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:
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: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
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.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'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":
"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...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
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?