Being willing to give away what we have is essential. Christ told us that we need to be willing to impart of our possessions and to have charity towards others. Zakat (almsgiving) is one of the fundamental Five Pillars of Islam. Dana (generosity or giving) in Buddhism is essential to purify oneself and is one of the three main steps for laypeople to follow. Almsgiving is fundamental in Hinduism and Judaism. There are also many non-religious people and organizations who compassionately give away that which they have. Charity is essential to our personal development as individuals.
Religious organizations also have actual financial needs. There are buildings to build, teaching supplies for members, housing and living expenses for full-time leaders, proselyting expenses, etc. Different organizations handle this in different ways. Buddha taught his monks a principle similar to Christ’s “traveling without purse or script”, where monks perform daily alms rounds with an empty bowl, relying on villagers to give them some food for that day. Many Christian organizations pass around a collections plate (although you can now often click a “Pay here” link on their website). There are a number of Islamic charity organizations to which Muslims can donate to fulfill their personal responsibilities. Some groups build up reserves, while other churches donate their surplus at the end of each year and rely on faith that God will help them cover the next year’s expenses.
So, it is a symbiotic relationship – religious organizations need donations and people have a need to give. It has been like this for millennia and will continue in the future. While the need is the same, each group goes about it differently. Some faiths have suggested donation amounts. Some emphasize giving, whether it is to charity or for humanitarian aid or to a formal church. And the majority of the time, the ultimate amount is really up to a person themselves – between them and God, between them and Allah, or between them and their conscience.
One way the LDS Church is somewhat unique in this regard is how formalized this is. We have an exact amount required – 10% to the LDS Church – in ADDITION to any other giving we might give for fast offerings, missionary funds, or to any other charitable organization. We are expected to sit down once a year to give an accounting of how much we have given. And our participation is contingent upon giving “enough”.
The principle is understandable. Tithing is a principle of the LDS Church. To be a fully active member one must pay a full tithing. But the practical effects can be questionable. Some examples of limitations on things of eternal significance based on money:
- Unless an otherwise worthy man pays enough, he cannot use his priesthood to confirm his 8-year-old daughter when she is baptized
- Unless an otherwise worthy woman pays enough, she cannot see her son get married in the temple.
- Unless an otherwise worthy person pays enough, he or she will never be chosen for any leadership position at the local level or higher.
- Unless an otherwise worthy couple pays enough, they can never be sealed in the temple.
Again, these are understandable and allowable rules of any organization, but I can think of very few other faiths that limit someone’s participation in religion unless a specific amount of money is paid. Perhaps the closest example I can think of is the old Catholic practice of indulgences, where specific eternal rewards were granted through specific amounts of donations.
As I mentioned at the top of the post – charity is essential. We gain personally from it, it reduces our fixation on material things, we gain merit and karma and blessings, we aid those less fortunate than us, we are truly blessed by giving.
For many people, requiring specific donations for spiritual participation is a sacred molehill. I would stop that.
I would still encourage people to donate at least 10% of their income, but I wouldn’t make participation contingent upon a specific amount of donation to the LDS Church. If someone felt they could only donate 5% one year, great. I would be thankful for that and would still welcome them with full fellowship. If someone gave the Church 6% and another charity 6%, that would be fine too. If someone wanted to give even more than 10%, perfect.
I would think this because, at the end of the day, charity should be between a person, God and their own conscience and someone should NOT miss out on participation because of a financial requirement. They should be able to be sealed, or see their kids get sealed, or confirm their children using their priesthood, or help serve others – no matter how much money they have donated.
Some people may claim that the Church wouldn’t receive as much money if the requirement weren’t in place. Perhaps. But this depends on what the Church is doing with the money. There are many organizations with no “requirement” for giving to which people still donate because they agree with that group’s goals. If the Church were open about its finances and people agreed with the areas to which the donations are going, perhaps they would get even MORE. For example, if I knew that the Church was giving a large proportion of my donation away to humanitarian needs, with very low overhead due to volunteer labor, I would be inclined to give even more than what I currently do. But full financial transparency is the topic for another post.
Giving is important. It is important for the needy around us. It is important for any religious organization. And, most importantly, it is essential for our own development of character. Having suggested donation amounts is also important, as guidelines can help us in life. But, I don’t think someone’s religious participation should be contingent on giving a specific amount of money.
- Do you have examples of any other religious organizations which only allow members to receive certain blessings if they give a certain amount of money?
- Does it seem reasonable to not allow a man to exercise his priesthood to confirm his child if he is not a full tithe payer?
- Do you think donations would go up or down without this requirement?
- Are you in favor of or against this proposal?
NOTE: This post is part of a series. To see the other posts in their series, click here