A Testimony of Mormon Tithing
Tithing and Superstition
The issue of tithing was another sore point between my Mormon father and my non-Mormon mother. The Mormon church teaches that if you pay 10% of your gross income (which works out to about 15% of most peoples' net income) that you will be financially taken care of so that you never want for anything you need. Over and over again faith promoting rumors supporting this notion are repeated as fact in church talks and lessons. Many religions believe in tithing to a degree, and the Bible does make scant mention of it. Mormons, however, are probably singular in their enforcement of the principle of tithing. It's central to the Mormon church's tenets, even though it was not central to the teachings of Jesus Christ. They enforce the payment of tithing by blocking non-payers from attending the temple which prevents such from getting to the Celestial Kingdom which prevents their family from being eternal which prevents them from becoming gods. In short, tithing payment is unavoidable for the serious Mormon.
In spite of the fact that Utah consistently boasts some of the highest bankruptcy rates in the US, Mormons still believe that paying tithing will lead them to blessings both financial and personal. My dad's certainty of this was such that his fear of not paying was fanatical. My mom, however, was the one who paid the bills and controlled the money because my dad was so flighty. Bad things happened to my parents all the time, yet only when those bad things coincided with my mom not giving him enough tithing money did my dad equate the bad things with not paying tithing. In truth he almost always paid the full 10%, so there was no convenient explanation for the bad luck they had most of the time. In retrospect I'm surprised that my mom allowed my dad to spend all that money on his religion. I doubt that she spent another 15% of the net family income on herself. In fact, I know she didn't. Not only did my mom do without things like new shoes, a warm coat and unbroken glasses for long periods of time, us kids had nothing. We didn't even know what new clothes would be like until we became adults. There were times when we were so broke, we couldn't even eat. I recall on one occasion opening the refrigerator and finding only ketchup, a few slices of bread and a plastic pitcher of water. To this day I hate to drink water. I learned not to eat much. My sister learned to overeat every chance she got. Most importantly I learned that paying tithing did not mean your needs would be met. Ours rarely were when I was growing up. Yet my dad's fanatical belief in the importance of tithing infected me.
As an adult member, I paid my tithing fully and faithfully. At some point in time I went through a series of setbacks, including a severe medical disability that kept me out of work for most of a year and two natural disasters that destroyed my home. My meager savings was quickly depleted, and so I turned to the Mormon church for some assistance. I had always been taught that the Mormon church had an excellent welfare program, one that they boasted had been held up as a model of what the US system should be like. Indeed. My bishop responded to my request by asking for my most current tithing check, which amounted to my very last couple of hundred dollars. It pained me to write that check, not knowing how I was going to feed my two little girls, but I handed it to him in faith. The bishop said he'd think about the needs of our family and call us back with a plan. The day after the check cleared the bank, the bishop called and said he'd decided not to help us at all. Having surrendered my very last dime and being taken quite aback by this response I was devastated and desperate. Food was already almost all gone, and I had no money for the electric bill. The bishop made the statement that he felt we had somehow mismanaged our meager income. In fact, we had not. Our destroyed home had been a cheap modular. We drove two 10-year-old cars and had never owned a new one. We never went out for food or entertainment. At the time I owned only two pairs of pants, which wore on alternating days to work. Neither of us was contributing anything to our 401Ks because we couldn't afford it. After reviewing my expenditures carefully, it stood out that my only extravagant expenditure at all had been the tithing I had paid. In the ten years I had been married, it had totalled over $40,000. I thought of all the smart things I could have done with that amount of money - saved it, started a 401K, bought a sturdier house, etc. $40,000 would've come in handy in a crisis like the one we were facing. In short, I realized that I had indeed mismanaged my money by giving it to a church instead of taking care of the needs of my family. I realized that I had been no better than my father in that regard.
That week I went to the local United Way office to plead my case. They didn't ask me for money. They didn't judge me or accuse me. They didn't care that I had not been involved with their causes before. Instead, they filled the trunk of my car full of groceries, enough to last for weeks. They helped me get on my feet. I still get teary-eyed when I think of how, ironically, this secular institution was more Christ-like in the way they treated me, a stranger, than the church that I gave all my spare time, money and allegiance to.
posted by FreedWoman at 5:16 PM