This is an unusual post for me on 2 counts. (1) I generally hate lessons on tithing, because I don’t think there’s much new to say on the topic. (2) I tried to read “The Screwtape Letters” by CS Lewis a few years ago, and just couldn’t get through the book. I’ve heard many people quote CS Lewis, especially from this book, but I just didn’t like it. However, I did like the movie “Shadowlands” which was based on some true stories of Mr Lewis.
A friend of mine gave me a copy of Sunstone, the magazine. I’ve never read it before, and have really wanted to get it for quite some time. I am very grateful to my friend for giving it to me. I read the articles he suggested, as well as many others that he didn’t, and came across a really interesting one by Jeff Burton.
Burton writes a column using the style of the CS Lewis book, where the head devil writes to an apprentice devil on how to properly tempt people. The full article is found here, but I just wanted to quote a brief section of it, and get your reactions. The article comes from the Nov 2006 issue.
OKAY, let’s get down to today’s tempter training lesson. The most effective approaches to corrupting the practice of charitable giving are based on my favorite temptation principles: fear, greed, and pride. There are many variations, but if you handle them correctly, these three principles will work very well with your man.
For example, try to instill in your man a fear that if he does not pay tithing, he will incur the displeasure and wrath of a God who keeps score. Let him believe, for example, that he will get sick and won’t be able to work, or that his money will be stolen, and so forth. Place into his mind the old Mormon saying, “I couldn’t afford not to pay tithing.” This fear based approach to giving is beneficial to our side because your man will not be sharing out of a sense of love and generosity; no, he will be paying in order to avoid trouble.
The second tactic is based on greed. Point out to your man the folklore common among many Mormon men that paying tithing will result in an outpouring of material blessings that will compensate for any sacrifice made to pay tithing. Be sure you emphasize the word “material” as it is central to the greed approach. Yes, yes, I know that our Enemy often rewards those who are generous and unselfish, but often it’s in the worlds to come and in non-material ways. Your man must not be allowed to dwell on those facts.
Pride can be useful here, too. Your man is a bit too young, but my man’s experience with prideful giving will be educational. Over the past few months, I have quietly reminded my man that liberal but discreetly public donations to the Church might be rewarded with future plum callings such as mission president, director of a visitor’s center, or other “white collar” or administrative callings that don’t involve getting directly involved in genuine service such as callings at Deseret Industries or the Humanitarian Center— those we must avoid like the plague. I have had my man envision the potential shoulder-rubbing with the very elect that may ensue… or the eventual call to a real position of authority, such as a Seventy! Of course it is pride that
tells my man that this will come as a result of his “generosity” and “Christlike demeanor.”
We must be careful, of course. Unless fear, greed, or pride continue as the prime motivators for giving, your man may actually get caught up in that dangerous spirit of giving that relates to unselfishness, and this may put him on a path to assist in the work of our Enemy. It’s a danger we will have to workaround. I will be here to help you if your man
doesn’t respond well to the fear, greed, and pride ploys.
When you are using money to tempt your man, it will help, of course, if your man adopts the prevalent assumptions of “to be successful, I need to make good money” and “I am expected to provide well for my wife and kids.” We have been very successful in encouraging many Mormons (and Americans in general) to “need” things. We’ve made them think it is their duty, even their prerogative, to “get stuff.” It makes it easier if your man, for example, thinks he is doing it “for the family.” Yes, “a Humvee for the whole family!”
Has Wormwood tempted you? I’m afraid I am guilty of several bad attitudes mentioned above….
Although I’ve never really had a “problem” with paying tithing (which is surprising since I am generally pretty stingy), I have to admit that my paying of tithing is mostly fear-based. I never pay it with the hope that the Lord will give me more blessings. I just pay it with the hope that I won’t get struck by lightning or hit by a bus for not doing so. 🙂
Back in Canada, I was always taught that we’re supposed to pay 10% of our gross income. Even though Canadians pay a fair amount of taxes, most would probably get around 30-40% of their Church contributions back in an income tax deduction. So it didn’t really hurt all that much to pay on gross income.
Once I came to Norway and started working, I continued to pay on my gross income. But when I took the temple prep courses, the brother who was teaching us (a pretty conservative older man who often refers to tithing as his “fire insurance”) told us that you can get still get a temple recommend even if you only pay on your net income. I had never heard this before and was surprised by it. Although he didn’t recommend to us one way or another what we should do, he said that since the bishop will simply ask, “are you a full tithe payer?” it’s up to us to truthfully answer “yes” or “no” and if we feel that paying 10% on net income is a full tithe, then it’s acceptable. I guess perhaps this is fair, since members in certain countries pay very hefty income tax, while others pay almost nothing. Paying 10% on gross income definitely hurts here, even though we can get some back through income tax deductions.
Now that I’m earning more money and paying more income tax than I did when I first started working here, I think I will pay on net instead of gross. But the main reason why I want to do this is so that I can still afford to support some of my favourite charities outside of the Church. Even though the Church does a lot of great things, it can’t do everything, and so I like to donate a bit of money to certain organizations that I really admire.
If you ever want to get into a meaningless debate at church, ask the question, “do we pay tithing on gross or net income?” I’m really sick of that question. While everyone has their opinion on the topic, the official church position is that it is up to the individual. However, it seems that mormons love to endlessly debate this particular topic, which is one reason I hesitated to post it. My official position, do what you think is right.
Now, I’ll give a few interesting things about tithing. When I was single with 1 job, I paid on my gross. When I started a business, I realized that I was putting out a lot of money to get my business started. I remember that tithing is supposed to be on your “increase.” Now, sometimes on taxes, one can come up with “paper” losses. For example, when I rented out a room in my house, I could take a tax deduction for depreciation. To me, this was a paper loss. I appreciated the tax break, but felt it much better to pay on gross.
On the other hand, I started a wedding video business. I spent a ton of money advertising, and went into the hole quite a bit. I had a couple of other part-time jobs, so it seemed more logical to pay on net than gross. That seemed much more fair to me. The business loss was not just paper, it was a real loss to me.
I had an institute teacher tell me that he participated in a 401k plan. Due to the tax code, he felt it better to pay on the taxable income. The money he donated to his 401k grew tax free. Then he planned on paying his tithing on the withdrawls. It made a lot of sense to me, so I adopted that too. Of course, with the new Roth IRA, the taxes work differently, because you put the money in after tax. So, figuring out tithing on a Roth is much trickier than a 401k.
Finally, I had another tax expert tell me that if you donate stock that has appreciated, instead of cash, then you do not have to pay the Capital gains taxes. Of course, if the stock goes down, you’re better off selling the stock, and taking the tax break for a loss. However, you now may be short on tithing and may need to come up with some cash to cover the loss.
So, short story is, do what you feel is best. Tithing can become real complicated if you make it. The Lord never intended to make it complicated, but the tax man did. Of course, I have no ideas about tax laws in other countries.
I’d say my vices with tithing are Greed, followed by pride. Fear plays a small part of the problem. There was a mormon investor named Wade Cook who used to prey on mormons telling them if they invested in the stock market, they could pay more tithing, and do more good in the world. He was definitely playing the Greed card.
The hardest thing is to do it for true altruistic reasons. How do we do that?
I’m not so sure that the second idea of greed is correct in the article. It seems unBiblical and contrary to what Christ taught. I think it says somewhere that anyone who sacrifices will receive “an hundredfold in this life”. I take that to mean that whatever you sacrifice, you get back and then some. If you ask any non-Mormon whether giving away your money to a church is a wise investment strategy, I doubt that many would think it was. When people need money and pay tithing, they pay tithing out of a sense of desperation and not greed.
I think that when we pay tithing to receive “an hundredfold in this life”, then we are doing it to be greedy, not because we love God.
We should pay tithing because we love God first. Then the blessings will follow. But when we do it to be blessed first, instead of loving God first, that is when we err.
Malachi’s promise is the result of God wanting to bless us because we love God, rather than God wanting to bless us so that we can become rich. When we’re paying tithing to become rich, that is when we are doing it for the wrong reasons. When we do anything to become rich, rather than for the love of God, we’re taking our eyes off the mark. It now becomes a matter of greed, rather than altruism.
Too often, people become disillusioned. They say, “well I paid my tithing, and then my car broke down”, or house burned down, or other financial disaster. If we are supposed to be blessed immediately, then we are bound for disappointment, because life doesn’t always work that way, and I think that God does this to prove a point. If we’re paying tithing to be rich, then we’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
While I was working I didn’t pay tithing on withholding for Social Security and 401k; now that I’m retired I pay tithing on the income from both of those sources, and my employment’s retirement income. I also now donate more to the Fast Offering Fund, and started donating to the Perpetual Education Fund, increasing each of those amounts each year.
I’ve never noticed any particular financial blessings from paying tithing, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been there, just that I haven’t noticed. (I’m still alive, and after the past 20 months that’s saying a lot, since I tried to check out about 20 times in 2007–I’ve finally figured out that my position shoveling coal is currently being held by someone from Siberia, who is finally warm and doesn’t want to be relieved just yet.)
Three or four years ago I read in the newspaper about an Episcopalian couple who began donating 10% to their church when they married and had increased it 1% each year to where they were then giving 50% after 40 years of marriage–what a great show of faith, and thanksgiving for their blessings! Will I ever equal that?
I remember a zone conference on my mission. The president asked, “why did you go on a mission?”
Several answers were “for family”, “to make me a better person”, “to get ready for college”, “my girlfriend wanted me to”, etc.
While these are generally good reasons, his point was that after we had been out there, the reason should have changed to “because I love God.” All the previous reasons are selfish.
I suppose we could have said, “because I love all men.” Jesus said, “if ye love me, feed my lambs”, so I think this is a good reason too. I think the same logic applies to tithing. Perhaps we will or won’t see the material blessings, but we should do it for the love of God. Other reasons are selfish and greedy.
“used to prey on mormons telling them if they invested in the stock market, they could pay more tithing”
I have heard the same justification for working exorbitant hours.
BTW, it has always bothered me that people use the idea of getting money as a reward for paying tithing. I believe we get what we need – not what we desire.
This is related to the idea that the Word of Wisdom is a “health code”. While I’m sure that I’m healthier than I would be as a heavy smoker and drinker that I used to be, it bothers me that people make the following equation: obedience brings blessings, therefore, adversity means you have been disobedient. I realize I’m nowhere near perfect, but nobody is. The rains fall and the sun shines on the just and the unjust.
I’m not sure if “whatever you sacrifice, you get back and then some” was meant as a joke or not. The idea of sacrifice is that you give something up. The Lord doesn’t work like a vending machine, where you insert coin & push a button to get what you want. If that were the case, where would be the test of obedience? The greediest, most self-serving people would do most of the sacrificing.
Velska, I agree. I think many people are naive and selfish in regards to offerings (myself included.)
I have heard fireside speakers say “whatever you sacrifice, you get back and then some”, so I don’t think that is a joke at all. The point is really that God will reward you in Heaven, and perhaps earth. However, I think most people get hung up on the earth rewards.
It is easy for us to see suicide bombers promise of 100 virgins in the next life as a warped sense of spirituality. However, when we focus on material rewards in this or the next world, our spiritual focus is warped as well.
Bottom line, in my mind, if we do things with a reward in mind, we lose sight of why we are doing those things. I still say that sacrifice means giving up something, it is not an “investment”.
I agree that it is better to pay tithing out of sheer obedience and love for God, but regardless of our reasons for paying tithing, I believe that we will still be blessed just the same. We are still exercising the principles of faith and obedience. The Lord promises us blessings for our obedience and I don’t see anything wrong in looking for those blessings. I believe that he outlined those blessings in the scriptures for reasons other than to entice us to pay our tithing. When we look for those blessings, we can see the hand of the Lord in our lives and we can be assured that he keeps his promises and wants very much to bless us.
I have never found any reference that states that we will receive material blessings when we pay our tithing. It definitely says we will receive blessings so great the there will not be room enough to receive them. But, it never says that any of those blessings will be material ones. The idea that paying tithing will make us more rich is completely false. If we will pay our tithes and offerings, we will be greatly blessed, period. No specifics with the blessings. Maybe we will have better family relations. Maybe we will deepen our relationship with the Savior. And yes, maybe we will improve our financial situation. But, the main point is that we will receive many great blessings in many different areas of our lives. Everyone will be blessed in different ways. The Lord knows the kinds of blessing we need most and will bless us accordingly because of our obedience. Of course we always think we need money the most. I am guessing that money is probably pretty low on the list when it comes to blessings we NEED the most. The whole point of this life is to return to our Father in heaven. Giving someone lots of money usually makes it harder for that person to get into heaven. The Lord has plenty of other blessings that will help us on our journey to return. I trust Him in His choices in blessings that will help me the most. So, I pay my tithing.
Yes, Steve, I am sure you are correct. But with the movie “Windows of Heaven”, and plenty of sacrament talks and testimonies on material blessings, it seems that people might be misguided in expecting material blessings.
I agree with many of the statements listed above, but, personally, I believe that tithing works much as the heads of the Church say it does.
10% of your increase, and because they state it is up to the individual, your “increase” standards might be different than your next-door neighbor.
For instance, I’ve had friends pay tithing on their birthday money, willingly. Or, perhaps, on gift money they recieve.
It’s all up to the individual.
And I do believe that we need to have a singular eye towards Heaven and the Lord when we pay our tithing. I, for one, wasn’t like that for a while. Now I pay it out of obedience, love, and respect.
Whether or not I’ll get _____ or _____ really shouldn’t determine weather I give back what the Lord gave me in the first place.
I believe, simply put, it is an act of obedience we must follow; regardless, we need to put our hearts into it and keep our minds and spirits open when we give tithing.
Now, I’m not an economics major to any degree, and I certainly don’t much pay attention to “net” or “gross”.
All I know is, in my 18 years of being alive, if I get a paycheck, 10% is put towards my Bishop in that handy envelope.
’nuff said. =)
You stated, “I generally hate lessons on tithing, because I don’t think there’s much new to say on the topic.” Here is my take on tithing, in four parts. You may find something new there.
Anarchist, that was a bunch of great posts!!! You definitely have an interesting take there, and I encourage others to click on the link above.
Just ask yourself one question – how much money do you put on the annual income line when you are applying for a home mortgage? Wouldn’t that be the best number to pay tithing on?
Dave, surely the bank isn’t the best source of answers to spiritual questions, such as tithing, is it? I doubt you would advocate deferring to the bank on other things, like fiscal responsibility. The next thing you know, we’ll all be buying mortgages we can’t afford…
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