Friday, August 12, 2011

I Love the Principle of Tithing, but I Don't View It As "Fire Insurance"

I believe strongly that every single person on the planet should tithe to some organization or cause, somehow - and that everyone who can't afford to tithe should do so anyway and then receive assistance from the communal pot, if that is possible. In other words, I believe in the concept of tithing and fast offerings, and I think everyone should make a conscious choice to donate to the "cause" of their conscience.

My tithing recipient is the LDS Church, and my lifetime payment of tithing and fast offerings has been a big part of my willingness to accept and not feel bad about receiving church assistance when I was unemployed for far too long and had used up all of our savings. I've been on both sides, and I really believe in it.

I believe in the principle, but I believe in it for the earthly benefits - chiefly the ability to detach from the natural (wo)man tendency to see things as "ours", help build the kingdom and truly succor those who need succoring. I don't view it as fire insurance; I think that was a justification to prompt members to start paying it when the Church desperately needed increased funds. I don't have any problem with that, and I don't begrudge that need to tie it to an eternal reward, but I don't like to look at it that way.

I prefer to see it as a way to draw closer to the type of person Jesus was and to bless the greater community in the here and now, rather than as a way to increase my chance for personal reward in an objective, measurable way.


ji said...

"I prefer to see [tithing] as a way to draw closer to the type of person Jesus was and to bless the greater community in the here and now, rather than as a way to increase my chance for personal reward in an objective, measurable way." Thanks -- I agree.

But I don't always agree that "everyone who can't afford to tithe should do so anyway and then receive assistance from the communal pot" even though I have heard it taught. That's too easy and sets a poor example of provident living. Rather, those who can't afford to tithe should set their affairs in order so that they can. Tithing isn't "due" every two weeks, just once a year.

As I read the scripture, I believe it is my responsibility to pay all my debts and then to pay tithing -- not to pay tithing first and then be broke before the other debts are paid and let others pay my debts from the communal pot.

Here's a scripture reference, with the first two words of v. 7 emphasized...

Romans 13:6-7
6 For, for this cause pay ye your consecrations also unto them; for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
7 But first, render to all their dues, according to custom, tribute to whom tribute, custom to whom custom, that your consecrations may be done in fear of him to whom fear belongs, and in honor of him to whom honor belongs.

I realize that what I am teaching here (pay debts first and tithing second, or in other words, do not use paying tithing as an excuse not to pay debts) is not commonly taught, but I see it as a correct principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Papa D said...

I have no problem whatsoever with people doing that, ji - and I think it fits the "increase" definition quite well, but . . .

1) If we are going to insist on an annual accounting that includes "full" 10% payment of tithing on income (gross or net) for the entire year, it is going to be next to impossible for many people to not pay tithing for a period of time and get their affairs in order to the point where they can pay a retroactive tithe for the year.

2) If we allow them to pay on what is left after their bills are paid, it is VERY easy for people to minimize the need to budget and spend their money wisely, since that means they still can pay a "full" tithe even if they are spending exorbitantly.

2) I don't think paying then receiving is "easy" at all - IF it is accompanied by direct help to get out of the situation that is causing the need to receive, if possible.

People absolutely should get their affairs in order, and I agree totally with the practice of budget-counseling, debt reduction and wise money management - but I believe in a "partnership model" of financial contribution, and part of that is a need to mitigate against the tendency to excuse non-financial contribution due to poverty.

If we really believe that all is God's and all need to show that understanding by giving a tenth to help build the kingdom, then I don't like exempting some people from that relationship simply because they only have a widow's mite.

There is an element of allowing EVERYONE, even the poor, to contribute financially that is powerful for me - and for the righteous poor. If that means someone pays tithing to help build the kingdom and then receives the amount they paid in Fast Offerings (or more, in plenty of cases) to help supply their needs, I want that opportunity for them.

I think the partnership model breaks down when EITHER party chooses to stop participating - the member by not contributing and the church by not helping in time of need, but I like a universally accessible empowerment model that focuses on letting people contribute no matter their circumstances while simultaneously helping them improve those circumstances.

Matthew said...

I find that I agree with ji on this: debts first, tithing second, although I think your concerns are quite valid, Ray.

Hmm. Hard to figure out how to say this without coming across as whiny. I'll try anyway. :)

We grew up very poor and frequently received assistance. Many bishops were very compassionate about it, but some were not. Often we were treated like an unwelcome burden and some people felt that because we were spending 'their' money, they were entitled to control our lives and choices.

I know that those people completely missed the point of the program, but at the end of the day, I am now unwilling to put myself at the mercy of the community pot if there is any way at all around it. If my income will cover my debt, my food, my rent and bills (I have sufficient, that I remain from day to day, as it were), but there is nothing left over for tithing, then that's the way I'll roll. Besides, if I can keep myself out of the church's safety net, then that leaves more room for others who need it more.

Of course, I also have concerns about the church's use of tithing funds and a disagreement over the 10% of income definition, so that also discourages me from being willing to contribute. I donate regularly to a couple of trustworthy organizations, not worrying about whether or not I have reached the 10% mark.

Anyway, I have gone on too long, so I will stop. Like so many other things, tithing for me has moved from black and white into gray, and I am still sorting out all the shades. :)

Papa D said...

Matthew, I really do have NO problem with people paying their required expenses and then tithing on their "increase" - what is left after those expenses are paid. It's not the historical definition of increase, but it's a decent definition of "net income". It's just not how I do it, for the reasons I mentioned in my response to ji.

I REALLY like that the Church doesn't define "correct" tithing payment as anything other than 10% of one's income. I know most people think that's crystal clear (with some opting for "gross" and others "net"), but it does leave the door open for sincere alternatives - especially since tithing can be paid directly to Church HQ online and the tithing settlement question doesn't ask for specifics, only a declaration.

Matthew said...

I also like that no statement about the meaning of 10% has been made - it allows for those shades of gray.

(And on a somewhat related note, I will say that the PEF is really spot on, in my opinion. An excellent example of paying it forward, which really appeals to me.)

Glenn Thigpen said...

If you pay tithing, pay it in the spirit in which it is intended. It is a law for which we can receive benefits here on this earth and in eternity.
I have heard first hand accounts of people paying their tithing when they did nor know where the next meal was coming from, but did it as a matter of faith and received money from unexpected sources. This has happened in my own life. At one time I payed tithing when it was convenient, but realized that I often was irrationalizing how bad the financial was. When I began paying a full, honest tithin, my financial problems did not go away, but over the years I never have gone without food on my table and a roof over my head. Often, money would come from unexepcted sources at precisely the correct time. I have even paid all of the money I had to tithing in advance because I needed a pretty large sum of money and have had that money, to the dollar (there were some few odd cents extra), come to me in a check.
This is all anecdotal, for sure. I just know that since I started paying tithing, I have never worried about the financial future. Even now, after being out of work for over two years and struggling to make ends meet, with health problems dogging both my wife and me, I believe in paying our tithing, and we are doing so. I still am not worried about my financial future.