on hand. -- Earl C. Tingey, General Conference, April 2002


Here, Elder Tingey separates funds into "income and expenses" and then pays a full 10% of the income, regardless of any other consideration. The fact that he had earned $7 in cash from the family drawer, instead of a salary on a paystub with taxes taken out seems immaterial. His need to purchase clothing was not part of the equation. He didn't use the words, but his example is "gross" not "net".

2 - The other aspect of tithing that I find disturbing and irresponsible is the idea that you should pay it, even when you can't afford to. Again from For the Strength of the Youth:

Pay it first, even when you think you do not have enough money to meet your other needs. -- For the Strength of the Youth, 2012


Really? Really?... Really?

I don't know how many times I've heard a talk in which the speaker declares that "we didn't know how we were going to pay rent, but we paid our tithing anyway, and then miraculously, we found enough money in a drawer to pay the rent anyway." Stop, please. This is terrible! If you don't have enough money to pay rent, then you don't have any "interest/increase/income" to pay tithing on.

So, how do I approach the subject of educating my older, and some adult children, that they need to be reasonable and logical, but at the same time not come across as anti-LDS, anti-Tithing, anti-Generous, anti-Donations, and anti-Their-Choices?

User avatar
Heber13
Posts: 6865
Joined: 22 Apr 2009, 16:37
Location: In the Middle

Re: Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Post by Heber13 » 01 Mar 2012, 15:20

I hear ya, On our own, it can be a sticky thing and you make some good points.

I think the essay on the StayLDS website resources has some good ideas for navigating through some of that.

I agree with you and the CHI that it is up to us to define it, and I also believe the are blessings in life by strictly following what we define for ourselves.

Paying first can be a great teaching method for kids to prioritize and think about what we spend on and what we are willing to let go of. That is the main message to me. I think it blesses us because it stretches us, not because a window in the sky opens up.

I like some of the responses on this older thread:
http://www.staylds.com/forum/viewtopic. ... thing#p611
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

Curt Sunshine
Site Admin
Posts: 15996
Joined: 21 Oct 2008, 20:24

Re: Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Post by Curt Sunshine » 01 Mar 2012, 17:54

My view is outlined in the thread to which I link below.

I only will say here that I believe in a partnership model of contributions - and that paying tithing and fast offerings first even if you can't make ends meet while living on a principled budget only works the way it should if the Church lives up to its portion of the partnership and makes up the difference when there is a shortfall.

I've been fortunate that the Church has done so in those times when I've needed help after paying tithing and fast offerings - but I would have no problem whatsoever feeding my family and not paying tithing and fast offerings if the Church refused to help even if I was living as frugally as possible. If I'm doing my part to hold up my end of the partnership to the best of my ability (which includes sacrifice on my part), I expect the Church to do its part, as well.

"Tithing" (viewtopic.php?f=6&t=275&hilit=tithing) - 62 comments
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

User avatar
SilentDawning
Posts: 6757
Joined: 09 May 2010, 19:55

Re: Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Post by SilentDawning » 02 Mar 2012, 06:14

Unlike Ray, I haven't had that kind of experience as you many of you know. Not on welfare issues, but other matters that speak to the heart on matters of family and otherwise. I see the Church as participating in an unadvertised, reluctant partnership, with most talks preaching the need for commitment from members. Organizational "obligation" or accountability is not mentioned -- presumably to not raise expectations or demands from Church members.

I agree with our opening poster that the 'pay it even if you don't have enough money for your needs' makes little sense any longer. If you do that, you may well find a Bishop disagrees with your other spending habits, where you live, how hard you work, the job you have -- and want you to make adjustments -- often operating from their own view of the world and a desire to reduce fast offering deficits. Many truly care about helping you change improve your situation (I know one Bishop that did a great job of that). You lose control over your own situation when you give it all away when you don't have enough for your basic needs. And personally, I think it's irresponsible to pay a charitable donation when you don't have enough to sustain yourself.

The idea that self-reliance is an eternal principle -- but only after you pay tithing, is not internally consistent in my view.

So, how do we teach our children? I don't have a problem with teaching net or gross and letting them decide. I would rather not inject my ever-changing, evolving and possibly erroneous views of tithing on my kids -- so I support the Church line by my silence in that regard. When the kids come to me with questions about it, I will answer them as I feel best -- when they are young, it can be black and white as the Church teaches, but as they get older and their situatiosn get more complex, I will be there with my own philosophy. I prepare myself for the possiblity they may disagree with me too.
"It doesn't have to be about the Church (church) all the time!" -- SD

"Stage 5 is where you no longer believe the gospel as its literally or traditionally taught. Nonetheless, you find your own way to be active and at peace within it". -- SD

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

My introduction: viewtopic.php?f=8&t=1576

User avatar
On Own Now
Posts: 1606
Joined: 18 Jan 2012, 12:45

Re: Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Post by On Own Now » 02 Mar 2012, 08:21

SilentDawning wrote:I would rather not inject my ever-changing, evolving and possibly erroneous views of tithing on my kids -- so I support the Church line by my silence in that regard. When the kids come to me with questions about it, I will answer them as I feel best
You've captured the philosophy I've lived under exactly. Now, though, I think I've come to a case where I no longer think I can just support the church line and answer my kids when they have a question. It's specifically because the church continues to imply something that isn't according to the church's own official policy and the vast majority of church members have no idea that the official policy gives them the right to determine what their "income" is. It's such a mental dodge-ball for me, because I've spent more than a decade silently supporting and often vocally supporting the church line with my family, and my mantra has been never to be "anti", but in this case, I know I can't stay silent. Yet I don't want to diminish the faith of my kids, and don't want this to become a wedge between us. We've lived in harmony. They know that I support them all the way with the church. But now, it seems like that will have to come into question.

I think for me, the discomfort is that having a discussion about tithing would parallel anti-mormon rhetoric. It pits church policy against church practice. It pits the words of the First Presidency of old against the teachings of modern Apostles. It points out that what Mormons hear on Sunday is different from past statements of official doctrine... ugh. That's exactly the kind of stuff that drives me crazy about anti-Mormons. We all know this and have seen it repeatedly. Sure, there's the honest reflection of reality (D. Michael Quinn, Todd Compton), but most of what you see is uneducated people talking about what "mormans" believe and it's just sickening mis-characterization. I don't want to be that way, or be connected to it in any way, or be perceived in that way.

Curt Sunshine
Site Admin
Posts: 15996
Joined: 21 Oct 2008, 20:24

Re: Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Post by Curt Sunshine » 02 Mar 2012, 14:09

On Our Own, honestly, I'm a bit confused right now and would like a little clarification.

The Church's stance on tithing all my life has been that each member needs to define exactly what their tithing is and then pay it. The only universal definitions in my lifetime have been "10%" and "income". I know that the "income" part has changed since the beginning of the Church, but so has the nature of people's income - from produce and in-kind donations to cash from paycheck jobs.

So, would you mind explaining a little more about why you're struggling to tell your kids to decide for themselves how to pay their tithing? I get it with respect to paying before or after "the bills" - but I'm not sure what you mean about how to calculate it.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

User avatar
SilentDawning
Posts: 6757
Joined: 09 May 2010, 19:55

Re: Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Post by SilentDawning » 02 Mar 2012, 14:36

Ray Degraw wrote:The Church's stance on tithing all my life has been that each member needs to define exactly what their tithing is and then pay it. The only universal definitions in my lifetime have been "10%" and "income". I know that the "income" part has changed since the beginning of the Church, but so has the nature of people's income - from produce and in-kind donations to cash from paycheck jobs.


See, I must've spent my mission and my life as a regular member in areas that are more conservative than what you're saying Ray. I had one Bishop who stood up and showed everyone how to calculate tithing -- and he used gross. In my part of the world, it was questionable even to pay on net. People who openly declared they paid on net were often subject to criticism as if it was wrong. "Then you only get net blessings" was one I heard over and over again.

Where I've come to rest -- I'm gratfeul that the definitions vary -- that the last sentence of the 1970's FP letter has been left off the CHI description of tithing (the one that puts the amount squarely on the person's conscience), that the Internet has afforded the actual, full wording, and that discussion at this site has has enlightened me about how individuals interpret the law. That the D&C definition defines tithing as "interest" which has a surplus meaning when looked up in dictionaries from that era.

Why? Because I now see that it really IS up to me given the multiple definitions. And historically, that it was redefined at a time after the Church had faced a financial sqeeze leads me to this personal conclusion -- that statements of policy are often spawned by conditions at the time, and not necessarily a narrowly defined rule.

Yes, lack of consonance between the various definitions, the idea of a personal conscience to guide us, leaves that definition of a full tithe up to me.
Last edited by SilentDawning on 02 Mar 2012, 15:59, edited 1 time in total.
"It doesn't have to be about the Church (church) all the time!" -- SD

"Stage 5 is where you no longer believe the gospel as its literally or traditionally taught. Nonetheless, you find your own way to be active and at peace within it". -- SD

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

My introduction: viewtopic.php?f=8&t=1576

User avatar
On Own Now
Posts: 1606
Joined: 18 Jan 2012, 12:45

Re: Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Post by On Own Now » 02 Mar 2012, 15:23

Ray Degraw wrote:So, would you mind explaining a little more about why you're struggling to tell your kids to decide for themselves how to pay their tithing? I get it with respect to paying before or after "the bills" - but I'm not sure what you mean about how to calculate it.
Ray, thanks for responding. I'm not worried about how to calculate "income" for the purposes of tithing. I'm concerned with even bringing it up. I feel like if I don't say something, my kids are going to go into their adulthood assuming that they are supposed to pay the maximum, because I think that's the message they get from the church. I believe that the church's stand on what constitutes 10% of income is duplicitous. Official policy may be for the individual member to decide, but that official policy goes unstated. I have never heard, not once, a general authority or local church leader, say over the pulpit that 10% of something other than gross is not only OK, but that it is in "strict observance" of tithing. I have heard them say that 10% of gross is what is expected, even if they don't say it in those words (see examples above). Further, I don't believe that the average member, or that anywhere remotely close to a majority of members think that paying 10% of something less than gross is right.

I don't pay full tithing. I do donate, but I wouldn't consider it 10% of my net, let alone gross, though it is probably 10% of my "increase" if you want to use that term. I don't mind the idea of donating. I've enjoyed reading many of the posts on the threads that you and heber13 included, and those were helpful from the standpoint of remembering that giving is good, and that even stretching is good, though I'd quibble with degrees on that one. It's not the concept of tithing but its application (10% of gross, in spite of what the unspoken church doctrine states) that bothers me.

So, I feel like I need to have the conversation with my kids, but I feel very uncomfortable, because it has been my practice for a very long time, not to take any stand about the church other than to be supportive of my kids' involvement in it. Here, I feel like I'm going to be telling them specifically to ignore what they hear at church and pull out a First Presidency letter that they've never heard of to back up my argument... it just all seems very seedy. Like the multiple times in your life that you've heard an anti-mormon tell you what Mormons believe. I'm not a believer, my kids are. I'm going to tell them what their own church policy is... I hate that. Bottom line is that I feel very strongly about the issue at hand, but am afraid to bring it up with them and afraid not to bring it up with them.

User avatar
SilentDawning
Posts: 6757
Joined: 09 May 2010, 19:55

Re: Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Post by SilentDawning » 02 Mar 2012, 16:57

One approach is to simply let them read the FULL First presidency letter. Talk about the gross method, the net method, and surplus (increase) methods that have existed throughout history. Describe the multiple conflicting meanings.

Explain how you tend to hear the gross one, and that's what the membership at large seems to believe. Let them know that the gross interpretation may well be the one that is ultimately emphasized over the pulpit, and give potential reasons why. (This could be a good lesson in how official standards are often set at the highest level as a buffer). However, emphasize the last sentence of the FP letter that utlimately, tithing is a matter of conscience.

Also, explain the realities of belonging to a community...that one must respect the beliefs of any community one associates with. And that sometimes means remaining silent if what you say would alarm people without serving any practical purpose. Or challenges their interpretation of their religion -- including tithing. Inform them of possible consequences of finding your own way and living according to the dictates of your own conscience in a community with shared values. Share the need for prudence in how much you share about your personal interpretations and values with others on any subject -- including tithing.

This way,you have given the full range of information I believe we have available about this law, and have taught them to respect the beliefs of others. You have also taught them to be thinking members of the Church. If they ask your opinion, consider sharing the way you have interpreted the law at different times in your life. (I personally leave myself open to go back to the gross method should my conscience lean that way again in the future, and that any time, it's a matter of personal conscience).

This discussion is helping me, as I'm still in the black and white phase of my kids life. I let the Church do its thing on most issues; I don't teach tithing in family home evening, and I don't initiate conversations about it. But I am ready and waiting when my kids are ready to talk. My role then is to give them the thoughtware to make up their own minds -- with conviction.
"It doesn't have to be about the Church (church) all the time!" -- SD

"Stage 5 is where you no longer believe the gospel as its literally or traditionally taught. Nonetheless, you find your own way to be active and at peace within it". -- SD

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

My introduction: viewtopic.php?f=8&t=1576

Minyan Man
Posts: 1462
Joined: 15 Sep 2011, 13:40

Re: Tithing: a Costly Leap of Faith

Post by Minyan Man » 02 Mar 2012, 17:38

I like SD's response. Anything to get our kids to discuss topics of the Gospel beyond what is presented in church, is the best approach.
This is especially true if your children are older & can think "out of the box".
I would avoid anything your children can take back to the church where they might say..."My dad said that tithing is calculated this way...".

Mike from Milton.

Post Reply