Dr. Toby Ord, an Oxford academic, has pledged to donate the bulk of his lifetime earnings to fight world poverty. He calculates that for each £15,000 (approx. $22,500) donated to effective charities, 55 lives are saved. His website estimates that if the typical US citizen gave 10% of their income to the right NGOs, each year, 1900 cases of malaria could be prevented, 170 people could be cured of TB, and 1100 additional years of school attendance could be provided.
Now donating 10% of income is routine for active Mormons. For years George and I cheerfully wrote checks for 10% of our gross income—even though our kids went without things they really needed. We believed we were obeying the Lord’s will in furthering the work of the Church and that all the world’s problems would be resolved once everybody was converted and the Savior arrived. I did not believe this obedience would unlatch the Windows of Heaven to rain greenbacks upon our family. Experience had proven otherwise. Still, I felt our family sacrifice was making the world a better place. George agreed. Our children did not.
Eventually, I realized that most of our tithing dollars were going for temples, missionary work and CES. Fast offering was an extra donation to relieve the suffering of the poor. I upped that after a General Conference address promised that increasing our fast offerings would increase our blessings, not realizing that “our” referred to the church as a whole rather than to our family in particular.
I cut back on fast offerings about 10 years ago when I learned that nearly all of my donations were going to help Americans who actually have access to government welfare programs rather than to starving Latter-day Saints in developing countries. Church welfare to countries outside the US has increased since that time, but I suspect the bulk of fast offerings collected in the US still remain in this country. Yes, it’s nice to help people in the current economic system with house payments. But to my mind, that lacks the urgency of providing aid to members in countries like Ecuador and Guatemala where children risk brain damage and stunted growth because of severe malnutrition.
I appreciate the assistance LDS Humanities and PEF provide to the poor in other countries. Donations to those funds, however, are in addition to the 10% tithing required by all members who want to maintain worthiness for temple recommends and leadership positions in their wards and stakes. True believers will continue to make tithing their primary or only charitable donation.
C.S. Lewis observed that if we aren’t giving up something we would really like to have, we aren’t giving enough to the poor. But how much is enough? No one else can answer that question for us. And money isn’t the only thing we can contribute. We can donate our time to help others. We can also change our lifestyles so we are not consuming more than our share of the world’s finite resources.
The scriptures are replete with admonitions to remember the poor and to avoid greed. If Dr. Toby Ord keeps his vow to donate the bulk of his lifetime earnings to save the poor, I suspect the Lord has reserved a top spot for him in the Celestial Kingdom regardless of his religious beliefs. I’m less sure of my own placement.