Tithing is the payment of ten percent of your income to God. Mormon beliefs state that everything we have comes as a gift from God, and despite this, He asks that we return only ten percent to Him. The rest may be used for any moral purpose we choose. For Mormons, it is a sacred obligation to pay tithing as a way of recognizing God’s hand in our lives and of showing gratitude for His gifts.
Tithing funds are used for very specific purposes. Financial costs outside those specified items are paid for from other funds, so Mormons know their money is always well used. Although the Mormons have a lay church, and their leaders are not paid, there are, of course, many expenses involved in running a church with a complex series of programs. Tithing funds pay for the costs of buildings, supplies used during services, meetings, and classes, to further missionary work, to build and operate temples, and to educate church members. They are used for those programs and expenses that further the Lord’s work and are considered sacred funds. Money collected is sent to Church Headquarters, where a committee decides how they are used. Money is allocated to local congregations based on their needs. Each congregation then lives within its budget, ensuring the money is used wisely.
Tithing was instituted in the Old Testament and restored early in the restoration of the gospel. Malachi, an Old Testament prophet, taught this law:
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).
It is important to note that although Malachi promises blessings, he does not say they will be financial blessings. Mormons are not promised they will become rich if they pay their tithing. They are promised they will have what they need. Sometimes this comes through their own resources. Other times, the Church steps in to assist a member who has done all he can do and still doesn’t quite have enough for the essentials of life. The Lord has made provisions for those who need a little help despite efforts to be self-reliant and to demonstrate faith. Gordon B. Hinckley, a previous prophet, taught, “The Lord will open the windows of heaven according to our need, and not according to our greed.” (See Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Sacred Law of Tithing,” Ensign, Dec 1989, 2.)
There are many ways a person can be blessed, however, and the blessings may not be financial in nature. One promised blessing of tithing is that it reduces our need for worldly things. Those who tithe soon learn they can manage without many of the luxuries they once saw as necessities, and focus instead on things of eternal significance.
Tithing is considered a very equitable law. Every person is asked to pay exactly the same percentage of his income. Whether our tithing is one dollar or one thousand dollars, it is counted the same to the Lord. The Savior, Jesus Christ, taught this lesson when he watched wealthy people paying large quantities of tithing. One women, who was very poor, paid only two mites, a very small amount of money. Jesus told those who were with Him that she had paid more than they had, because her small contribution was much more difficult for her to give, since she had so little. The law of tithing does not give value to the millions more than to the contributions of the poor.
Mormons do not engrave pews or give other recognition to those who give the most money. Tithing amounts are never made public and a collection plate is not passed, so others don’t see the contribution the member made, or even if he made one at all. Instead, each person places his or her tithing into an envelope and fills out the donation form, which is added to the envelope. This is given to a congregational leader whenever the member happens to encounter him during church meetings and it is counted by two leaders that day.
Tithing is an act of faith. Even though it was difficult for the widow to pay her tithing when she had so little, she had faith that God would take care of her needs. The times it is hard to pay tithing are often the times that bring the most blessings, as God notes the great faith. Many church members recount miracles that occurred after they paid a tithing they thought they couldn’t afford, and then their financial needs were met in miraculous ways. For a new member, paying tithing may be the greatest act of faith they’re asked to undertake. However, after having paid it for a time, most members wouldn’t dream of not paying it, because they’ve experienced the miracles and blessings that have resulted from their faith.
In addition to basic tithes, members are asked to contribute to other special funds. One is the Fast Offering. Once a month, Mormons are asked to go without food for twenty-four hours, which means to skip two meals. They do not eat or drink anything during this time. The fasting is done for a purpose, with an increased focus on prayer and spiritual development. They then donate at least the amount of money they would otherwise have spent on food and drink to the Church, which uses it to care for those in need in their own congregation. By going hungry for one day to feed another who would otherwise be hungry for many days, they learn compassion and are given a way to care for others. Mormons are noted for the way they care for their own, leaving the limited funds of community groups free for others.
However, Mormons also donate money to care for those of any faith or no faith. The Humanitarian Aid program assists people around the world regardless of religion. Projects include helping people in developing nations to grow food efficiently, to have clean water, to power schools, and to improve their health care. Wheelchairs are provided to those in need, immunizations are given where they couldn’t be afforded otherwise, and skills are taught.
This is only a sampling of the work done by the Mormons to care for the Savior’s children. All of this is possible through tithing and other donations made to God.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.