I think our individual perceptions are based as much on our unique personalities and our personal experiences at the local level (wards, branches, stakes AND homes) as by our interaction with / exposure to the global leadership. We see the global leadership twice a year, generally, and we read something one or more of them have written once a month, generally – and that is if we are about as diligent as is “reasonably normal” (which I am not, in this case, frankly). My own “exposure” is with General Conference and whenever someone else quotes somebody in a talk or lesson. So, in “real, practical terms” . . . my impression of how “The Church” operates and affects me is influenced most strongly by my upbringing (whether or not that was in the LDS Church) and my local leaders and congregation. However, we also tend to extrapolate our experiences with local leaders onto the global leadership – and that is “reasonable”, since we don’t interact with them enough to really know them personally.
We forget that, sometimes.
This means how we view tithing, tithing settlement and temple recommend interviews, for example, is going to be comprised, largely, by how we naturally see things and what we experience most directly. If we had an authoritarian, Old Testament / Paul style father, Bishop, Seminary teacher, Stake President, etc., we will tend to view these things much differently than if we had more “teach correct principles”, New Testamnet / John style parents and leaders. If we were taught initially that it was our never-wavering duty to attend every conceivable church-related meeting we are going to react differently to tithing settlement than if we were taught initially that Sacrament Meeting is the only “required” meeting and everything else fits into the “do your best to be involved in whatever you can and still be balanced” category. If we have had Bishops and Stake Presidents who were more “questioning” (intrusive) in their approach, we will see temple recommend interview differently than someone who has had Bishops and Stake Presidents who simply asked the questions and allowed those being interviewed to give the simple “yes/no” answers.
Therefore, I am left to look at how the “official” practice is handled and, to the best of my ability, attempt to follow that practice on an individual basis – in whatever way makes the most sense to me. What that means in terms of tithing, tithing settlement and temple recommend interviews for ME, as an individual, is:
a) Officially, there is no official “one way to figure tithing”. It is left up to me to make that decision, to the best of my ability and conscience. Therefore, I pay on net income, but I have no problem whatsoever with people who pay on “increase”. I also have no problem whatsoever with someone paying their absolutely essential, non-avoidable bills and then paying on what is left – but I do have a problem, personally, if they include credit card debt or a payment on a luxury car or their projected grocery costs or anything else that, imo, moves them away from any reasonable “spirit of the law”. Iow, for me, as long as their heart is in the right place and they aren’t trying to come up with reasons to pay less just to pay less, I’m totally cool with their decision – regardless of what it is.
b) Tithing can be paid locally through the Bishop or directly to the Church. How I pay it is left up to me. Therefore, I pay mine to our Bishop, but I have no problem with those who eliminate the middleman and pay directly to SLC.
c) There is a formal setting called a tithing settlement interview / meeting, but status can be declared without participating in that formal setting. How (or even if) I declare my status is up to me. I don’t mind sitting down formally with a Bishop for tithing settlement – but I have no problem with someone declaring their status in any other way that works for them. One year, for example, we had a brutal time scheduling an official visit, so we ended up telling our Bishop in the hallway after Sacrament Meeting. That was harder for my wife to accept than it was for me, but it didn’t faze our Bishop at all.
d) The official pattern for temple recommend interviews is the asking of specific questions and the answering of those specific questions. How I answer the questions is up to me. Therefore, when I have my temple recommend interview, I answer with nothing more than a simple “yes” or “no” (or, in two cases – honesty and family relationships – with, “I’m trying my best and am not aware of anything that would keep me from attending the temple.”) – not because I’m trying to hide anything, but because I have no desire whatsoever in that setting to get into a discussion about anything. I don’t see the interview as having that purpose, so I don’t go there. I give my answer to each question directly and simply and wait for the next question. I understand intellectually and emotionally why some people want to talk about the questions more, but I don’t think that’s the right time or circumstance – and I think the risk of misunderstanding outweighs the potential positives. Those conversations can be had elsewhere, and I don’t think they are wise or productive in the temple recommend interview – as a general rule. Therefore, I choose to answer as simply as possible.
In all the cases I described above, I believe I’m following BOTH the letter AND the spirit by doing so.
Oh, and if the response is, “That’s fine, but it’s not how the Church works” – my only response possible is, “That’s how it works for me.” It might not work that way for someone else, but that also might be due as much to the difference between that someone else and me as to the differences between our respective leaders. I can’t say in each case, but it’s a very good thought experiment and chance for serious introspection, at the very least.