An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Tithing–A Regressive Policy

As an inherent idealist, I’ve always thought tithing a lesser law for Saints too imperfect to live the Law of Consecration. A recent blog points out that tithing is a tremendous sacrifice for many lower-income Mormon  families. He’s right. We had no surplus to consecrate when we were raising five kids on one income. But we were expected to tithe 10% of our gross income and to pay budget and building offerings which raised our church obligations to nearly 14%.

Granted, budget and building offerings have been eliminated since then.  And several years ago I learned that Mormons are now considered full tithe payers if they pay on their after-tax income. I don’t know when that change was made; it was never announced at any church meeting I’ve attended. While we were raising our family, church talks and lessons emphasized paying on gross income.

My real problem with tithing is that it’s so regressive.  A multi-millionaire like Jon Huntsman, Sr. who takes in $10 mil a year, does not take food off the table in order to stuff $1 mil into a tithing envelope.  A beginning policeman, teacher or other entry level worker who donates 10% of a $2000 a month pay check may very well have to choose between food or shoes for the kids after paying tithing, house payment, car payment, gasoline, utilities, and health insurance.

Our family lived a barebones existence, foregoing luxuries like vacations and entertainment, but still our kids sometimes did without adequate school clothes and shoes while we faithfully paid church obligations first. We were promised blessings for paying, and it’s true that none of us got cancer and no earthquakes destroyed our home. Still, I’m not convinced that our proportionally greater sacrifice to ante up 10% of our over-stretched dollars gave us more blessings than high income members receive for their lesser sacrifice.

Obviously, the Law of Consecration had problems of administration—allowing members to decide what is surplus is even trickier than deciding whether to tithe on net or gross income. In the end, it’s a matter of letting the spirit guide. We had no surplus for many years while raising our kids. If I were in that situation again, I would obey the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

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Comments on: "Tithing–A Regressive Policy" (3)

  1. Obey the spirit, and listen to your heart.

  2. When you say talks and other things that were or seemed official used to focus on gross income, I know what you’re talking about. What I think has happened though is we’ve discovered we were always too rigid about too many things, or at least that the church went through a phase of being too rigid. Things that were never truly heaven-or-hell-must-do-commandments were in the past talked about and treated as such. We perhaps as a people got a little too pharisaic. And perhaps this itself was a reaction to earlier eras where things were too loose and things were falling apart. We go through cycles as a people. I think we’re finding a better happy medium now. Alice’s comment #1 there reflects it quite well. The church emphasizes the commandment that came from the Lord, 10% of our increase in this case, and then asks to decide in our own conscience if we’ve lived up to it. That I think works quite well. It’s up to us to live it right, and if we do, we are bringing ourselves to live on a higher spiritual plane than any past eras where it was “this way or else”. So, here’s hoping we can as a people live that spirit the right way, as more blessings will come if we do.

    • Thanks for both your comments. I agree that the spirit with which we give is what counts.

      Non-Arab Arab–“we are bringing ourselves to
      live on a higher spiritual plane than any past eras’–Living on a higher spiritual plane is truly the blessing we receive from giving!

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