Wealth, Tithing and My View of “The Lord’s Financial System”

It is often said, among LDS faithful, that tithing is the “Lord’s Financial System,” or something that conveys the same meaning.  It’s seen as the way we build chapels and temples, finance the administrative functions in the Church (i.e. all that goes on inside the Church Office Building) and pay the bills required to keep all of it running.  There is, it goes without saying, a litany of things required to keep something with 14,000,000 members (approximately) running.

Further, it is argued that the church would simply cease to function if tithing – at least according to the official interpretation – ceased to roll into the church’s financial coffers.  Gordon Hinckley said as much when he argued that the income from the Church’s™ business interests would “keep the Church going for only a very short time.”[1] In this same speech, Hinckley stated that tithing was none other than the “Lord’s law of finance” and the epitome of “simplicity.”  Hinckley further contrasted the simplicity of the “law” of tithing with the “complexity” of our current income tax structure.  Men, Hinckley argues, derive unfathomably complex “laws of finance” while the Lord operates in simplicity.  I actually tend to agree with his argument regarding simplicity, though not for the reasons he asserts.  But, perhaps one should wonder whether our modern day interpretation of tithing is accurate.  I’ll get to that later.

Elsewhere, other church leaders affectionately refer to tithing as “the best investment,” arguing that “if you always pay an honest tithing, the Lord will bless you.  It will be the best investment you will ever make.”[2] Ignore that grammar, focus on the conclusion you draw from that statement.  An investment is nothing more than money laid out with the expectation of profit.  If we apply that logic to the gospel, then we’re left with the conclusion that we invest tithing [money] with the expectation that the “windows of heaven”[3] will be open and we’ll be blessed [profit].

The Promised Land that Isn’t

In a commencement address to BYU graduates this past summer, Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy stated the following:

“You who graduate today stand on your own riverbank or your own ocean shore, on the edge of your futures. You look off into the distant years before you, searching the horizon for your own promised land that flows with milk and honey. In a sense, we all do, every day.  … unemployment is higher than it has been in many years. Unresolved wars and stifling deficits obscure our view of tomorrow. … One could lose heart, seeing a future that awaits but doesn’t entice. It could look like a land of promise without much promise. But the Lord always offers each of us a promised land. You can be sure of that. The promised land—your promised land—really is there. If you follow the admonition of the Lord, you really will inhabit that rich land and harvest its blessings—milk, honey, and all. Everything you have learned at BYU points toward a land laden with promise, luxuriant in opportunity, and waiting with wonder. … the promised land today is not likely to be a place like it was in Old Testament times or even for the pioneers. Instead, the promised land is a way of life.”[4]

Later, Clayton argues that the generation has no equal in terms of training and preparation.

“Today you cross a modern Red Sea or River Jordan as you graduate from BYU and move on. No generation has been better trained or more richly prepared for its future.”[5]

This is merely one example where we’re taught, today, the idea that the doctrine of gathering is no longer.  Today we’re instructed that the promised land is merely a way of life that comes about when we take advantage of our training and preparation.  Then, as we take advantage of those things we’re promised a rich land and harvest – “milk, honey, and all.”  I’ll leave the meaning of that verbiage to the reader.  It seems to me, though, that Clayton is suggesting that wealth, among other things, is waiting for those who use the preparation and training the church gives.

When I read that this past summer I was taken aback, unsure of the logic of relating the promised land with a way of life.  Granted, for a people who’ve been toiling in Babylon for 180+ years, perhaps it’s to be expected.  After so many years have ticked away on the calendar of life, at what point to we start forgetting about Zion.  Approaching Zion, a collection of a number of Hugh Nibley essays, was published over 20 years ago.  It’d be hard to argue that those 20 years have produced a better understanding of Zion and/or a Church™ that is closer to Zion.

And yet, on one hand, Clayton is correct.  The way we live our lives is the start of something and it necessarily begins with us.  No one else can lead our lives for us.  No one else can dictate what we do, choose or are.  That lies – and necessarily so – with us.  It’s a matter that is strictly between us and Christ.  And yet, that is merely a starting point.  Whereas Clayton (and many others) imply that this way of life is an end all and represents Zion – after all, Zion is the pure in heart and can be found wherever we are.  Zion, it is correct, is the pure in heart.  However, to suggest that Zion is found wherever we are ignores an integral part of Zion.  Namely, retuning to Approaching Zion, Nibley argues the following:

“[Zion] is not a society or religion of forms and observances, it is strictly a condition of the heart.  Above all, Zion is pure, which means “not mixed with any impurities, unalloyed”; it is all Zion and nothing else.  It is not achieved wherever a heart is pure or where two or three are pure, because it is all pure – it is a society, a community, and an environment into which no unclean thing can enter. … It is not even pure people in a dirty environment, or pure people with a few impure ones among them; it is the perfectly pure in a perfectly pure environment.”[6]

It should be said that I tend to agree with Nibley on this.  It’s one thing to say that Zion begins with the pure in heart, and an entirely different thing to suggest that Zion ends at that point without discussing the doctrine of gathering, which just happens to be one of those “lost” doctrines.  Lost in the sense that, today, it’s largely ignored and when it is taught it’s taught in a way that disavows any real communal gathering, instead focusing on such gatherings as take place in church buildings on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  This would be all well and good, were it merely described and labeled as a precursor, but with teachings like what Clayton shared to BYU graduates, it seems that the idea of a precursor is nowhere in sight.  And that, to me, is most unfortunate.

“Money … Should Be Used as a Means of Achieving Eternal Happiness”

Previously, I shared a portion of a transcript which related the idea that the promised land, today, is one which gives us material blessings – food, money and wealth.  This, however, isn’t a new idea or teaching.  It’s been around for eons or, at the very least, centuries.  The goal of our existence, it would seem, is to create, engender and facilitate the growth of wealth.  Just now, as I opened up Yahoo.com, the lead article was little other then how we can go from “mowing laws to building multi-million-dollar businesses.”[7] The subject of that article recounted how he “was always motivated by making money” – from selling night crawlers as a kid, to mowing lawns, to selling multi-million dollar businesses.  The first comment to the story reinforced this idea:  “…oh how I wish I could replicate what you did,” while others laud him for his hard work.  The interview retold in that article isn’t actually that bad, and I can see myself in a lot of the things this man shared.  After all, all too often we’re told that our hard work is what is needed in this economy – stop siphoning off all that is the welfare state and get to work, you lazy bum!

Indeed, it has been said:

“You are moving into the most competitive age the world has ever known.  All around you is competition.  You need all the education you can get.  Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world.  That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you can education and proficiency in your chosen field.”[8]

Others have reiterated the idea that we must “complete as much formal, full-time education as possible” and that any funds we use on such education is “money well invested.”[9]

While Hinckley compares our true worth with education and monetary value, Ashton tells us that we must “repent” in order improve our “money-management skills.”  In this same talk, Ashton reiterates that we simply must “teach family members early the importance of working and earning” money (emphasis is mine), not to mention the importance of “involv[ing] yourself in a [life] insurance program,” while also counseling us to “cope with existing inflation.”[10]

But, ironically, this is not all.  Ashton concludes his thoughts on money with this beauty:

“Money in the lives of Latter-day Saints should be used as a means of achieving eternal happiness. … God will open the windows of heaven to use in these matters if we will but live close to Him … .”[11]

Hugh Nibley once related the following story on this topic:

In my latest class a graduating honors student in business management wrote this–the assignment was to compare oneself with some character in the Pearl of Great Price, and he quite seriously chose Cain:

Many times I wonder if many of my desires are too self-centered. Cain was after personal gain. He knew the impact of his decision to kill Abel. Now, I do not ignore God and make murderous pacts with Satan; however, I desire to get gain. Unfortunately, my desire to succeed in business is not necessarily to help the Lord’s kingdom grow [a refreshing bit of honesty]. Maybe I am pessimistic, but I feel that few businessmen have actually dedicated themselves to the furthering of the church without first desiring personal gratification. As a business major, I wonder about the ethics of business–“charge as much as possible for a product which was made by someone else who was paid as little as possible. You live on the difference.” As a businessman will I be living on someone’s industry and not my own? Will I be contributing to society, or will I receive something for nothing, as did Cain? While being honest, these are difficult questions for me.

They have been made difficult by the rhetoric of our times. The Church was full of men in Paul’s day “supposing that gain is godliness” (1 Timothy 6:5) and making others believe it.  (Leaders and Managers.)

Not only, are the “windows of heaven” assumed to mean financial prosperity, as shown in Ashton’s last quote, but we’re also instructed that whatever money we earn here on this earth should be used to achieve “eternal happiness.”  It’s as if money could, indeed, buy happiness.  It is true that it’s all too easy to pick and choose statements from Church™ leaders on these subjects, but I’m specifically not trying to do this.  Statements like these are everywhere and can be found in virtually any general conference – I found the above quotes within less than two minutes on LDS.org.  The Church™, it would seem, is merely reflecting the world we live in.  Given how easily the lost-doctrine of gathering was abdicated during the Great Depression, members across the world were forced to live and adapt to the Babylonian society around them.  Now, approximately 80 years later, there’s nary a blip on the radar when we link money to the “windows of heaven” and suggest that wealth and prosperity are not only necessary, but recommended courses of action for all of us.

Wealth Can’t Possibly Be All That Bad, Can It?

That’s a good question.  I’ve long thought that there wasn’t anything wrong with being wealthy, of having more than was needed.  Nearly every American is likely viewed as “wealthy” by those living in Africa, where per capita GDP is somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 annually.  True, their “expenses” are likely less, but if you thrust an average citizen of Liberia[12] into an average American neighborhood odds are they’d be shocked at the bounty they’re confronted with – that is until they acclimate to their surroundings.

Avoiding those nuances, the scriptures decry wealth, riches and everything in between.  Nephi, for example, states, “”wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world.  For because they are rich they despise the poor.[13] In other words, the very fact that you (or I or anyone) are wealthy demonstrates your sinfulness.  In order to become wealthy, you have to despise the poor.  Or, at least that’s how Nephi phrases it.  Paul[14] seems to suggest that anything beyond food and clothing is more than we need.  Jacob tells us that we should be share all of our substance with those in order that there are no poor among us.[15] In other words, we’re supposed to give away all of our excess wealth until all are equal.  Excess wealth, by definition, is anything above and beyond our basic needs.  Joseph Smith was told that the entire world is in sin because we’ve allowed people to possess more than others.[16] Further, the Lord himself stated that when we fail to impart our portion to others, we assure ourselves of being counted among the wicked and experiencing the torment of hell.[17] Elsewhere Christ reiterated that we’re not to lay up any treasures at all while here on earth.[18] The love of money is the root of all evil[19], but what exactly is this love?  Strong’s Concordance suggests the Greek word used in this instance is Philarguria and derives from what we know today as avarice[20] and greed.  Others, still, have defined this “love of money” as little more than “the desire to have money in the bank.”

Elsewhere, again, Christ deplored the mentality we have to set aside those things which ensure our bounteous living.  In giving this, perhaps one of His most poignant parable, Christ responds to a fellow who was hoping Christ could convince his brother to share an inheritance with him:

“And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?  And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of acovetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.  And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:  And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to abestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, aSoul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, beat, drink, and be merry.  But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy asoul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?  So is he that layeth up atreasure for bhimself, and is not rich toward God.”[21]

Later on in that same chapter, Christ reminds us to sell what we have and give alms.[22] But, before continuing on, it might be instructive to pause and re-read that last bit of Luke 12.  The parable is of a rich man who was, once again, richly blessed – so much so that he found himself with no room to store his goods.  So, like any normal human, he decided that it was in his best interests to build bigger and better storehouses (yes, plural) for his goods.  Then, after laying up his goods in his newly built retirement account, he can say to himself, “Soul, thou has much goods laid up …,” it’s now time to rest and enjoy.

Perhaps it’s also instructive that the Lord’s prayer reminds us that we’re to pray for our “daily bread[23],” an oft overlooked reminder that we’re truly dependent on the Lord and no one else.

Moroni, similarly, condemned our day, practices and churches – especially with regard to our use of money.  In ripping us up and down for our selfish ways, he stated:

“Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.  And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.  For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.  O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?  Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?”[24]

In other words, we think we’re pretty special, wear what we consider to be special clothes, our churches (yes, all of them) are polluted because of this pride and, unfortunately, we love our money, material possessions, nice clothes and our fancy chapels/churches more than we love the poor, needy, sick and afflicted.  And, because of these behaviors, we’re considered both polluted and hypocritical.  No mincing of words there.

A similar article on this subject suggests that there’s a rather simple test to decide whether our hearts are set on riches:  do you possess or desire costly apparel?[25] I think it’s a bit more complicated than that, but it’s a significant indicator.  I’d also expand that question to include imparting our substance to the poor and needy, among others[26].  The original author also suggests that “for each excess penny (i.e. the smallest unit of monetary measure) one has to decide whether he will accumulate it, or give it away.”  Likewise, it’s impossible to simultaneously accumulate excess and give it away to the poor, hence the Lord’s injunction that we can’t serve two masters.  Either we’re serving Him, or we’re serving ourselves (via riches and money).  Indeed, serving the Lord implies that we’re focused on the present and our present needs.   When we concern ourselves with future needs and obligations – from a monetary perspective – we’re forgetting these teachings and, unfortunately, despising the poor.

So Just How Does This Relate to Tithing?

Thought you’d never ask.

As discussed previously, tithing is synonymous with the “Lord’s law of finance” or the “Lord’s monetary system,” or even the “Lord’s revenue system.”[27] Paying your tithing, per our current interpretation of Malachi 3:10, will result in the “windows of heaven” unlatching themselves and dumping material blessings down on you and your loved ones.  In fact, James E. Talmage went so far as to say that the blessings of tithing are “beyond estimate, as gaged by the coin of the realm, [and] are assured unto him who strictly conforms to the law of the tithe because the Lord has so commanded.”[28] When it comes time to paying your bills or paying your tithing, tithing comes first.  When it comes to feeding your family or paying your tithing, tithing comes first.  Why?  Simply because we’re promised blessings in the form of the “coin of the realm” (i.e. our currency).  Tithing is, after all, fire insurance.  In fact, Marion G. Romney, as a member of the first presidency, once stated that “tithing is worthwhile as fire insurance.”[29] Indeed, Romney continues, “tithing is, in a very real sense, a form of fire insurance – insurance against burning, both in this life and in the life to come.”

That’s the logic these days.  And it’s the same logic that’s been around for decades, if not longer.  It’s the way I was raised and the way I thought for many, many years.  Only recently have I began to see a movement afoot, if only a cyber-movement which is beginning to challenge the status quo.  More and more, various blogs and writings have started to call into question both the way and the method with which we pay our tithes – and rightfully so, I believe.

WeepingForZion, after sitting through a Sacrament meeting where the speaker reiterated that we pay our 10% tithing no matter how hard it may be for us, discussed D&C 119 and stated, “…there is no tithing without consecration, as consecration is the beginning of the tithing of the people.  However, we have left that law out and made tithing a law to itself.”  One of the comments to this entry replied with an interesting analysis on 3 Nephi 24:7-12 and 4 Nephi, following which that author replied:  “… the true principle of tithing is only made possible by consecration.”[30] Zo-ma-rah, in discussing the differences between D&C 119 and the “law” we preach today, responded, “if there is a contradiction between the Lord’s Word and what a prophets speaks then the Lord’s Word trumps everything.”[31] PureMormonism likewise has discussed tithing frequently in recent months, shedding light on Daymon Smith’s book (The Book of Mammon), wherein he points out, “When instituted by Joseph Smith in the 1830’s tithing wrought a very small revenue stream, and it was designed to be small in order to prevent just the sort of dominating ‘Church’ that now governs and patrols, steals the very name, and surveys and takes and gives what it believes best to congregations.”[32] It should go without saying that others[33] have discussed tithing in past years, but the frequency with which the topic is being discussed in recent months has given me some food for thought.

What I would like to focus on, though, is the point emphasized in Daymon Smith’s book – shared by PureMormonims – namely, that tithing was meant to produce a very small revenue stream.  When Lorenzo Snow gave his talk on tithing back in 1899 the impetus for his talk was to help alleviate the financial struggles of the church – not enough tithing was flowing in to cover the obligations the institution was taking on.  A CES manual suggests that members simply stopped paying tithing because they feared the federalistas would confiscate whatever property they gave as a tithe.  This same manual further states that “the Lord revealed to President Snow” that the church needed to pay a “full and honest tithe” in order to rid the church of its debts.

LeRoi Snow, Lorenzo’s son, reported to the Deseret News (the church owned newspaper):

“…the law of tithing had been neglected by the people, also that the Saints, themselves, were heavily in debt, as well as the Church, and now through strict obedience to this law – the paying of a full and honest tithing – not only would the Church be relieved of its great indebtedness, but through the blessings of the Lord this would also be the means of freeing the Latter-day Saints from their individual obligations, and they would become a prosperous people.”[34]

Lorenzo’s exact words, as reported in the Millenial Star, were:

“The word of the Lord to you is not anything new; it is simply this:  the time has now come for every Latter-day Saint, who calculates to be prepared for the future and to hold his feet strong upon a proper foundation, to do the will of the Lord and to pay his tithing in full.  That is the word of the Lord to you, and it will be the word of the Lord to every settlement throughout the land of Zion.”[35]

The CES manual concludes by reminding readers that:

“…the saints obedience to that call eventually brought the Church out of debt … and established a firm temporal foundation for the kingdom of God.  Much of today’s growth in temples, chapels and other buildings and Church programs around the world is the direct result of the temporal prosperity of the Church that came, and still comes, as the result of Saints living the law of tithing.”

To me, these statements raise several questions that should probably be answered.  Namely, (a) Lorenzo Snow reminded members in “every settlement throughout the land of Zion” to pay a full and honest tithe, but what does that mean, especially if he’s referring to the “land of Zion” and, (b) is tithing supposed to be used to fund the vast construction projects of the church – chapels, temples, other buildings, etc.?

As discussed previously, D&C 119 specifically notes that there is no tithing absent consecration.  Likewise, Snow himself declared that his statement was “the word of the Lord” on this issue.  If that is the case, then I find it unfortunate that there is no mention of consecration outside the settlements of Zion and, further, it should be noted that shortly following this statement the church morphed from an “in-kind” donation form of tithing to a cash based system.  Based on the last question, this statement by Snow is essentially asking individual members to pay off the loans the church took out to buy many of the businesses Joseph F. Smith[36] discussed in the Reed Smoot hearings in the early 1900s, among other things.

Biblical Comparison

In order to better understand the purposes for tithing, I turned to the bible to see if it said anything on how it should be used.  In doing so, I came across an interesting article that gives an entirely different viewpoint I thought needed to be brought up.

In responding to Malachi 3:10 (the “robbing God” scripture), the author of this article suggests that the context of that scripture is often lost on us.  He reminds us that Malachi 3:7 tells us how everyone had “gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them.”  But, what were those ordinances and how were they not being kept?  Further, turning to Deuteronomy 14:22-23, Deuteronomy 14:24-26, and Deuteronomy 12:17-19, we read, in each instance, how there was a commandment to “EAT” the tithes.  In each instance the Israelites were instructed to eat their tithes, in a spirit of rejoicing, together with their families, their servants and the Levites.  Or, as the author notes it, “to have fun.”  At no point in these verses did the Israelites leave any portion of their tithes at any appointed place, instead the tithes were to be consumed in “an atmosphere of celebration, sharing, and communion with God.”

Before continuing on, it might be worth reading the entirety of the following verses:

And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.  At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the atithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates:  And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the awidow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.[37]

Based on this scripture (as well as Deuteronomy 26:12), the Levite is allocated a tithe every third year, or, on average, not 10% every year as we currently understand the practice.  Placing this “tithe” “within thy gates” was a way of placing the tithing in a storehouse – indeed, the same storehouse referenced in Malachi 3:10.  But, as referenced above in Leviticus 14, the Levites (the “ministry”) weren’t the only ones with access to the storehouse:  so were the poor AND the fatherless AND the widowed.  This every-third-year tithe was specifically given to bless the widows, the fatherless and those in church ministry.

The original author further states,

“Levites were allocated cities within each tribal land (“within your gates”) in which they were to live with their families and, apart from houses, they were allocated “pasture land”. This pasture land was a part of the storehouse in which the tithes were deposited: some of the tithes were in the form of grain, seed, wine, oil and other farm produce, and some were actually live domestic animals, rather than killed meat. These animals which were received as a tithe were to be pastured till they were taken and killed for food, either by the Levites, or by those in need. Therefore, the storehouse mentioned in Malachi 3 is not the place of worship, but rather a place within each tribal land, easily accessible to the local Levites, the poor and the strangers on their journey.”

Later, in discussing the issue of “increase” as it relates to tithing, an interesting scenario is presented:

“If we check Numbers, chapters 1-3, we will find that there were approximately 30 to 33 Israelites to one Levite. Now, assume 32 Israelites with an ‘increase’ of 100 sheep a year each. If each Israelite would give his tithe of 10 sheep to the Levite, the Levite’s total income would be 320 sheep, of which he would have to give a tithe of 32 sheep to the priests, as per Num.18:26. Each Israelite would be left with 90 sheep out of his ‘increase’. Let’s assume, that was what was needed to feed an average family for a year. On the other hand, each Levite would end up with 288 sheep. If we add the tithe of every third year, the year of tithing, the balance in favour of the Levite would swing even further.

What would the Levite do with all these sheep? If he would use the whole lot to feed his family, the tribe of Levy would become extinct in few generations: they would be dying from overeating at a much higher rate than the rest of Israelites. The second possibility would be that there were so many poor people and strangers, who would consume about two-thirds of tithes, that is, God planned that two-thirds of tithes belong to the poor and strangers.

The third possibility could be that the Levite would consume about 90 sheep, give some to the poor, and be left with a healthy surplus. This surplus sheep would breed and very soon the Levites would have income of their own. By continuing with collection of tithes, they would very soon run out of the pasture land and would be forced to exchange some flock for land. Continuing with this practice for fifty years would probably result in Levites owning all the land in Israel! And then the Jubilee year would come and they would have to return the land to their original owners – back to square one! Would this make sense?

And, of course, there is a fourth possibility: the Levites would consume as much of the tithes as they needed, give some to the poor and the strangers, and sell the rest, get the money into their hands and go and proselyte (evangelise) the world. A real possibility, however, the Word of God makes no mention of it. … The conclusion is obvious: Tithes were not supposed to be used to proselyte (evangelise) the world.

Now imagine, as I concluded from the Scripture, that Israelites give 10% of their income to the Levites every third year only. 32 Israelites with an annual increase of 100 sheep each, would have 300 sheep of increase each in three years. Each one would give 10 sheep (a tithe of the third year) to the Levite, and be left with 290 sheep (for three years) as his increase. The Levite would receive 320 sheep, of which he would have to give his tithe of 32 sheep to the priests, and be left with 288 sheep as his after-tithe income over three years – nearly an EXACT number with which each Israelite would be left. THIS does make sense – this is the principle of equality! … ”

It should be noted that I don’t agree with all of the author’s arguments, but the information is compelling enough that it should be shared.  Returning to Deuteronomy 26:12, this scripture suggests that those tithes (“the THIRD year”) provide the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow with enough to “be filled.”  Paying it every 3 years is somehow enough to satiate their needs.  This suggests that what is given every third year fully provides for each group – none would be left wanting, none would be left poor and, perhaps more importantly, none would be left with gobs and gobs of money to invest for three years and then spend on lavish building programs (which seem to receive funds that were never intended to be used in such a way).

In concluding the article, the author offers the following as the most important points of tithing:

“First of all, it is obedience to God: there is no need to elaborate on this any further.

The second important point is that, through tithing, Israelites expressed their thankfulness to God Who provided for them all those earthly goods that they needed to sustain their lives. Tithe was a token of that appreciation.

The third and important point is that tithing was a vehicle of sharing. This sharing was demonstrated at two levels. Firstly, sharing between the Israelites who received their inheritance from God (the life sustaining land) and those who did not posses such inheritance, the Levites, the strangers and the poor. If we examine the figures, the number of Israelites versus the number of Levites and the percentage that the Israelites were to give to the Levites (one third of 10%) we will find that each would end up with an equal share. This is the principle that was observed in the distribution of manna: one who gathered much had nothing left over and the one who gathered little had no lack.

The second level of sharing was the community sharing, where people would come together with their families and neighbours and share in the atmosphere of joy and celebration before the Lord.

It is worth observing that tithing was not a vehicle to ‘build the kingdom’ or to ‘save the souls’ or to support some other ‘godly’ project.”[38]

When the scriptures discuss the principle of giving and sharing, it speaks of giving and sharing to the poor and needy; taking care of those who have less than we do; alleviating their burdens, their struggles, their perceived injustices.  I’m still looking for a reference on how tithing funds are obligated to be spent on building programs, by the way.

Returning to the previous points, we rob the poor when we focus on wealth; we rob the poor when we insist that we need to build beautiful churches and temples around the world; we rob the poor when we focus more on our clothing than on sharing our abundance with them; we rob the poor when we think of tithing as solely a mechanism whereby we enrich ourselves, as a means of “fire insurance,” all while non-tithe payers become more impoverished.

The True Purposes of Tithing

Deuteronomy 27:19 provides a thoughtful rejoinder on the true purposes of tithing:

“Cursed be he that aperverteth the bjudgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow…”

Christ, likewise, reminds us:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give TO THE POOR, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”[39]

And:

“Sell what you have and give alms … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[40]

Among many, many others.

In the past, I’ve frequently misjudged the evils of Sodom and Gomorrah, focusing largely (solely, in fact) on their sexual trespasses.  Ezekial 16:49, though, gives us some much needed insight, going so far as to suggest that the following was the iniquity”:

“Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister aSodombpride, fulness of bread, and abundance of cidleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”

They had plentiful food, were filled with pride (nice clothing tends to do that) but, perhaps most importantly, they forgot about the poor and the needy.  Much like us today, we focus on our own balance sheets, we review our annual financial condition,[41] and then we give token appreciation for the poor and needy on major holidays (i.e. Thanksgiving or Christmas) while largely forgetting them during the other 363 days of the year.

Daymon Smith noted in his Book of Mammon this same tendency among the Church™:

“Rarely does your money feed the hungry, clothe the poor, or provide for other non-religious forms not published by the Church Office Building or sent forth from the COB.”

“By the time the money comes back from the COB, the Church has generously tithed to the needy from its multibillion dollar revenue stream something on the order of one percent, often in used, tattered clothing and rice and wheat and so on…For all its bluster and public relations about humanitarian aid, The Corporation, in other words doesn’t follow its own rule of tithing.”

Perhaps it’s no wonder why people the likes of Heber J. Grant have lamented that the “heavens are as brass” to them.  When we forget the poor, the needy and the widowed while pillaging church coffers in order to run myriads of businesses we shouldn’t expect anything else.  And, on a personal level, when we reject the poor, needy and widowed while funding our 401(k)’s we shouldn’t be surprised when the Lord looks the other way in our time of need.

It should, perhaps, be noted that almost one year ago, today, the Church™ announced it was adding “caring for the poor and needy” as an “official” purpose of the church.  One can argue the timing of the announcement, but at least it’s there.  Whether that translates into giving away more than 1% of annual tithing revenue remains to be seen – i.e. whether it’s just lip service to quell the feelings many have about the exorbitant investment in things like City Creek Center and other odd investments for a “church.”  Until we refocus our teachings on tithing to discuss giving the majority of that money to the poor, needy and widowed, I’ll continue to have my doubts.  LDSA recently stated that, “Charity is an over-whelming desire and willingness to share all that you have with everyone else.”  I whole heartedly agree and, it would seem, this is the underlying motive behind tithing and giving all of our abundance to help the poor, the needy, the fatherless and the widowed.

Returning to the discussion on one of the reasons why we should be more focused on giving of our substance to the poor, Isaiah penned these words:

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him… And if thou draw out thy soul to the ahungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light brise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the Lord shall aguide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in bdrought, and cmake fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a dspring of water, whose waters fail not.  the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call and the Lord shall answer…”[42]

I discussed these verses elsewhere and would direct you there for further discussion on those.

To me, tithing used to be about doing something measureable, about purchasing “fire insurance,” about making sure I was doing everything I could to unlatch those windows in heaven, sure of the bounteous monetary blessings that would follow.  To me, tithing used to be about doing something that allowed me to get a temple recommend, about “not robbing” God and about doing my part to fund the massive church building, curriculum and administrative programs.  That is what it used to be about.

No longer is tithing about funding a system that takes that money and siphons it directly into interest bearing accounts that toil in Babylon; no longer is it about financing large real estate ventures; no longer is it about using money to achieve happiness.  Those are misdirected motives.

Now, tithing is in the process of being redefined.  And rightfully so.  Hopefully it’s more than just lip service on my end, too.

“But it is not given that one man should apossess that which is above another, wherefore the bworld lieth in csin.” – D&C 49:20.


[1] Hinckley, Gordon B.  The Widow’s Mite.  17 September 1985.

[2] Child, Sheldon F.  The Best Investment.  April 2008 General Conference.

[3] See 3 Ne. 24:10; Malachi 3:10.

[4] Clayton, Whitney L.  Promised Lands.  12 August 2010.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Nibley, Hugh.  Approaching Zion: What is Zion?  A Distant View.  1989.

[8] Hinckley, Gordon B.  New Era.  April 2009.  Page 17.

[9] Ashton, Marvin J.  One for the Money.  July 1975 Ensign.  Page 73.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Liberia at a Glance.”  GDP for Liberia is actually $170US per year.

[13] See 2 Ne. 9:30.

[14] See 1 Tim. 6:8.

[15] See Jacob 2:17.

[16] See D&C 49:20.

[17] See D&C 104:16, 18.

[18] See Matthew 6:19, 21.

[19] See 1 Timothy 6:10-11.

[21] See Luke 12:13-40 for a more in-depth discussion on this and subsequent teachings on this same issue.

[22] Alms are little more than money or goods contributed to the poor.  See this to begin your study on alms.

[23] See Luke 11:3, Matthew 6:11, among others.

[24] See Mormon 8:35-39 for a good old fashioned lecture.

[25] See SearchingforZion.com for this (entitled:  Wealth and the Gospel), and other articles.

[26] See Alma 1:27, 30 for a good idea on where to start.

[27] Talmage, James E.  The Articles of Faith, 12th edition.  Pages 526, 528-529.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Romney, Marion G.  The Blessings of an Honest Tithe.  Jan-Feb 1982 New Era, page 45.

[30] See What Have We Done to the Poor? for more detail.

[33] See The Law of Tithing (4 Part Series) over at LDS Anarchy for more detail, among others.

[34] Snow, LeRoi C.  “The Lord’s Way out of Bondage Was Not the Way of Men,” Improvement Era, July 1938, 439.  It is interesting to note that this report was given some 40 years after the fact.

[35] Snow, Lorenzo.  Millenial Star, 24 Aug. 1899, 533.  See also this CES Manual, pages 86-88.

[36] An entire transcript of the Reed Smoot hearings and Joseph F. Smith’s responses can be found here.

[37] See Leviticus 14:27-29.  Emphasis is mine.

[38] See The Truth About Tithing – Old Testament Perpective by George Potkonyak to read his entire article on this subject.  In fact, I’d recommend it to just about everyone.

[39] See Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21 and Luke 18:22.

[40] See Luke 12:33-34.

[41] Marsha, daughter of Russell M. Nelson, was once quoted as saying the only time she remembers her father watching television was on New Year’s Day when he would spread out papers and review the family’s annual financial condition while watching football games.

[42] See Isaiah 58:6-12.

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Comments
  1. dyc4557 says:

    Oh I love to be the first to comment. Don’t have time to finish it but really great so far, thank you. I read Approaching Zion in 1996 great book.
    Last month or so I wrote a post at LDSA’s blog and as I studied for it was dumbfounded to find how utterly the doctrine of gathering to Zion has been erased. I am over 50 and have actively attended the LDS church since birth. So until I actually looked at lds.org as a gauge to what the current teachings are I did not know how much has been lost just in the last 20 years.
    As a matter of fact much of it seems to have been lost since the publishing if Approaching Zion. And here is the principle. That when light is given and turned away from the Lord removes it from us.
    Your writings and many others like you now raising voices of truth and warning, are another wave of truth. Those that chose to disbelieve will have these truths removed more deeply from their lives and hearts.
    Those who believe will be shown how to act upon these truths
    Thanks again.

  2. Justin says:

    Two things:

    1) Most LDS just lump our law of tithing in with the Christian “first-fruits.” You mentioned some about this in the post. The Christian world [which lack D&C 119] construct their understanding of tithing on Old Test. passages about the law used to provide for the Levites and the poor. However, D&C 119 does not teach a “first-fruit” [or “pay God first”] law of tithing. And the fact that LDS teach that that is the essence of tithing only further indicates how much they want to be Christians.

    2) Nibley mentions this in Approaching Zion also — but most discussions that I’ve participated in online that discuss wealth, etc. usually devolve into scripture bashing — wherein I quote Jesus, Paul, etc. teaching that wealth will damn a person; while they quote verses indicating how a person needs to work [support their family, etc.]. It is as if most LDS can only equate “work” with “collecting and seeking after wealth” — as though that is what the Lord wants people working for.

  3. zo-ma-rah says:

    Great article. Thanks for the shout out. I was shocked at some of those quotes from Church leaders. I just don’t get how someone could read or hear them and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s true.” It just doesn’t compute. It is like that story in one of my Week in Faith posts. The Ward Mission Leader jokingly tells us to not pay fast offerings, and the whole room freaks out about how wrong it is. Yet even greater errors are preached from the Conference Center Pulpit(and they aren’t joking), and the whole church cries and sings praises at the great “new revelation” we have received.

    I just keep hearing in my mind the line from “The Christmas Story.” Ralphie is on Santa’s lap, but because of the experience he forgot what he was going to ask for. As he’s going down the slide his mind screams out, “WAKE UP, STUPID. WAKE UP!”

    I’m not going to call anyone, “stupid.” But I can’t help but look at the church today(and even myself on many occasions) and think, “WAKE UP, PEOPLE. WAKE UP!”

    It is amazing that the word used in 2 Nephi 28:21 to describe Satan’s way of taking the Saints, is to “lull” them. One definition of lull is, “Calm or send to sleep with soothing sounds or movements.” The Saints today are asleep because of soothing doctrines and practices.

    Giving to the poor is uncomfortable. So you don’t have to give everything, just give 10% of your income. It’s soothing to mindlessly cash 10% of a paycheck, stick it in a envelope, and give it to the bishop.

    Leaving our homes and gathering to Cities/Stakes of Zion is uncomfortable. So we don’t have to do that, just gather where you are. It is so soothing not to leave home.

    There are many parts of the endowment that are uncomfortable in our modern culture. No problem, the Lord has “inspired” our leaders to remove them. It is so soothing to sleep through the endowment.

    Marrying, or allowing your spouse to marry, another wife/husband is uncomfortable. No problem, the Lord has done away with Plural Marriage. It is so soothing to know that I will never have to be jealous of my spouse having another person.

    It’s uncomfortable to go to another place to preach the gospel without purse or scrip. Thats ok, the church will provide you with a monthly allowance.(Ha. I remember on my mission trying to explain to people how we, as missionaries, don’t work or have income. Yet, we get a monthly allowance from the church.)

    One thing I did have an issue with in your article, is it seemed, from my perspective, that you missed on explaining what tithing is and what it is for. The tithing you discussed here seems to be the pre-Section 119 tithing. Meaning tithing as any donation or offering. In which case I agree with your article. Yet Section 119 tell us that tithing, the 10% of interest after initial consecration version, is to be used:

    2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

    In this case, I agree with puremormonism that tithing is to be a “very small revenue stream.” Because this tithing IS to be used for building temples(in Zion not around the world); purchasing, clearing the land, and building homes in Zion; for expenses of the priesthood; and for the debts of the Presidency. Thus a small revenue is needed to prevent the massive building programs, and other abuses, while still fulfilling its purposes.

    So while tithing(119) is to be used for those purposes, tithing(offerings) is to be used for the purposes you described(caring for the poor, etc.).

    That is the only issue I had. But maybe my interpretation is wrong, it certainly has been before.

    That picture at the top really brought the topic home for me. I can just picture myself, the epitomy of hypocracy, walking among the poor an afflicted Filipinos in my nice white shirt, grey pants, shined shoes, and neck tie. I wish I knew then what I knew now. Of course, behaving Christ-like would probably have gotten me kicked of my mission.

  4. Randomizer says:

    Zo:

    I’m not convinced that all of D&C 119 is the end all here. Here is what I think I disagree with or, at the very least, am looking at:

    a) Verse 2 seems to suggest that our initial consecration is what “funds” the building of the “house” (singular), the laying of the foundation of Zion and the priesthood and pays the debts of the Presidency;
    b) (a) seems to imply that the tithing that follows the initial consecration is for a separate purpose (see vs. 4 – “after that”), though that purpose isn’t mentioned in this section;
    c) the only mention of tithing in the Book of Mormon is when (1) Christ references Malachi 3 in 3 Nephi 24 and (2) when Alma is referencing how Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek.
    d) if Christ’s only mention of tithing was to hearken back Malachi 3, then perhaps we should take a deeper look into Malachi 3 – which I tried to discuss in this write-up. The original article (linked here), I think, does an admirable job of looking into the meaning behind those verses and what they mean.
    e) if D&C 119 is relatively silent on the purposes of tithing and if Christ’s only mention of the same in the Book of Mormon is to quote Malachi (the references in the D&C are likewise fairly silent on the purposes), then I think the most logical reason for this silence is that the purposes were already fairly well laid out in other scriptures – largely the O.T. – and the article I linked above gives a fairly good explanation of those purposes (a small stream of revenue to help the poor, the needy, the fatherless, the widowers as well as minimal collective church expenses).

    But, I admit that I may be missing something here (quite likely, actually), so feel free to correct those misinterpretations.

  5. John says:

    The article on Wealth & the Gospel helped open my eyes to a few things, especially this idea of despising the poor the minute we seek to accumulate anything (and I’m as guilty as the rest).

    When I worked with the YM a few years back, nearly everyone of them either wanted to go to school to be a dentist, doctor or a lawyer. Good kids, generally, but the only reasons for their chosen career paths was so that they could make some good money (their words). Very few people I know (myself included) have ever done something they wanted to because it was their passion unless that passion involved making lots of money. Eckhart Tolle gave me some good advice (not personally) in a book I listened to a year or so ago on why we should choose career paths, and money has nothing to do with it:

    Enjoyment of what you are doing, combined with a goal or vision that you work toward, becomes enthusiasm. Even though you have a goal, what you are doing in the present moment needs to remain the focal point of your attention; otherwise, you fall out of alignment with universal purpose.

    Make sure your vision or goal is not an inflated image of yourself and therefore a concealed form of ego, such as wanting to become a movie star, a famous writer, or a wealthy entrepreneur. Also make sure your goal is not focused on having this or that, such as a mansion by the sea, your own company, or ten million dollars in the bank. An enlarged image of yourself or a vision of yourself having this or that are all static goals and therefore don’t empower you. Instead, make sure your goals are dynamic, that is to say, point toward an activity that you are engaged in and through which you are connected to other human beings as well as to the whole.

    Instead of seeing yourself as a famous actor or writer and so on, see yourself inspiring countless people with your work and enriching their lives. Feel how that activity enriches or deepens not only your life but that of countless others. Feel yourself being an opening through which energy flows from the unmanifested Source of all life through you for the benefit of all.

    We are none of us alone.
    Even as we exhale, it is inhaled by others.
    The light that shines upon me, shines upon my neighbor as well.
    In this way, everything is connected to everything else.
    In this way, I am connected to my friend even as I am connected to my enemy.
    In this way,there is no difference between me, and my friend.
    In this way, there is no difference between me, and my enemy.
    We are none of us alone.

  6. Looking over that section once again, I see that only the consecrated first part (the entire initial surplus properties) is called tithing (“and this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people”), whereas the the tenth part of yearly increase is referred to merely as “a standing law” and as “this law.” The tithed part is to be used “for the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church”, whereas the standing law part is to be used “for my holy priesthood.”

    As the tithed part is called “the beginning of the tithing of my people” and is based upon consecrating 100% of the surplus properties, the “ending” of tithing that will be required later must also be a consecration of 100% of the surplus properties (i.e., the law of consecration and stewardship). The standing law part cannot be the “ending” of the tithing of the Lord’s people, because it is dissimilar to the “beginning.”

    No one in the church today obeys the law of tithing, because no one pays a tithing (the initial consecrated 100% of surplus). The only thing people today possibly obey is the standing law, which is not considered tithing by the revelation.

    So, the question is, “What does the Lord mean when He says that the standing law properties are to be used for His holy priesthood?”

  7. Dan says:

    Thanks for the writeup. Well done again, and good to hear from you.

    By the way, that intro photo makes my heart ache so bad it was hard to read the writing. I hate this kind of thing, having my own boys. I look at that kid and cant help but cry! Millions even billions or tillions of dollars caught up in the hands of bureaucracy, taxes, corporate earnings, tithing etc… and this beautiful boy cant eat. The earth groans at our existence, Babylon thrives.

  8. zo-ma-rah says:

    Hmm. Interesting. I guess it does seem to indicate that the intial consecration goes to those four purposes. So tithing has different parts. the Beginning which is the intial consecration. And then the Standing law which is to support the Holy Priesthood. I’m just trying to imagine what expenses the Priesthood would have in a Zion society.

    This really shows that Tithing does not do away with Consecration. or is a lesser law. Tithing is just a small portion skimmed off the top to sustain the Priesthood. Like the Levite thing talked about in the post. Then the whole rest of the Consecration goes towards everyone else.

    That’s a new perspective.

    LSDA, I agree that if there is a beginning to Tithing there must also be an end. I think that end will possibly come when we move from our current needs as mortals. the law is eternal meaning that in any system with money, goods, etc Consecration is the law. But once we not longer need those things we will no longer need to obey consecration.

    Dan, after learning all this things you just can’t look at poverty the same way again. I can’t believe how selfish we are. We who are supposed to be God’s people.

  9. zo-ma-rah, I think you’ve nailed it down.

    Under the law of consecration and stewardships, weren’t bishops supported by the consecrations? Perhaps the standing law is what was to be used to support the bishops so that they didn’t have to work and could dedicate their full time to the temporal duties of their stewardships? The other contributions (prior to the law of consecration being enacted again) would be managed by the (now full-time) bishop to be distributed to the poor and the needy. When the law of consecration was re-enacted, nothing much would change except that now the bishop would have more funds available for the poor and needy. He would already have been trained under the standing law, fast offerings and welfare and could use the experience to perform his enhanced duties under full consecration, including managing the various stewardships of properties.

    It may be that even before we leave mortality, after Zion is established, that tithing and even consecration may be phased out. Once everyone, everywhere, is rich and have all things in common, an altogether different gospel law may come into effect. (Note also the post correction in the comment.)

  10. Justin says:

    Mark 10:21
    “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

    I see in this verse two seperate processes:
    1) Go thy way, sell whatsoever you have, and consecrate it to the poor.
    –At this point, you have riches in heaven.
    2) Now, come unto Christ, take up the cross, and follow Him.
    –This is the start, you are to now endure in a justified/sanctified state until the end of your probabation.

    The (1) appears to be “the beginning of the tithing of my people” in D&C 119. Perhaps then “the ending of the tithing of my people” would be the process of coming unto and following Christ.

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