Lots of discussion on the ‘nacle centers around issues with tithing.  There are plenty of people with complaints, no surprise given that money is involved, and very few people of any religion pay 10% like we do.  Here are some of the most common criticisms of tithing I hear:

  • Lack of financial transparency in the church.
  • An assumption that tithing should be purely or primarily for humanitarian needs.
  • How the widow’s mite is spent (e.g. lavish malls many members could not afford to shop in).
  • Tithing being a regressive tax on the poor (which it is).
  • Expectation or entitlement for temporal blessings that don’t always come.
  • “Fire insurance” analogy.  Even though Malachi said it first, it does make God sound like a mafia hit man, and it doesn’t exactly bring out the noblest sentiments in our fellow Mormons.  Pay up or die.  Is that who we are?
  • Temple Recommend is contingent.  To some this feels like a “pay to play” approach to religion.
Nice idea, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to accept this as legal tender.

Personally, though, I think paying tithing is one of the best things we do as a church.  Why?

  1. Detachment from wealth.  Most faiths, especially eastern religions, focus on letting go of our need for control and wealth-seeking.  It’s not because money is evil, but because freaking out about money isn’t a very godly trait.  As James Altucher wisely said:  “Money isn’t the cure for everything, but it solves your money problems.”
  2. Abundance mentality / trust vs. control.  When you let go of the idea that you can control your luck and how much stuff you have, you realize that you have more than you thought you did.  Getting rid of wealth is not the same thing as financial freedom.  Having financial freedom means you have enough.  Trying to become wealthy usually means you never have enough if someone has more.
  3. Investment in the community of saints.  When we moved to Singapore, people asked if we were going to join the American club which has annual dues of $20K.  People said it was a great way to connect with other expats in Singapore and find friends.  Given that we were both working and spending every Sunday and Wednesday at the church, it seemed unnecessary; we were swimming in friends as soon as we got here.
  4. Beats the alternatives.  I am as capable as anyone of blowing a large percentage of my income on frivolous stupid stuff.  Getting rid of some portion of my disposable income through tithing reins that in . . . somewhat. For example, paying tithing is a better investment than alcohol, and friends routinely tell us they spend about 10% of their income on wine or other alcohol.
  5. Investing in the church’s assets.  While I don’t love cleaning the ward building, one good thing is that it teaches us stewardship for the building itself.  Likewise with paying tithing.  That’s my hardwood gym floor you’re scuffing up with your black soled shoes, punk.  Show some respect!
  6. Teaching budgeting skills.  Although tithing hits the rich and poor alike for 10% and the poor have less discretionary income (which is why it is a regressive tax), the practice of paying tithing first helps people to learn to budget if they are not otherwise inclined to do so.  From an early age, we are taught to hold out 10% of our money to donate, which opens the mind to the possibility that we can save up, we can delay gratification, and we need to be charging Mom and Dad at least 10% more for cleaning the car!
  7. Current law of consecration.  We are no longer living in large communes (praise be) that require us to deed over our lands.  Tithing IS the current law of consecration.  We’ve gotten off light, and I for one appreciate it.  In a paperless, chickenless transaction, this is how consecration works.  We are supporting others within the community with our donations (and the interest earned by the corporation church investing our donations).

I realize not everyone agrees with me on tithing and that my view is doubtless skewed by having the abundance we all enjoy as Americans.  Even so, I have seen many on the lower end of income who take great pride in contributing through tithing.  How have your views on tithing changed over time?  Do you like it, hate it, or have mixed feelings?