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Tithing

Since 1959, the church has declined to release financial statements to the general public in the US or even the general membership. That makes it a very difficult topic to research or even make many conclusions about.

Taken from an interview with Gordon B. Hinckley before the 2002 Olympics:

REPORTER: In my country, we say the people’s churches, the Protestants, the Catholics, they publish all their budgets, to all the public.

HINCKLEY: Yeah. Yeah.

REPORTER: Why is it impossible for your church?

HINCKLEY: Well, we simply think that information belongs to those who made the contribution, and not to the world. That’s the only thing. Yeah.

I would love to see that information considering I am one of the ones who made the contributions. Members are held accountable for tithing not paid, but the church has no accountability for how it uses tithing because it simply keeps it a secret.

The tithing revelation came at an extremely convenient time for the church

Similar to the “revelation” about blacks and the priesthood, the revelation on tithing came at a very opportune time. As you can learn from a Primary lesson manual, “When Lorenzo Snow became the fifth President of the Church, the Church was deeply in debt.”

How much money does the church have now?

Things we can estimate or know with some certainty:

  • In 1997, it was estimated to have at the very minimum $30 billion by Time Magazine. Considering estimates as to revenue, it is likely worth close to $100 billion now. Its annual intake from tithing? $5.2 billion per year, tax free
  • It is the wealthiest per capita religion in the world while only having 0.2% of the population claimed as members (and significantly less as tithe-paying members)
  • It is the largest foreign landowner in the UK
  • It owns 928,000 acres in the US
  • It owns the largest cattle ranch in the US
  • It owns numerous businesses, radio stations, television stations, its own insurance company, shopping malls, and universities
  • The church is required by law in the UK to report its financials there. It made roughly $400 million in revenue there with only $39 million in expenses
  • Less than 1% of the church’s annual revenue goes to humanitarian aid

How many people does the church employ?

Although tithing does go towards General Authorities’ salaries, BYU employees and some others, most of its buildings are run by volunteers or missionaries. The church even owns two hunting preserves, where full time missionaries pay their own way to tend the reserves so the church can charge hunters to come shoot animals. You can read about one of them in the Deseret News. In 2000, the church laid off almost all of its meetinghouse custodians and has relied upon volunteer efforts from Ward members ever since.

As far as the 150 or so General Authorities that receive salary from tithing funds, we simply don’t know for certain how much they are paid. There is some evidence, however, that the members of the Seventy made $120k/year and the Apostles made $600k/year roughly 20 years ago. Today that number could be much higher.

What about the $2-3 billion church mall being built?

From President Gordon B. Hinckley in the 2006 October Conference in reference to the mall project:

“The church is undertaking a huge development project in the interest of protecting the environment of Temple Square. While the costs will be great, it will not involve the expenditure of tithing funds.”

Well what funds are paying for it then?

Further confusion can be found by this statement from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:

“There is no money in the Church except what our members offer.”

So the church has no money except tithing.  It’s building a $3 billion mall.  But it’s not using tithing money to build it.  Clear as mud?

Are the blessings of paying tithing being realized?

Utah is a fantastic case study for this. With a Mormon population numbering about 50% of the total, it plays a huge role in state financials. Utah is consistently the top state in the US for bankruptcy filings. It is also one of the poorest states. That despite having one of the very lowest rates of non-religious charitable donations.

The promised blessings of tithing are not just spiritual, but are temporal as well. Aside from talks in General Conference, likely influenced heavily by confirmation bias, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of those temporal blessings for so many members of the church, especially in the poorer countries of the world.

What do we actually know about how tithing is spent?

There are some countries that require “charitable” organizations to report their finances publicly. The UK and Canada are two of these. The UK report for 2010 is here. The Canada report for 2010 is here.

So if you dive into the numbers of 2010 and previous years, some interesting things come to light. First of all, the church in Canada has $717 million in assets and collects about $145 million in tithing and other donations (wards and branches are considered “other registered charities”). Of course the overwhelming majority of that is tithing, as any charitable contributions from members must go beyond tithing contributions. Of that $145 million, the church spent an average of about $40,000 on each ward or branch (249 total). $103 million of the tithing donations went directly to BYU. I don’t know what Canadian members think about spending more than 75% of their tithing on an American university with fewer than 400 Canadian students. My guess is that the church, knowing its tithing contributions in Canada are public, just funnels everything extra beyond the wards into BYU rather than into cattle ranches, hunting ranges, and shopping malls.

It’s also apparent that the church contributes nothing or close to nothing to charity from tithing, but that was already rather apparent.

What about paying tithing before feeding your family?

There are numerous stories shared by church leadership involving extremely poor members paying tithing before providing for the bare necessities for their families. Frankly, I find it sickening that an organization worth about $100 billion would encourage its very poorest members to do that. Read this heart-wrenching story of a woman who would rather have her children starve than forgo her tithing donation (look for “Could Tithing Ease My Worries”).

What do other Christian religions and the Bible say about tithing?

This is from a Catholic priest:

The Mormon church is too legalistic on tithing. The word tithe is only mentioned six times in the New Testament, at Mat. 23:23, Luke 11:42 and Heb. 7:5,6,8,9. “Tithing was an Old Testament obligation that was incumbent on the Jews under the Law of Moses. Christians are dispensed from the obligation of tithing ten percent of their incomes, but not from the obligation to help the Church. The key to understanding how God wants us to give to the Church is found in 1 Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of the week [Sunday] each of you should set aside whatever he can afford,” and in 2 Corinthians 9:5-8, “So I thought it necessary to encourage the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for your promised gift [donation], so that in this way it might be ready as a bountiful gift and not as an exaction. Consider this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.”

To paraphrase: God doesn’t demand a fixed amount of money from us; he wants us to give from the heart. If people are forced by their church to give a certain percent of their income, that’s extortion. If they give freely and cheerfully the amount they are able, that’s a gift.”

Members may not completely be forced to pay tithing, but it’s not far from the truth. Members have to pay a full tithe to attend the temple, which is closely tied in to so many promises and teachings in the church. Between that, tithing settlements, and temple recommend interviews, there is an enormous amount of pressure to be a full tithe payer and thus a faithful Mormon.

I’m also disturbed by how the church frequently uses the story of the widow’s mite to teach about tithing. The widow didn’t give 10%. She wasn’t obligated. She made a voluntary gift of what she could. I don’t see that same principle in the church today. Does the wealthy American businessman make as great a sacrifice with his 10% as the poor father of 6 in Colombia? Paying 10% across the board is a simple system, certainly, but it doesn’t seem to be one that is in line with Christian principles.

What would happen if I went to tithing settlement this year and told the Bishop that I had donated 10% of my income to the survivors of the Japan Tsunami instead of the church and showed him receipts? He would no doubt tell me to write another check for the same amount to the church. Can anyone really explain to me why being forced to donate so much money to an incredibly wealthy organization is more Christ-like than donating it to survivors of a terrible natural disaster?

It really makes me wonder if the “revelation” on tithing was revelation at all. As was stated earlier, it came under the fifth president of the church at a time when the church was deeply in debt. It might have made sense at the time to ask for so much in order to get the church out of debt, but what about now when the church is likely worth about $100 billion? Is it really okay to give this 2005 General Conference address: Tithing – a Commandment Even for the Destitute?

Pay to play

I know a few people who think of tithing as a kind of membership fee, like for a private club.  But the church claims it is the one true church and the only way to exaltation.  Those are lofty claims, but to get that exaltation you have to pay money for the opportunity.  How is that any different from the infamous Catholic indulgences, paying money for remittance of sins? The Mormon church is essentially selling indulgences, requiring members to pay large amounts in order to gain supposed exaltation.

Next Step: The Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet

One Comment
  1. Julian1066 permalink

    I estimate that, since I went inactive prior to resignation, I deprived this soi-disant “church” of $67,000 in tithing! I believe that I will be judged on the contents of my heart, not on the contents of my wallet and checkbook.

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