Why I pay tithing

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and Mississippi in 2005, among the first responders were an emergency team from the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains a group of trucks in the southeast United States that is dispatched right after a storm to help people who may have lost their homes and their lives. My former stake president, an executive at Ryder trucks, helped plan this emergency response unit.

The trucks are filled with just about everything needed: food, water, clothing, blankets, first aid. Then trucks roll in with chain saws, gasoline, more food, tents and other emergency gear. As you may remember, government on all levels completely failed the victims of Hurricane Katrina, but the Church did not. We gave comfort to hundreds of thousands of people within hours after the storm.

But the effort did not end there. Thousands of volunteers from throughout the southeast poured into the stricken area for months afterward to help people rebuild their homes. I helped organize one trip, which is described here. Twenty-eight people from South Florida drove in five vans from Miami to southern Mississippi to help people rebuild their homes. As I say in the story, a Baptist minister, hostile to the Mormons, said he would never say a bad word again after seeing the outpouring of Christian love.

The absolutely disgusting hit job on the Church by Businessweek magazine of course ignores the difference between a secular business and a Church that exists to bring people to Christ. The story makes a passing reference to humanitarian efforts but of course ignores successes like Hurricane Katrina.

The Businessweek story fails on all levels. Readers do not come away having any understanding whatsoever of why people like myself are willing to give at least 10 percent of our earnings and hundreds of hours every year to the Church.

So let me try to explain: the Church succeeds where most other organizations fail. The Church helps people on this Earth and, I believe, in the eternities. Temple work helps bring salvation to millions who cannot help themselves. The Church obviously spends a lot of money on temples; anybody who has looked at one can see the quality of the work. The Businessweek story does nothing to explain why hundreds of thousands of people would travel for hours to go to a temple, and why so many people volunteer every week or every month to serve there. Completely ignored are the stories of faithful Latter-day Saints, like those in interior Brazil, who would travel for weeks by boat and bus just to get to a temple for a few days. How can such faith be explained without an understanding of the burning desire to provide charity to others?

My ward in Colorado has service events several times a month. We have sent dozens of volunteers to help build Habitat for Humanity houses in our town. I have met the new owners of these homes. They are humble, hard-working people who are grateful for the thousands of hours spent to help them have a place to live. After a snow storm hit our town in October, cutting electricity to thousands of people, we went door to door helping people affected by the storm. Just next week, nearly everybody in our ward, including young children, will participate in service projects in our county to clean up parks, paint buildings and volunteer where needed.

I have witnessed bishops meeting with people who need assistance. Never is a truly needy person turned away. Tithing goes to help people who have lost their jobs, or need a little extra help paying an electricity bill. I witnessed the case of one man, who was not a member of the Church, coming to the bishop after the boat he lived in was destroyed in a hurricane. Without asking any questions, the bishop got out the check book and wrote a check for the man.

There are a lot of different volunteer organizations around, but why is the Church so successful? Because of the faith of its members. Everybody talks about volunteering, but fewer people actually do it. The Church provides an effective, focused vehicle for people to channel their desire for service into action. In my ward, the opportunities for service are constant.

When I write my monthly tithing check, and my monthly fast offering check, I do not give a thought to where the money goes. I already know it will be well-spent. My local leadership are volunteers, people who work 40 hours a week in one job and give at least another 20 to 30 hours a week in service to others. They are humble, Christ-like people. I often think: “if only I could give more.”

The Savior gave everything he had, his life and his blood and flesh, for other people. We are not asked to do that, we are asked to give our time and a percentage of our money. If only I could give more.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

52 thoughts on “Why I pay tithing

  1. Triple LIKE this! What a great post! I love paying my tithing because I know it helps people, truly helps people.

  2. Great post. I too thought the Bloomberg article was very unfair and misleading. The only difference you and I have on this is that I don’t think tithing should be classified as charity. Even if the church spends no money on charity (which it does, but not it’s most important mission), that is fine, because as members, we are taught to do the charitable giving ourselves. The church exists to build up the kingdom of God. The members of the church exist to eradicate malaria. We shouldn’t feel our tithing abdicates our responsibility to give charitably. It’s like being in a socialist country and saying we don’t have to give to charity because it’s done through taxes.

  3. I love this! I agree with Nate, though, paying tithing doesn’t absolve us of the necessity of charitable giving.

  4. Love it! Great perspective! My one wish for improvement is greater church aid for non-member chronic third world malnutrition, thirst and easily curable diseases.

  5. Thanks for helping out in Louisiana. I’ve read some other pieces on tithing, how some members consider themselves as paying tithing when they instead give their money to charitable causes. Giving to charitable causes is great, but it isn’t “tithing” , even if it is 10% of one’s income. And paying money to charitable causes certainly doesn’t keep the lights on and the air conditioning blowing in the chapel. Like you, I don’t give a moment’s thought to how my money is being used. I don’t need to see accountability. I don’t need to see disclosures. If I had any doubt this wasn’t Christ’s church lead by a living prophet, I simply wouldn’t give. We’re encouraged to give of our time and money to help our community, nation and world. Most of us aren’t in a position to leave employment and family to spend months helping out in a part of the world where natural disaster has occured. I pay a generous fast offering because like you, I’ve seen first hand the assistance the church provides in times of need. I’m thankful for whatever effort the church expends providing humanitarian aid.

  6. I don’t get why you call it a hit piece, nor what’s disgusting about it. It doesn’t focus on all the volunteer and charitable services that people in the Church provide, because it’s not about the Church as a church, it’s about the business aspects of the Church. After all, it’s a business magazine, not a religion magazine. Business is what its readers are interested in.

  7. Agellius, the cover is highly offensive, touching on one of the most sacred events in LDS history in a crass and frankly disgusting way. To put it in Catholic terms, it is like accusing Peter of being the first Roman bishop so he could make a profit, an absolutely ludicrous claim.

    I am a former journalist. The writer made absolutely no attempt at balance. There was no attempt to explain why anybody would ever pay tithing. There was no attempt to explain what the money is used for (ie, for temples, chapels and missions, which we consider sacred). The implication is that, like some Marxist screed, profits are bad and corporations are bad and run by evil men wearing black hats and smoking cigars. Very, very poor journalism overall.

  8. Geoff: I agree on the cover illustration, I forgot about that. As far as the rest, I can only say that I didn’t get the impression that you seem to think it gives. For example I don’t see any obvious implication that the prophets are in it for the money. I do see attempts at balance in several places.

    I think it’s to be expected that when a secular journal does a news piece on a religious organization, they’re going to “miss the point” in a lot of ways, and say certain things that come across as offensive to that religion’s members. Believe me, I see it constantly in regard to stories on Catholicism. All I’m trying to say is that to a non-Mormon, this one doesn’t make the Church look all that bad.

    Some people will find the very idea of the Church owning and running corporations to be strange and even wrong, but you can’t help that. It’s just a fact that the Church does so. But I think the article does a fairly good job of expressing why it does so, from the Church’s point of view.

    For example it quotes Keith McMullin as saying, “It’s for furthering the aim of the church to make, if you will, bad men good, and good men better”, and “for the purpose of lifting and strengthening people”;

    Sheri Dew as saying the Church’s business are “focused on building people and strengthening the lives and well-being of individuals”;

    Church spokesman Michael Purdy as saying, “Though the church’s monetary donations are significant, much of the ‘value’ of our service is not monetary, but in the hundreds of thousands of hours of service and the talent and expertise given by church members to help others around the world.”

    It does also contain some comments critical of the situation, but what do you expect? Presumably they’re trying to be balanced, or at least appear balanced, by presenting more than one side.

  9. I think what most people, including members, fail to realize is that the Church’s business enterprises are almost completely independent of its ecclesiastical organization. Funds don’t really ever pass between the two groups, from what I understand. My tithing goes to build up the Church and kingdom of God (temples, meeting houses, church materials, educational institutions, missions, etc.). The profits from the Church’s businesses go to build up those businesses. Yes, those businesses are at the disposal of the Church if it needs them, and vice versa, but generally they are run as independent businesses from what most recognize as “the Church.”

  10. Great post and I agree completely with it.

    Tithing can only narrowly not be considered charity if you consider that members have made a covenant to pay it. They may only be fulfilling an obligation.

    Tithing is charity. That does not absolve members from being generous over and above 10% in fast offerings, and other donations to the church or other charities.

  11. Bryce, re: your number 9, I think you are probably correct that the two things (tithing and business enterprises) keep their finances separate. But this has not been the case in the past, and it may not be the case in the future. During the 19th century, there was a general mixing of funds for temple building and businesses. Now, to be frank, I don’t think we as members know where all the funds go, and I don’t think we should care. I think we should put everything in a big bucket called “consecration,” which includes time, tithing, fast offerings, PEF and any other charitable giving. But this bucket also may include “performing a mission for a for-profit church enterprise,” in which the Church earns money. Some of that money may go to other businesses, and some may go to build a temple in Ulan Bator. I think mentally we need to just categorize it as consecration and leave it at that.

  12. Interesting. I don’t think I agree. I think it makes a difference whether tithing funds go to directly support the mission of the Church or whether they are going to build a Tiffany’s. I think the Church cares too, as they have made a point in saying that NO tithing funds were used to build the City Creek Center mall. Why would they say that? I think there is an important line of distinction when considering ecclesiastical funds being used for ecclesiastical purposes, and business funds being used for business purposes. Even in the recent news release the Church noted that tithing funds are used in 5 key areas – places of worship, education programs and institutions, missionary program, temples, welfare and humanitarian aid, and I imagine it is these areas the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spend the majority of their time. I believe the Church keeps its ecclesiastical and business enterprise arms separate and mostly independent for important reasons. I conceive we don’t tithe so the Church can make money in its business endeavors. Those are sacred funds used for sacred purposes.

  13. There have been dozens of mainstream articles about the Church’s finances over the past decade or so, probably hundreds of blog posts, and thousands and thousands of comments. There are comments about people whose faith has been adversely affected over issues like these. It has been a big headache and is likely even playing into presidential politics.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. The Church could simply do what nearly every other reputable non-profit organization does: publish a public accounting of its finances to which its millions of members contribute. If there is nothing to hide, why hide it? Show where the money from contributions goes. People may argue about whether it is better to spend money on a temple or to subsidize education at BYU or on welfare or on humanitarian need – so be it. But it would put to rest all of the talk about using it to build malls.

  14. Mike S, you may want to consider the fact that there is a reason such details are not disclosed. If you are thinking you are smarter than modern-day prophets, you are in for a sore disappointment.

  15. I don’t know that anyone is smarter or dumber than anyone else. Everyone has areas where they know something more than someone else, and many areas where they know less. Besides, my intelligent has nothing to do with the comment but seems like an ad hominem statement. I have always paid a full tithing for the 40+ years I’ve been alive and aware of the concept. Like you, I pay it in trust that something good is coming of it. And even in times when I wonder, I still pay it out of a sense of duty or obligation.

    But, with all of the scrutiny concerning the Church’s finances, it seems that saying something more than “Trust us” would help defuse many things. For better or for worse, society is trending towards more access to information, towards more openness, towards more transparency. It is what people are coming to expect. Like you, I feel the Church is lead by honest men with entirely genuine intentions. Like you, I feel that many of the leaders who ARE getting paid have given up hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from what they were previously making to serve. I don’t think there is anything to hide – so why act like there is? Just put it out there. I honestly don’t think it would be anything worse than the increasing criticism that is a result of the current policy.

    But what value is my opinion? I’m just a dumb member of the church and should just accept that.

  16. I trust that the Prophet, his counselors, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles know, in ways many of us cannot begin to fathom, what is best for the Church, and will make the right decisions. We can certainly speculate and imagine what “might” be best for the Church, and I think that is ok in small bite size pieces, but the Lord actually does know best, and He heads this church.

  17. Mike S, there are simply some issues a church member has to accept on faith. I can think of many reasons for keeping financial info opaque, and none of them have to do with anything shady. Have you considered that the opponents of the Church would love to know all of its holdings so they could manipulate the stock or hack their computers? I have no idea why Church leaders do not open up the books, but i trust them to make the right decision.

  18. GeoffB, I appreciate your insights. It is a comfort to hear your words regarding what the Church does following a tragedy. I am grateful for those who give of their income and also who sacrifice their time and energy on behalf of others.

  19. Until there are actual malfeasance issues brought legally against the church then I don’t care what it does with the money and resources. If the top officials start living in exclusive mansions and live the high life (teievangelis like) then I will start to be concerned. I still think the idea that the top leadership gets paid is highly overblown. How many actually are paid a stipend? Most seem able to live off thier own retirement. I will even guess as good as anyone else that they pool personal resources together to help each other out before using other church funds. The question of how the church has and should use resources has been around since Jesus and before that.

  20. It is my understanding that profits _from_ the church-owned businesses go _into_ the church general funds, _and_ go towards investing in more businesses and income-producting assets.

    But, tithing and other donations _never_ (at least for quite some time now) go towards investing in church-owned businesses.

    The church, like any multi-generational non-profit, does have to have _reserves_ (both liquid and otherwise) to protect the core missions of the church from downturns in donations. Those _reserves_ can take many forms, such as stocks, bonds, money market funds, farms and other types of real-estate, etc.

    The church is here for the long term, and real-estate is usually a good long term investment. It not only _appreciates_ in value, but it can _produce income_ at the same time, whether it be a farm, or a hunting preserve, or an office building, or a mall.

    We would never want to see temples or missions have to close because tithing went down too much during a recession.

    We would never want worthy young men to stay home from mission service for the sole reason that their families, wards, and stakes couldn’t afford to support them. That’s another area where church investment income comes into play.

    Most of you young people are too young to remember when every ward/stake had a “temple assessment” when a new temple was built in their area. I rememember my ward’s temple assessment, which we had to raise, for the building of the Chicago temple in the 1980’s. The bishop gave strong talks at priesthood opening exercises about meeting the assessment. That was _in addition to tithing_, fast offerings, ward budget, and your ward’s chapel construction.

    Most of you are also too young to remember chapel-building assessments, where a ward/branch had to raise X% of the cost of building their chapel, so they could get out of rented space and have a real church-owned chapel. That too was in addition to tithing, fast offerings, temple assessments, etc.

    And before that, there was not only a dollar amount to be raised, but so many hours had to be donated to the construction, back when they trusted local members to swing a hammer and pour concrete in building the chapel.

    And most of you probably do remember the “Ward budget” line item on the donation slips. Which was also IN ADDITION to tithing, fast offerings, temple assessments, and your chapel construction fund.

    Ok, so we NO LONGER pay temple assessments, local chapel construction fund, and ward budget. Why? My guess is that the church now has some good income after building up all those investments in land and businesses over the years.

    So…. HOORAY FOR CHURCH-OWNED businesses! It means that the members can pay less, and ONLY pay tithing/fast offerings.

    Profits from church-owned businesses/investments means that the church can DO MORE! And that members have LESS out-of-pocket expenses! That’s WONDERFUL!

    (Yes, you do still see a line item for Temple Construction on donations slips, but it is now NOT specifically asked for or solicited. Your ward/stake no longer has an “assessment” which your bishop talks over with you and everybody is told it HAS TO BE raised before construction on _your_ temple starts.)

  21. I’m not sure that members paying less, with less out-of-pocket expenses for temples and church buildings is necessarily a good thing. It seems like less consecration and sacrifice. Many still misunderstand the revelation on tithing in D&C 119 begins with giving of all your surpluses, and only then giving 10% more of your income, making it a true sacrifice.

  22. Elder Marion G Romney once said, first quoting President Clark, “‘. . . in lieu of residues and surpluses which were accumulated and built up under the United Order, we, today, have our fast offerings, our Welfare donations, and our tithing, all of which may be devoted to the care of the poor, as well as for the carrying on of the activities and business of the Church.’

    “What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations.”

  23. Bryce, Just now reading your comments. Yes, the brethren have said that tithing funds did NOT go into City Creek Mall.

    However, the brethren and other church leaders have _never_ said that profits from church-owned businesses/assets/investments _don’t_ go back into church general funds (IE, back into ecclesiastical endeavors, such as temple/chapel construction, church welfare, church schools, mission work, etc.)

    To the crowd:

    There is NOTHING wrong with honest profit from legally owned businesses being used for ecclesiastical purposes.

    It is not just possible, but quite likely, that profits from church-owned assets/investments/businesses have been used for ecclesiastical purposes.

    And, how did the church come to own those businesses/assets/land in the first place? A lot of it was donated to the church by members, above and beyond their tithing. Romney gifted millions of dollars in stocks to the church. People leave stocks and other assets to the church in their wills, and have done so since the church began.

    And, I would not be surprised, that at one time (and maybe still going on) that in times of plenty, if tithing has exceed the church’s immediate needs, that a percentage of tithing was put into “reserves”, which is a standard and generally accepted accounting practice that is used to protect the income-consuming assets of non-profits (eg, churches) against times of decreased donations.

    EVERY non-profit that lives off of donations, but has ongoing expenditures that it considers _essential_, must have a form of financial protection against downturns in donations which accompany downturns in the economy.

    Private schools, colleges, universities, churches, foundations, and other non-profits usually have what they call “endowments”, a large chunk of assets that provides a steady income. An asset does not have to be in the stock-market. It can be a wholly-owned company. It can be agricultural land. It can be developed real-estate, with housing or office buildings on it.

    For the church’s critics (and some even in the church) to point to church-owned businesses and accuse “How unholy! A business!” is simply foolish.

    Owning a business in it’s entirety is little different than owning stock in a publicly traded company, and morally, it is no different at all.

    EVERY OTHER CHURCH, COLLEGE, and NON-PROFIT which operates on sound financial principles has some form of RESERVES, or ASSETS, which in some cases is called an “endowment”. It may have been a big gift from one big benefactor, or it may be little gifts from many people.

    And quite often, the “endowment” is added to in what are called “capital campaigns”, fund-raising efforts specifically for adding to the endowment/reserve/assets, to increase ongoing revenue from those assets, so that more can be done in furtherance of the organizations goals, without having to _entirely_ rely on annual donations. And thereby, ongoing programs don’t have to be continually adjusted (reduced this year, restored the next) for every dip in donations.

    For the 3 examples I gave in the previous comment, everyone ought to be CHEERING the fact that the church MAKES MONEY! Because then it can DO MORE, and today’s members can PAY LESS than what members in the past were asked to pay.

  24. Bryce, I fully SUPPORT YOUR RIGHT to donate as much money to the church, above and beyond standard 10% tithing and cost-of-2-meals-fast-offering as you and your wife desire and can afford.

    Please, dig as deep in your pockets as your heart desires and your ability affords you. And I say that to anyone. God bless you.

  25. …Many still misunderstand the revelation on tithing in D&C 119 begins with giving of all your surpluses, and only then giving 10% more of your income, making it a true sacrifice.

    Back in the olden days there was no federal tax from which to deduct tithing and surpluses, making it an even truer sacrifice.

  26. Either you really believe in Freedom of Religion or you don’t. Freedom of Religion is far more comprehensive than the anemic tack that the Obama Administration has been taking lately: “freedom of worship”. Huge differences there.

    Freedom of Religion, as enshrined in the Bill of Rights, means that private churches pretty much get to be free with how they raise and manage their money (doing so lawfully, of course). And the government doesn’t get to steal from them. Period.

    I have noticed in recent years rather strident voices complaining that churches don’t “pay their fair share”, whatever that is even supposed to mean. I guess they want churches to contribute to the out-of-control spending and 16 Trillion dollar debt.

  27. I seriously doubt that the framers of the Constitution intended the free exercise clause to mean that all religious activity must be tax exempt. On its face, that is ridiculous, because religious organizations consume government resources just like any other organization.

    Police do come when you dial 911 from a chapel, don’t they? What about fire protection, roads, and defense?

  28. Mark, although I have my problems with the free speech issue of tax exemption, there is a protection side to it as well. A religious institution is free from the state taxing it into oblivion. That is almost what happened to Mormonism. That may not be exact, but the government holding the purse strings is a very powerful tool for control.

  29. “because religious organizations consume government resources just like any other organization.”

    Where did the government get those resources to begin with? 🙂

  30. Several points:

    (1) One thing I’ve learned preparing for marriage is that I can’t discuss my own finances with my parents anymore—at least not in detail—if I ever want to remain free from manipulation and scrutiny. Already, I get questions like, “If you are needing money for x, why did you spend money on y?” The best way to be truly independent financially is to simply keep it private.

    (2) God doesn’t value transparency nearly as much as we do. There have been so many criticisms of the church based on the fact that the gold plates were shown only to a precious few. SO much controversy, doubt, and scrutiny could have been avoided if the entire translation process was publicly verifiable and transparent, and anybody could see the plates, and compare the notes. But God knew of hidden dangers and schemes that we do not know of, and has purposes and plans of which we are not aware. His ways are not our ways, and to criticize the church for not measuring up to the criterion of “good, responsible non-profit organizations” is holding God to an earthly standard that, for all intents and purposes, may differ greatly from His interests.

    (3) When we give money to the church, it is a gift. Have you ever had someone give a gift to you, and then constantly scrutinize how you spend or use it? Like give you a picture, and get offended when it isn’t hanging in your home? Or give you money as a birthday present, and then criticize you for spending it on a game rather than on rent? In those cases, you soon realize that the gift wasn’t really a gift, and that they still own the “gift” in their hearts. To give a gift is to relinquish control over what happens next, and to seek control (and asking for transparency and scrutinizing church business is a form of asking for control) is to retain the gift in one’s heart, and to retain ownership of the gift.

    For example, we don’t consider taxes a “gift” to the government—that’s why we claim a vested interest in how tax money is spent. We tell public servants, “Be cautious with our money—the public money!” It isn’t the government’s money, it’s our money being spent on our behalf. So we demand transparency. We demand accountability.

    Demanding of the church the same transparency we demand of the government implies that God doesn’t really own the money we give His church—we still do. It changes the quorum of the Twelve from God’s representatives acting on God’s behalf in spending God’s money into our representatives acting on our behalf spending our money.

  31. I really appreciate the original post and the clear thinking comments. I have complete and total trust in the Prophet and his associates.

  32. “I have noticed in recent years rather strident voices complaining that churches don’t “pay their fair share””

    I attribute this to envy. Simple envy. We look at the wealth that is being generated for the furtherance of God’s kingdom, and envy the fact that Caesar hasn’t *yet* seized a portion of it, as he has seized a portion of ours. And so we covet that. And rather than rejoicing that the Lord’s work is, as yet, protected from the grasp of Caesar, we wish to end the “injustice” of bearing a burden that God’s church hasn’t been burdened with yet.

  33. Jettboy, it isn’t just religious organizations that are constitutionally free from being taxed into oblivion.

    My point is that a government has no natural obligations with regard to those who pay no taxes. If religious organizations are to be tax exempt as a matter of principle, they also – as a matter of principle – are responsible to provide for their own security, defense, access roads, and so on.

    Government services received without payment in (or in lieu of) taxes aren’t some sort of natural right, but rather something more like a welfare plan.

  34. Mark D, if only you were correct. In general, the idea that people should pay for the things they receive is exactly right. In practice, nearly 50 percent of the population pays no taxes, and they receive all kinds of things from the government, including more than 115 federal welfare programs.

    If there were no taxes, or if taxes were minimal, then of course we could move to churches providing their own security, defense, access roads, etc. (It is worth pointing out that the Constitution DOES provide for national defense but does call for individual organizations to have to provide their own security).

    In some countries, churches receive funds directly from the government but pay taxes, so it all evens out. In our country, we have onerous taxes but exempt religious institutions. Calling for churches to pay these taxes would cause churches to be destroyed, and there goes all of the truly useful charitable work that churches carry out. Not a very wise position.

  35. “If religious organizations are to be tax exempt as a matter of principle, they also – as a matter of principle – are responsible to provide for their own security, defense, access roads, and so on.”

    Mark D, this is pure bosh. Let me tell you why: the parishioners sitting in the pews of the church have already paid their taxes. Thus the idea that the churches are free-loading is silly. Many parishioners have their own businesses — which pay taxes and create jobs, which are filled by people who pay their taxes.

    You can groan about how the church organization itself doesn’t pay a tax, but the vast majority of the members that comprise the organization DO pay their taxes. The idea that the church isn’t worthy of defense, roads, etc., is just absolutely absurd, in my opinion.

  36. the parishioners sitting in the pews of the church have already paid their taxes. Thus the idea that the churches are free-loading is silly. Many parishioners have their own businesses — which pay taxes and create jobs, which are filled by people who pay their taxes.

    I think it’s interesting you argue that people pay taxes individually and thus shouldn’t see their religious institutions taxed. However, then you reference businesses, which pay taxes (and create jobs, which, of course, religions also do). If businesses pay taxes for fire and police protection, why doesn’t that apply to religious meetinghouses?

  37. “If businesses pay taxes for fire and police protection, why doesn’t that apply to religious meetinghouses?”

    Trevor, because of a pesky little thing called the First Amendment. We have “Freedom of Religion” in America, and not just “freedom of worship”. Freedom really does mean being free. I know that some people don’t like certain groups to really be free, but the Constitution guarantees religious freedom, and the Supreme Court has upheld that for over two hundred years. In fact, Freedom of Religion is so settled constitutionally-speaking that earlier this year the Supreme Court ruled against the Obama Administration 9-0 in a certain case involving the firing of a church employee: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/01/supreme-court-backs-church-in-landmark-religious-liberty-case/

    You might want to read this page, in case you’re rusty on the concept of religions being free in the US: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_religion_in_the_United_States

    Churches and religions have a lot of freedom, for which I’m grateful. You should be too.

  38. chris, bringing up Reynolds does nothing to take away anything I said about religious freedom or the First Amendment. Nice try, though. No, I mean seriously, nice try. You bring up a Supreme Court ruling from 1878 in order to pretend that churches in the 21st century ought to pay taxes. And Reynolds had nothing to do with taxes. But that’s beside the point, right, chris? 😉

    Should we still follow Plessy v. Furguson? We could play this game all day.

    Yes, Freedom of Religion, like Freedom of Speech, is not totally UNLIMITED. There are certain limits to those freedoms. However, those limits are well defined and literally hundreds of years of Supreme Court rulings have honed the doctrines down to a pretty fine tee.

    Here’s a question for you, though, Chris: Did you even click on the link detailing the 9 – 0 decision IN FAVOR of religious freedom? If not, please click on the link, read the article. Bringing up Reynolds is, quite frankly, a ridiculous attempt to undermine where we CURRENTLY stand in America with respect to religious freedoms.

    I mean, think about it this way: the four liberal justices ruled with the conservatives on the Tabor church ruling, for a unanimous 9 – 0 decision. You guys are all about following the Supreme Court’s enlightened wisdom, right chris? 😉

  39. Reynolds v United States upheld religious liberty and emphasized it was nearly unlimited except when it came to confrontations with English common law, which has for centuries prohibited bigamy. It is completely legitimate to recognize that religious liberty must have some limits. For example, a church that performs human sacrifice cannot be allowed “complete religious freedom” when its precepts violate the natural law to life. But the concept of religious freedom in the First Amendment has clearly been upheld by the courts, as recently as this year.

    There are two primary reasons for the church’s tax exempt status: 1)religious liberty and 2)the charitable functions of churches. As mentioned above, churches perform charitable functions so that government does not have to. There has long been a recognition that churches can perform charitable acts more efficiently than government because of volunteerism and the dedication of church representatives. Taxing churches would literally cause most of them to disappear, thus ending the useful charitable activities of churches.

    The IRS lists more than 28 categories of organizations that are tax-exempt. These include fraternal organizations, educational organizations and secular charities. The reason for these organizations being tax exempt is obvious: they are performing charitable functions that are important to government. Any Mormon who concentrates on the church’s tax-exempt status is ignoring the overall purpose of tax exemption. If there is anything we have learned, it’s that the Church actually does a pretty good job of providing charity, especially compared to some of the alternatives out there. Opposing the Church’s tax-exempt status is condemning the poor and needy to needless suffering.

  40. Reynold shows us that the court will find whatever reasoning necessary to either do what they prefer or uphold overwhelmingly popular opinion. Rarely does the court start with the constitution as written but they have their preferred outcome (with a mix of societal observation) and find a way to shoehorn that into the constitution.

    Its only a matter of politics and time that keeps the courts from allowing taxation. I don’t see how and observation of the courts history would suggest otherwise.

    Momonchess – just because people were biased one way in their reasoning 100 years ago doesn’t mean it won’t happen again.

    And I say this while being happy that plural marriage is not ask of us and don’t want churches taxed. But I don’t know how you can see some opinions of the ninth circuit and not see a real possibility the courts could head that way.

  41. chris,

    Thanks for the clarification. I still don’t think you addressed the link I showed you: a 9 – 0 victory for religious freedom that seems to undercut your notion that the judiciary is about to apply positivist law to churches in America. To fall into my southern idiom: ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

  42. ldsphilosopher,

    Your points in #31 do not, I think, support the claims you are trying to make. Firstly, the church’s relationship to its members is not similar to the relationship you have with your parents. Further you imply that transparency increases manipulation and scrutiny. Coupling manipulation and scrutiny suggests that scrutiny is a negative and I am not sure why it is a bad thing. Assuming there was greater transparency and that this led to greater scrutiny of the way the church handles its finances; what do you see as the potential negatives in such a situation? I see that the church would have to spend time and effort justify specific choices regarding how the money has been spent, which would still fundamentally rely on an act of faith of the members but which would, I think also reassure people that the finances are being handled with care and thought. For me this is not clear cut either way.

    Additionally, if the church was more transparent, why would manipulation suddenly increase? A strong case could be made that obfuscation allows manipulation while transparency, because it may require justification of expenditure, might constrain such manipulation.

    Again, the comparison between the hidden-ness of the gold plates and the finances of the church does not seem to work very well. Firstly, there has never been a time when the Gold Plates were anything other than revealed to a select few. Secondly, the gold plates were not gifts, as you call tithing, from the membership to the church; rather they were a gift from the Lord to the church. Thirdly, God’s transparency seems to work in a very different way – as it pertains to the spiritual realm than to other domains of life – i.e. the veil which conceals can be penetrated by those with eyes to see – that is, the concealment, to some extent is govern by ability to see – but this does not apply to church’s finances. Fourthly, when you assert that God does not value transparency nearly as much as we do I am sure that you are speaking of transparency in a specific instance. I raise this final point because from God’s vantage point there is only transparency (he knows all that can be known) and therefore if there is concealment it his children who experience concealment. Therefore even in this specific instance I think it wrong to argue that God does not value transparency but rather that there is some sort of logic by which transparency and concealment are negotiated. These do not seem to apply to church finances.

    Finally, to press your metaphor of a gift, it could be argued that a gift is not really a gift if the characteristics of that gift are stipulated up front by the recipient, i.e. if I specify that I want a particular book and none else for my birthday then I think that this too corrupts the nature of the gift. In other words, thinking about tithing as a gift is somewhat useful but I also think it misunderstands the nature of the tithing relationship. Further Elder Holland, among others, has reinforced the notion that tithing is linked with funding specific ecclesiastical purposes and that we should think of tithing providing for those things.

    This was a little longer than I intended, sorry, and there are probably typos.

  43. Aaron R, I have to disagree with you on this one. I will let LDSP argue the fine points if he so desires, but I will make a different argument.

    Central to our financial relationship with the Church is the concept of “consecration.” Consecration means we may be called upon at some point to give *everything* to the Church while right now we are only called upon to give 10-12 percent of our income and perhaps 10 hours a week (at most for most people, more if you are a bishop or stake president). In the past, Latter-day Saints have been asked to move from one place to another, spend hours building a temple or a chapel, etc. Right now, we are at a low ebb in terms of required Church involvement precisely because the Church has invested so well, but we should recognize we are at a low ebb.

    Consecration obviously involves giving your heart to the Church at some point, not just writing checks. Giving your heart involves faith and trusting your leadership implicitly.

    Our leaders have decided right now that investing in businesses is a worthwhile cause. They have also decided that these investments must remain opaque. To me, a person with a lot of business experience, the reason is pretty obvious. It is the same reason that some companies remain private rather than go public. When you go public you are exposed to endless scrutiny, government intrusion, investigations, shareholder lawsuits, corporate takeovers, the board rebelling against management, etc. Just look up what Steve Jobs thought about being ousted by his own board at Apple to get an idea of what happens in a public company. Private companies remain private to avoid drama.

    The Church’s outlining all of the details of its investments would be a huge mistake, especially in a climate where a possible new president is a Mormon and the minority leader of the Senate is a Mormon. Every investment would be scrutinized endlessly by anti-Mormons and Bill Maher, inviting new criticisms at every turn. What if the subsidiary of one company had once allowed pornography (think Marriott). Even though this is a very, very, very minor business, and businesses are endlessly intertwined these days, the criticism would be relentless.

    And here is the bottom line: such scrutiny is completely irrelevant to the Church’s primary purpose, which is to bring people to Christ. Such a discussion would end up being a distraction that would waste time and resources.

    The Church is a private institution that has decided for very understandable reasons to take another route, and I think it is very, very wise. Consecration means that I can say to myself, “my relationship with the Church is that I give and the Church decides what to do with it. This may mean a mission, a calling, or it may need money. I am OK with all of that.” It seems that is where our heart should be, ie, developing a relationship of true consecration.

  44. Geoff B., two quick points: 1) I did not argue that greater transparency was in itself good for the church, just that Rameumpton’s reasons for rejecting it were bad. I can see the strength of the position which sees scrutiny as distraction, I even mentioned it above but I also think that for those who care it is a distraction anyway. 2) I certainly did not say that greater transparency now would be good. I know very little about US politics and so am not able to engage in that conversation.

    Additionally, when I criticized Rameumpton’s reliance on the gift-motif I had in mind the consecration relationship. It is precisely because I think that relationship is different that I think seeing tithing as a gift is inappropriate. At the same time consecration does not imply secrecy regarding how the church uses those consecrated funds. In fact, accountability seems to be an important principle of the gospel in which consecration is embedded; one which moves both up and down the hierarchy.

  45. I’m ok with the intransparency of the church’s finances since it respects the intransparency of my own tithing declarations–they are between the church and the Lord and me and the Lord, respectively. What I find exasperating about the debate is the license a loud minority of members allow themselves to interpret the law of tithing for everyone else while insisting that critics of the church’s finances just mind their own business. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

  46. Peter LLC, I have no idea what you are referring to when you mention a “loud minority of members” interpreting the law of tithing for other people, but if you have people in your ward, or on-line, who are telling other people how they should tithe, I agree with you, these people should shut up. Tithing is really one of the most personal of decisions, as you say between yourself and the Lord (with sometimes a little guidance from the bishop)

  47. By “loud” I mean the abuse of the church setting to promulgate (perhaps well-meaning) prescriptions of what constitutes a “full” tithe, not talks and lessons on the whys, wherefores and blessings of tithing, but outright prescriptions. Recently, a senior missionary used fast and testimony meeting to tell us in no uncertain terms how to tithe(on the gross) and on another occasion a brother lectured the EQ about “the gold standard,” i.e., sticking to the scriptures and handbook is ok, but, really, one can be so much more compliant than that.

    The point is, while we generally do a good job leaving the financial affairs of the church to those called to manage them, we do not seem as comfortable leaving personal affairs to be managed by the individual without using the institutional setting to draw lines in the sand.

  48. Completely agree, Peter LLC. What can I say — sometimes people are stupid. Nobody should tell another person how to tithe, and I would say that good bishops even recognize this. I went to my bishop once to ask for advice, and he said: “you know what the rules are. Take it to the Lord. My only advice is be as generous as you can be.”

    People say all kinds of stupid things, even in my own excellent ward. I just choose to ignore them.

  49. Aaron—

    To whom are church leaders accountable for their expenditures? To us, or to God? Insisting on transparency is an attempt to make them accountable to us. We do not have a divine calling or authorization to make or scrutinize decisions about how the Lord’s funds are spent. They have the priesthood authority and the keys to make those decisions, and they are accountable to God to that decision. To make those with authority from God accountable to those without authority from God is poor judgment indeed.

    Besides, we do not have the insight and access to God’s will that they do. Some of their decisions will surprise us—perhaps anger us. Do you know how much tithing money is invested in BYU? It’s shocking. But it is, right now, God’s priority, for reasons we do not know. They have the authority to discern God’s priorities, and for us to attempt to hold them accountable by scrutinizing their expenditures based on our own wisdom is pure foolishness.

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