Monday, March 16, 2015

Paying "Back Tithing": Why I Don't Believe in It

I have known of quite a few situations where someone has not paid tithing for a while, for multiple reasons, and then decided to return to paying it.  In one case, an active member thought she had set up an automatic payment process, so she hadn't focused on it for a few months and only realized belatedly that the process had not been activated and, therefore, she actually hadn't made the payments.  There was no way for her to pay the entire amount that would have constituted a full tithe for that period, and she was distraught about it - going so far as to consider giving her Bishop her temple recommend for a period of time.

This friend asked me for my advice, and the following is a summary of what I told her:

1) Honest mistakes are honest mistakes. There is no need whatsoever to "make up" payments that can't be paid.

Think of a convert who is baptized in September. No reasonable person would insist that she pay tithing for the first eight months of the year. You are in the same situation, in principle. If I was your Bishop, there is no way I would tell you that you are "behind in your tithing". Some would; many wouldn't; I absolutely would not.

3) Honest mistakes are not sins and, thus, do not require confession or repentance in the same way that intentional actions do - and there is nothing in our theology that says people are punished by God for honest mistakes. Read our 2nd Article of Faith. It says we are punished only for our own sins - and your situation is not sin in any way I would define that word.

4) Since honest mistakes do not require confession, there is no absolute need to see a Bishop about this situation, unless you feel you need to do so. Now that you are aware of this, it is fine if you start paying tithing again and leave it at that. I can't say that strongly enough. You do not need to "confess" this or speak with your Bishop about it, unless it is important to you that you do so. Realize that if you do talk with him, there is a chance he will take a hardline stance.  Most Bishops will not; yours might.  His reaction is out of your control. 

5) My most personal advice: BREATHE! Take a long, slow, deep breath and use this as a learning experience to understand grace better and feel the power of our construction of the Atonement. You didn't do anything wrong, and you aren't going to be punished by God for an honest mistake.  Even if it had been a conscious decision, there is nothing in our theology or the Church Handbook of Instructions that dictates payment of "back tithing" if you are unable to do so. 

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