10a. Are you a full-tithe payer?
My answer is YES.
And yes I pay a full tithe, something less than gross income, and I haven't been able to figure out my income for years, so it is what it is. I feel good about it.
Many people think there is huge pressure to pay 10% of gross income (before taxes or any other deductions), and some recent talks from general authorities have implied it, but most definitely have not said it. Tithing is 10% of something: and what that something is, is entirely up to you. End of story. Here is the best statement of official church policy. Although the italicized statement was only in the FP letter as shown, later statements of this policy, including in the current CHI, use exactly these words:
As Ray likes to 'parse' things:First Presidency Letter, March 19, 1970 wrote:What is a proper tithe?
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.
note the grammatical construct around how 'interest' is defined: "which is understood to mean income". This is phrased in passive voice, meaning here it is an assumption without attribution -- an interpretation, one among many.
How you interpret what "one-tenth of all your interest annually" means to you is ENTIRELY UP TO YOU. It's personal. It's private, and no-one is justified in making any other statement than this.
Most members of the church that pay a full tithe presume that 'full tithe' is computed on 'gross income', that is before taxes and other deductions are taken out. This is one interpretation. Some who have this interpretation feel that anything less is potentially cheating the Lord out of some money. I do not think it wise to allow this kind of pressure on your personal interpretation.
Other interpretations include:
- Net income after taxes. In Mitt Romney's disclosed financial statements on his 3-4 million dollars worth of income, he paid X in taxes, and Y in tithing. When I computed it at the time, I figured out that he is paying on net-after-taxes, and not on gross income. No big deal, still a huge amount of money, but it's one very faithful person's example.
- Net income after essential expenses. Businesses consider 'income' the money made (profit) after expenses and cost of goods sold are computed. For example, I make a certain amount of money, but my job requires a lot of essential expenses just to be in the job. Many of these expenses are not reimbursed. I don't consider those 'business expenses' to be part of my income, because if I had a different job for the same amount of money, I wouldn't have to pay them. Where is this line? Could be anywhere -- the point is, it's up to you.
- Interest income only. In my case, this would be zero, because I don't get any interest on my money in this economy. That hardly seems fair to the church or the Lord, but that's up to you. It is one interpretation of 'interest'.
- Net of historical overpayments. It is possible that I dramatically overpaid my tithing for whatever reason in a prior year. If this is the case, one is justified in paying the net of what you would owe this year less the overpayment. This could be zero.
- Nothing at all. If you don't have income or interest in this year for whatever reason, then you don't have to pay tithing. If I had $50K worth of income, but lost $90K on a property sale, I have no income this year. period. And I might have a loss carry forward into next year. If I pay nothing, I can still declare that I am a full tithe payer, because I'm paying 10% of nothing. It does not matter if the loss is recognized on taxes. It's only your personal interpretation that matters.
A couple other fallacies float about with tithing.
Retro-tithing. Some people think that they need to 'catch up' on historical tithing when they get 'behind'. Nothing in the instructions says this. The question is not "have you been a full-tithe payer" but rather "are you a full-tithe payer". Present tense, indicative. If you were not a full tithe payer as of December 2011, and have been paying a full tithe on your income since May of this year. As of July, now, you are a 'full-tithe payer'.
Cascaded Tithing. Tithing is to be paid on interest, which can be interpeted as some form of income. A gift from a parent to a child may or may not be part of a tithing model, but let's think about it for a moment. First, it's important to teach children the principle of tithing, so having them pay tithing on monetary gifts may be a good idea as a training tool. But when tithing is paid on income already, and then paid again when the income becomes a gift, you're not paying 10%, you're paying 19%. (If I earned $10, and paid $1 in tithing, I have $9 to give. The person receiving the $9 gift then pays $0.90, leaving $8.10 of the original $10 income - a tax of 19%). If I then give my $8.10 to my sister because she needs it more than I do, then she pays $0.81, we're down to $7.29 of our original $10... and you can see where this is going.
I know that this isn't a big deal for most, but when I gave my daughter $5,000 to pay off some of her credit card debt, I didn't expect her to pay $500 in tithing -- the money was to go to pay off the debt. I had already paid on the $5,555.55 necesssary to gross $5,000.
I always like going in to my bishop with some very arcane way of accounting for some aspect of a stock option granted but lost value in year x therefore what should the tithing be... He smiles and repeats the text of the letter above.
Don't overanalyze this like I do. Pay 10% of something you feel good about justifying as your interest or income, and be done with it. It's self-declared, and no-one is justified in making any other statement.