An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Church donations’

Is It Really Charity?

In a recent post I wrote about how much to give to charity. Today, I want to bring up an equally touchy subject—one with which Congress is currently wrestling— are all donations really charity? Utah, which is over 60% Mormon, ranks high among states for charitable giving—yet nonprofits that provide services for the poor are always starved of funds.

I suspect the vast majority of itemized donations by Utahns are tithes to the Mormon Church. My question is—does supporting a church really count as charity? If charity is defined as helping the poor and the church spends the majority of contributions on helping the poor, of course, that counts. But I have heard that a relatively modest percentage of tithes and offerings paid to the Church funds programs benefitting the poor and needy. The lion’s share of Church expenditures are for three programs—CES (BYU, seminaries, and institutes), missionary work, and temples—none of which directly benefits the poor—with the exception of building and staffing temples in developing countries which does provide jobs for qualified members there.

Large Mormon families of average income sacrifice to pay their 10% to the church, leaving them little or no money for giving to other organizations. Most members prioritize Church donations—feeling confidant that 100% of their donations are well spent instead of going for the high salaries paid to CEOs of some organizations—and with a belief that their donations further the work of the Church in preparing the world for the Second Coming. Less altruistic motives include the fact that  non-tithe payers fail to qualify for temple recommends and leadership positions in their ward and stake. We are also told we will be blessed for making these sacrifices—with the implication that God will withdraw blessings if checkbooks close.

Giving to support a person’s church is necessary and commendable. I’m just not sure that it constitutes charity. Donating in order to maintain membership status and privileges seems more like paying dues to a social organization. Donating out of fear is sad.

Giving to an organization where most of the contribution benefits others in a demonstrated way—such as micro loans to help establish small businesses and improve farm yields, food for starving children, and funds to educate and improve skills is closer to my definition of charity. I think this is what Isaiah had in mind when he wrote, “Draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted.” (58:10)

You Can’t Take It With You–Especially If You Don’t Have It

Who would you leave your fortune to, assuming you had one to leave? Bill Gates is urging fellow billionaires to divest themselves of the bulk of their cash before finally cashing in their chips—which will be a great benefit to foundations and charities—not to mention their children who won’t be burdened with unearned riches. Few of us will leave an estate large enough to cover the cost of stowing us underground let alone funding world-changing programs. Still, it’s nice to dream.

Churches are generally favored places for bequests. A colleague once speculated that should she win the lottery or gain some other unlikely windfall, she would donate half to her church. Being a Mormon, I figure I’ve already donated plenty to religion, so my imaginary fortune will subsidize a secular foundation.

I tend to favor literacy or literature programs like the Utah Humanities Council’s lending library for book groups and their Motheread/Fatheread program. As a reader, I harbor a fond belief that literature can change the world—that wide reading develops our imagination. I think the failure to imagine how other people think and feel allows human beings to treat fellow beings cruelly—and to commit or fail to prevent atrocities on groups of people we believe are not like us. Foreign films also allow us to see people of other cultures as more like than different from us. Yes, I would fund humanities programs because if we help human beings learn to value each other, we just might solve the rest of our problems.

Where would you put your money?

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