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What’s Wrong with Tithing?

With some exceptions, I’ll reserve my personal and exceedingly controversial rants for other forums. The aim here is to provide advice to help you be as self-sufficient as possible without stirring the pot too heavily, but from time to time I will take a slight detour to tackle points specific to target populations. Today’s financial focus is Christians who have a problem with tithing. And, before you decide it’s not applicable to you, consider giving it a shot since your version of tithing may look like contributions to social causes.

Trent over at the Simple Dollar runs a weekly column that responds to reader questions on a variety of financially-related scenarios.

Here was one of the questions he fielded:

“My church requires me to tithe 10% of my income each year. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because it is really keeping me from achieving my financial goals. I decided to approach it in a “Simple Dollar” way and figure out what I was getting for that money, so I made a list of all of the benefits of my church. Other than the things that are intangible like the value of the service, it’s not worth anything near that 10%. I do get value from community dinners and social events and if I had kids the child care would be invaluable. It’s leaving me feeling like the church is ripping me off and creating negative feelings. How do you handle these feelings with your own church?

If you follow the link, you’ll see Trent responds with a good point that the reader may not be appreciating those services the church offers to the community. He also says, rightfully so, that the perception of value has to come from within. These are both valid points, but I want to expand on Trent’s response.

First, assuming you’re Christian, tithing is a divine mandate, not an institutional requirement. See Genesis 14:20, Psalms 24:1, and Malachi 3:10. If you have a problem with giving back 10% of your income, your problem is with God, not with the church. If you wanted to draw out the argument even further, nothing we own belongs to us. It was put here by God, so 10%, or whatever percentage you settle on, is a laughable return on His investment.

Second, tithing was never meant to be a dollar for dollar blessing. We tithe because it will help the church help other people. We don’t give money to the Salvation Army because we expect to get clothing in return. I don’t give money to the local animal shelter because they will directly benefit my pets. Putting Christian faith aside, you tithe if for no other reason than to hope you might get a little help when you find yourself on the other side of fortune.

Finally, it sounds as though there are deeper issues going on than the tithing requirement. When the relationship between the church and the member is healthy, the member doesn’t think twice about handing over that money. Maybe it’s time to find a better church?

The joke says if you want to become rich, start a church. Sadly, there are clergy crooks out there, but spiritual mandates aside, if you are concerned about how your tithing is being used, ask about it. I have a feeling that if you have to ask, you probably won’t feel good in that congregation in the long run. I never asked the LDS church for a financial breakdown of how our contributions were leveraged when I used to be a member of that faith, but I don’t have to. There are ample reports of how members of the LDS church jump into action in the wake of disasters. I knew families in my congregation benefited from the help, but more to the point, I trusted our church leadership was doing right with the money under their supervision.

If you are not a Christian and if your faith does not acknowledge tithing as a mandate, consider making charitable contributions to causes you feel strongly about. There are plenty of crooks in the nonprofit sector as well, but GuideStar and Charity Navigator are good resources to help you identify financially responsible operations.

Contributing to social causes you care about ought to be a part of your budget. You’re never too young to start being philanthropic. You don’t have to give enormous sums to make a difference, and honestly, money is not the only investment you can contribute to an organization. The same advice I led with for churches is applicable to social causes. Do your homework. Don’t let anyone pressure you into donating. Donate because you want to advance their mission. If you happen to benefit from your contribution, so much the better, but it should not determine whether you give in the first place.

And I guess that’s all folks. If you agree, disagree, or want to rant about something else, the comments are wide open for your feedback.

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2 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Tithing?

  1. Interesting post. However, I was left wondering why tithing is still important to someone who is no longer a member of the LDS church. I liked your previous post better where you expanded on the main points with specific details and examples.

    How is tithing or giving to social causes related to financial success? What criteria do you use when selecting a social cause you believe is worthy of your money? What do you wish you had known about charitable giving when you were eighteen? I wish this post had answered one of these questions for me.

    Finally, I have heard that it can be difficult for someone to leave the LDS church. So I sincerely hope you are able to receive the support you need to deal with this change in your life. I am proud of you for doing what you believe is best for you. You are a good person and you deserve to be happy.

  2. Tithing is a Christian practice. The LDS church does not have a corner on that market.

    Giving back to the community is important to financial success, because, and this is obviously a personal opinion, we should always find ways to improve the world around us. Princeton did a study that found $75,000 is the threshold for satisfaction. Anything beyond this brings diminishing returns. If true, we ought to do something with our extra funds to help others. Even if the study is not accurate, we should always seek to leave the world a little better than how we found it.

    Picking a social cause starts with our personal passions. My social interests tend to fall along: anti-human trafficking, animal rescue, and youth empowerment. That’s where I will start, and then I’ll utilize resources like Charity Navigator to determine whether or not they are legitimate.

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