Tithing, Barter and Consumption

By: Guest Matt Jacobsen - July 20, 2005

I’ve been thinking lately about barter and how it affects my annual increase. I don’t pay tithing on barter. I know quite a few other people who barter more than I and who probably don’t tithe it either.

For example, my wife exchanges babysitting with another woman every week. If they actually paid each other it would amount to about $50 per week. Now if my wife started making an extra $50 per week, I’d feel inclined to pay tithing on it. But since the babysitting is barter, I don’t think about tithing it (until now).

Is this just a nice way to avoid both taxes and tithing? What is it about the exchange of money that causes me to think “tithing” and the exchange of goods that does not?

A few examples of the only-money-should-be-tithed mindset: If my in-laws give me a $300 camera for Christmas, I don’t think to tithe. But if my parents give me a $300 check, I at least consider it. If I lost $1000 in the stock market, I would deduct $100 from my tithing. But a new car loses more than $1000 in value the second I drive it off the lot and I don’t deduct that loss. The difference being that the value of the car is not maintained in some account with a monthly statement? A bonus at work might be a week’s stay in Hawaii, or it might be $5000. Which do you think I’d tithe? Of course I tithe my paycheck because it is an obvious increase, but what about the laptop that I left on the ferry? Isn’t that a decrease? I don’t pay tithing on the portion of medical insurance my employer pays on my behalf, because, well, it’s not part of my monetary salary. Neither are the drinks in the break room or the parking they pay on my behalf.

I assume this is because I pay tithing in money and not in-kind. The money for tithing must naturally come from the same pool that is being tithed. As long as an “increase” isn’t associated with the money pool, I don’t feel inclined to tithe it. This encourages as much barter as possible, especially for one who is self-employed.

I occasionally get the thought that I’d like to try paying tithing on my net worth. You measure up all your assets at the end of the year, compare it with the prior year’s sum, and tithe the difference (down to a minimum of zero). Assets would include bank statements, but also an estimate of the worth of everything one owns. The obvious problem is that this encourages consumption. But, if you feel like you are a relatively good steward and saver, could you tithe net worth and still honestly feel like a full tithe payer?

I don’t think I’d be comfortable tithing net worth. Not because of any fear of offending the Lord, but because of the effort required. Right now I tithe my salary and any investment income minus retirement savings (I’ll tithe that when I actually touch the money). That’s it. I don’t pay tithing on gifts, garage sale profits, barter exchanges, food samples at Costco, or dinners at neighbors’ homes. Somehow I feel dirty trying to put a price tag on every single thing that happens in my life. Not only does it take too much time, but I feel that it would adversely influence pretty much all my relationships. Once I tithe my income, I just assume that all the other gains and losses balance out.

Matt Jacobsen is a long time bloggernacle participent and is local of the Seattle area. He comes to Splendid Sun as the indavidual who introduced me to the community. A hearty welcome.

28 Comments

  1. This is a very intriguing post. There are a couple of things that I have to consider in more depth: First, the income pools. You’re right that as long as something doesn’t encroach into the money pool, I don’t consider it for tithing. The second has to do with the idea of assets. In our society, we don’t typically assign value to the things we purchase. They are to be consumed, period. When a farmer in the 19th century purchased a horse, it was definitely an asset. I don’t think it would be if I did.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 7/20/2005 @ 1:00 pm

  2. I have had thoughts like this about home production too. Should I have taken several quarts of applesauce, raspberry jam and a couple of chickens to my bishop when I was blessed to produce those things from my backyard? I suspect he was glad I didn’t, but I never asked.

    Comment by John Mansfield — 7/20/2005 @ 1:02 pm

  3. I think that God will let you know what you need to tithe.

    An example: my husband got several grants when we were a starving student family. It never (honestly) even crossed my mind to pay tithing on them. Several years later, when he got his first Real Job (complete with signing bonus, etc.) all of a sudden the idea came to me that we should have paid tithing on the grants. So we did. I think a merciful Lord was behind every step of this process.

    Comment by Julie in Austin — 7/20/2005 @ 2:13 pm

  4. I have long wondered whether mormons engage in more “home production” activities than others in part because this “income” escapes tithing. Of course, this encourages things like stay-at-home mothering that we like anyway. It also encourages us to fix our own cars, do our own home renovations, cook our own meals, etc.

    Comment by ed — 7/20/2005 @ 2:31 pm

  5. Nice post Matt. I had considered a couple of those things but I like how you went to the extremes on both ends, it makes for a very interesting discussion. It was so much easier when we were kids and told when we get 10 pennies we give one back to the Lord.

    What’s funny is many of us often casually have said things such as “a person can be a perfect tithe-payer” assuming you either pay 10% or you don’t. Because of the whole gross/net question I haven’t said that in a long time. Now you add these questions to complicate the situation even more.

    This has the makings of a great Sunday School class.

    Comment by Rusty — 7/20/2005 @ 3:25 pm

  6. I occasionally get the thought that I’d like to try paying tithing on my net worth.

    Actually, the standard economic definitiion of personal income is the change in net worth PLUS consumption.

    Comment by Last Lemming — 7/20/2005 @ 3:54 pm

  7. I think the definition of tithing in the 119th section says we are to pay on our increase annually. I don’t know if that means that if we have a decrease we can deduct it for tithing’s sake.

    Being self-employed I’ve had different years of negative cash flow. The IRS allows me to “even out” my profits and losses, but I’ve never read D&C 119 to allow me to do that.

    I don’t know that trading some items falls into the catagory of “increase” either. Babysitting trades don’t increase my income directly, indirectly they save me money, but do we tithe on money we save? (How about when you buy something at a discount – we don’t tithe on the $50 we saved)

    Tithing on net worth might actually be a pretty accurate way to tithe. If we were honet in the “value” of everything we own….it’s way too much work though. That brings one more question to mind. Does increase annually mean in value or in number of items? We could buy a car, and a yaht for $200K and by the end of the year they are worth only $150K, does that offset $50K in earnings? I think not.

    Tithing is such a simple concept until you start asking the question you did to start this blog.

    Comment by Don — 7/20/2005 @ 3:59 pm

  8. Tithing is such a simple concept until you start asking the question you did to start this blog.

    I disagree Don. You characterize babysitting trades as simply saving money. The point is that bartering is transactional…every bit as much as using your debit card. It is just that in the case of Babysitting, I could take someones children for a $50 value only to recieve $50 dollars worth of services in return, so there is no increase.

    Bartering is a real system of exchange. For me this was recently made apperent as my business just changed from paying my healthcare for me to paying me extra to have me manage it personally (didn’t want to hire a secretary to handle it). When the company was paying the health care I didn’t think to pay tithing on the value because I never saw the cash. Now that I do, I am faced with the question of whether or not to tithe it. If I do, then was I not paying a full tithe when the company handled it for me?

    Comment by J. Stapley — 7/20/2005 @ 4:30 pm

  9. My bishop quoted the scripture on how we are tithed on our increase, and said we should pay tithing on gifts too. I have always accepted this as the right interpretation. Granted, one’s bishop is no authority on church-wide policy, but I think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t have to worry about this too much, because I don’t get very many expensive gifts.

    Comment by Carl Youngblood — 7/20/2005 @ 6:12 pm

  10. Thanks for the comments, all. I’ll unfortunately be away from the computer for a few days.

    Julie in Austin –
    I’ve done the same thing — pay back-tithing once I’ve changed my mind about what to tithe. I’ve even done the reverse.

    Last Lemming –
    I really like that definition of net worth (assets and consumption). That puts tithing net worth and tithing income very close to each other. So what if the $10,000 car I bought has lost half its value. If I tithe net worth, I tithe the $5,000 asset and the $5,000 I consumed out of using the car. Or I can tithe the original $10,000 I used to buy the car.

    Rusty –
    I also never understood the line that you can be a perfect tithe payer. One person’s 10% may be another’s 5% or 15%, and the Lord may be content with all each situation.

    Carl Youngblood –
    I think many people do tithe gifts, but when I did I would usually just tithe the monetary ones. There’s really no difference, though, between a gift that is a lunch or a ride to the airport or helping me paint my house or a $20 check. Everyone has to figure out where to draw the line. I could either live with the inconsistency I felt or I could keep track of the value of every gift. I chose simplicity (although there are still plenty of other inconsistencies).

    I used to throw extra money into my last tithing payment each year, just to cover anything I missed. A few hundred dollars can cover a lot of random “increases”. Now I put that extra money into fast offerings.

    Comment by Matt Jacobsen — 7/20/2005 @ 7:04 pm

  11. And for those who tithe gifts, do you ask the giver the value of the gift, or do you just estimate? My in-laws have given us a bit of art. I have little clue how much the stuff is worth, and I’m not about to ask. I may not even be able to afford the tithing. Maybe if I sold the stuff I’d both know the value and could afford to pay tithing too…

    (That is a joke, dear parents, nothing but a joke.)

    Comment by Matt Jacobsen — 7/20/2005 @ 7:13 pm

  12. I seem to think that tithing ALL of our increase causes a problem because we can’t pay in the same currency as our increase. The only currency we can pay in is money. If we could pay 10% babysitter-favor and 10% cup-of-flour-from-neighbor then I think it could work, but we can’t. We can only pay cash. So the problem hits when we cover all the cups of flour and babysitting favors with cash (when those weren’t paid in cash).

    Comment by Rusty — 7/20/2005 @ 9:07 pm

  13. I think part of what we are dealing with here are difficulties involved in the fact that we do not livein a barter economy. We live in a capitalist economy that uses capital to represent value, and it doesn’t perform the job as well as it would lead us to believe it does.
    I’m thinking of Alice Walker’s short story everyday use here. The mother has quilts handed down from slave ancestors. She uses them to stay warm. The daughter has left poverty, found a niche that makes her money, cpitalism’s symbol of value. She comes back to the mother, and recognizes the quilts’ status in contemporary culture as art and wants to have them, since her sister, for whom they are destined, will only use them to stay warm, while she will hang them on the wall.
    If the mother were to join the church, she would have to decide whether she suddenly had an asset that was worth more money than she could possibly afford to pay tithing on or whether she simply had a blanket with a lot of spiritual value, since it connected her to her past. A strictly capitalist analysis of the situation would say she should sell the blanket, tithe it, and just buy a new blanket that would possibly be better at keeping her warm, but I don’t know that I can accept that.
    I think the church needs tithing so it can participate in a capitalist economy, so we decide on a measure recognized in that economy for increase and go with it. I have no problem with that being my gross income for the year, though this leaves that number in doubt, I realize.

    Comment by Steve H — 7/21/2005 @ 11:42 am

  14. I had a Stake President once who challenged us at Stake Leadership meeting to pay tithing on the amount of money you want the Lord to bless you with.

    The reasoning goes, the Lord should bless you to keep things in balance.

    I’ve tried this….kind of, my faith is lacking because I feel there are certain natural laws that play into the who thing. Interesting concept though….will it work? I don’t know for sure.

    Comment by Don — 7/21/2005 @ 2:25 pm

  15. I’d like the Lord to bless me with an extra 400, 000 so I can buy a home outright where I live. I’d then give half my rent money to fast offerings, but I don’t know where I’m going to come up with the extra 40 grand.

    Comment by Steve H — 7/21/2005 @ 3:54 pm

  16. I hope God is giving me credit for good intentions because this is bursting my brain. I try to always pay a little extra anyway, just in case.

    Comment by annegb — 7/24/2005 @ 8:48 am

  17. Interesting post Matt. You know I’ve never actually sat down and thought about tithing on non-monetary gifts. This could get very complicated.

    A senior missionary in one of my wards once said you should tithe on your net income if you are self-employed and tithe on your net income if your not. That has always made sense to me.

    As far as tithing on barter goods and services I personally wouldn’t worry about it unless it became a major part of my increase. Maybe that’s a hard boundary to define though.

    Nice meeting you the other day.

    Comment by kristen j — 7/24/2005 @ 10:57 pm

  18. Sorry, I meant tithe on your gross if you are not self-employed.

    Comment by kristen j — 7/24/2005 @ 11:25 pm

  19. How about this one–

    I recently left a job where I paid 100% of my medical insurance premiums. Since it was part of my gross pay, I paid 10% on the money I paid for my medical insurance.

    I recently changed jobs and my current employer pays 95% of my premiums. Should I now tithe the value of my premiums? Most of my other employers have also paid the premiums and I never thought about whether I should tithe on that amount before. What about paying tithing on the value of all of my fringe benefits? For example, my employer matches my 401(K) at 100% and it vests immediately. Should I be paying tithing on that as well? What about the amount my employer pays for my life insurance? What about my company cell phone, which I can make personal phone calls on, and my company lap top, which I can use for personal reasons as well?

    Comment by Jason — 7/27/2005 @ 5:41 pm

  20. I think it is unfortunate the Church refuses to give any help with the detailed questions about “tithing computation” as posed above. A reasonable conclusion is they don’t really care (all they really want is enough money to pay the bills and steadily increase the LDS investment portfolio). The best and most straightforward solution is to simply pay 10% of cash-in-hand from your paycheck, dividend check, or pension disbursement. Parental transfers or family gifts should not be subject to tithing (although that doesn’t bar any recipient from making an additional contribution, and the Church certainly won’t refuse it).

    I know Elder McConkie expressed the opinion that LDS should tithe on just about any conceivable increase. As usual, he was and is out of step with the Brethren, who have steadfastly refused to endorse any such statement.

    Comment by Dave — 8/1/2005 @ 12:20 pm

  21. This is exactly why I volunteer to babysit during Relief society homemaking night on occasion (in wards that allow it) or to babysit kids in my ward for free so their parents can attend the temple, etc. I consider it my “tithe” for times that others babysit free for us, and I try not to just babysit for the families we usually swap with so that it is not seen by the Lord as somehow being a reciprocal bartering arrangement.

    Comment by Jordan — 8/1/2005 @ 1:55 pm

  22. Well,
    I’ve been doing alot of reasearch on tithing, and after reading all of the above comments, it just really proves to confirm that the concept of an obligatory 10% tithe really has no place in the New Covenant. We are commisioned instead to give freely and chearfully, and if you want to give 10% of whatever abitrary income sum you come up with, then that’s wonderful, but never think you are doing God a dis-service! The truth of the matter is that nowhere at all in God’s word are you asked to give him any money at all what-so-ever! The biblical old testament tithe was never about money (which people did have in those times), but rather about giving farm produce as a tithe. If you only had 9 cows, you didn’t have to tithe as only the 10 cow was to be tithed. the examples go on and on.
    One cannot give freely out of obligatio – It’s simply not possible, so rather forget about all the calulations and give whatever amount you want to give and bless others by doing it :-). And remember God doesn’t need any of your money and doesn’t demand it either. What he demands is 100% of you, and not 10% of your money.

    Comment by Carlos — 9/4/2005 @ 9:37 am

  23. Carlos,
    I don’t see your logic. Saying that farm produce is in some way inherently tithable in ways money isn’t doesn’t make much sense. We don’t live in a society in which most people diectly produce. Also, the difficulties with caluclating 1/10 are no more of an argument against the law of tithing than the difficulties in determining self-defense are an argument against the commandment not to kill. finally, God does need our money–in the same way that he needs servants generally. One of the things we do in this world is deal with money, and we need to consecrate that part of our lives as well.
    So in one way youa re right. 10% isn’t good enough. God wants 100% of everything. His word (perhaps you don’t recognise this) through modern prophets asks us specifically to give 10% of our income for building up the kingdom of God. That’s where he wants that 10%. He doesn’t force it out of us, but he does ask it. The other 90%–we need to seek his guidance for what to do with that.

    Comment by Steve H — 9/4/2005 @ 1:28 pm

  24. After reading this discussion (great topic and comments!) I wrote the following “essay”

    —————————

    The church doesn’t ever get very specific on how to calculate tithing.

    For many members the biggest question is whether to pay on gross or net, as in whether you should pay your tithing before or after

    taxes. But that’s actually a relatively minor question, which already assumes some big things and ignores other big things. The

    biggest assumption made is that tithing is to paid on income money earned from a job or sales. Let’s go ahead and assume that for

    now, but there is a vastly different definition of tithing that will be mentioned later.

    The question of gross vs net also ignores anything that isn’t based in monetary units, cash, currency, dollars (for the US and

    others), etc. How are we to consider bartered goods, such as babysitting trading? If you babysit for your friend and next they

    babysit for you, you each received something that was worth $50, but instead you just traded babysitting and avoided the actual cash

    changing hands.

    That example could logically lead you to try to figure out how to pay tithing every time someone helps you in any way without monetary

    pay (such as the Elder’s Quorum helping your family move!). Consider another example, though: your employee benefit package includes

    “free” health insurance, and really it’s just a bartered payment to you. Your company doesn’t pay you the money, but the value of the

    benefit is still something you earn from the company. Someone looking for a job would take one that pays $50,000 and has benefits

    that value approximately $20,000 rather than taking a job that pays $60,000 with no benefits. They really should pay tithing on the

    full $70,000 ($50,000 plus $20,000 benefits), instead of just the $50,000 alone, right? If you only pay tithing on $50,000, and your

    neighbor pays tithing on $60,000 but has no benefits (so he has to buy his own insurance, pay for his kids braces out of pocket, etc),

    clearly you are living a nicer lifestyle with more “increase” but you’re paying LESS tithing! Something’s not right.

    What about other bartered goods or benefits, such as all the food from your garden? If you grow so much food that you save $250/month

    in grocery bills, it’s like you’re earning and extra $3000 that year. Just because there are no physical cash dollars involved

    doesn’t mean it’s not part of your “increase”. You’re getting food that would otherwise cost $250/month. You literally got and extra

    $3000 in “income” that year in the form of vegetables instead of cash. Taken further, theoretically you could move your family out to

    the woods and live entirely off the land, no manufactured goods whatsoever, no money changing hands ever. How could you then obey the

    Law of Tithing?

    There have also been conflicting messages about whether to tithe on gifts. If you are given $500 for Christmas, do you tithe on that.

    What about if you are given a painting? What if you are somewhat poor and some rich uncle dies and leaves you a $100,000 Rembrandt

    painting? The only way you could afford the $10,000 tithing is to sell the painting first! But surely we should not have to sell

    gifts to pay the tithing.

    An idea to deal with the “gift tithe” problem is to pay tithing on gifts only if it replaces expenses we already would have made –

    such as someone giving us a year supply of toilet paper which we would have had to buy anyway. In the case of highly valuable gifts,

    we would only pay tithing if we do in fact sell them for other reasons and not just to pay the tithing. This could also include the

    service “gifts” mentioned above, such as the Elder’s Quorum helping you move. If you truly couldn’t afford to hire movers and

    desperately needed the help, then you might not be able to afford and can’t be expected to pay tithing on the value of (semi)

    professional movers. But if you were going to hire movers anyway, and instead let the Elder’s Quorum do it, you could pay tithing on

    the value of the service they gave you. The same goes for the garden, you pay tithing on the value of the food only if you would have

    just bought the food otherwise.

    But that’s just NUTS! Who is going to bother figuring all that out every time anything happens in their life? Do you pay extra

    tithing if you friend listens to your troubles and you might have visited a psychiatrist instead but now you feel much better so you

    forego the office visit? What if you receive a painting that you know probably cost around $1000, and you were indeed thinking of

    buying a painting for the front room, but you were only planning to spend around $500 – do you pay tithing on $500 saved, and then

    keep a record that whenever you sell the gift painting you need to still pay tithing on any proceeds in excess of $500?

    Such thoughts and rules and records would reduce tithing to a “hedge around the law” set of rules, exceptions, and other

    considerations that starts to lose the original intention of the law. But if you ignore these things, and just pay tithing on

    money/cash income, it doesn’t change the economic fact that the bartered goods/services are still being received and not being tithed

    on. If you truly want to be honest with your tithing you HAVE to consider the value of these non-monetary goods, gifts, and services;

    sticking your head in the sand won’t make the problem go away. Economics has often been called “the dismal science” because of just

    such situations as this.

    The problem might seem inescapable at first glance. One the one hand we can ignore all the difficult details of trying to account for

    bartered goods or gift services or any other non-montary “increase” and just pay tithing on the paycheck from the office. If we do

    this we are NOT paying a full tithing, plain and simple, but it’s simple and easy and can be done regularly easily enough, and we can

    just toss in a little extra tithing money to hopefully cover all those things. On the other hand we can subscribe to a “tithing

    hedge” set of rules and considerations on how to calculate the monetary value of all those extra goods and services and in what

    circumstance or when or on what portion of the value to pay tithing on them. If we do this we will be paying an accurate and true

    full tithe, but we are in for a nightmare of always reducing everything to monetary value all throughout the year in order to pay a

    regular tithe. Neither option seems acceptable. But the plot thickens (significantly).

    Let’s move back a step and rethink just what is tithing in the first place. Another interpretation of the Law of Tithing and the

    “increase” the Lord speaks of is to pay tithing only on our net worth increase each year. Basically, you make a financial statement

    at each year’s end that includes an accounting of all your assets and liabilities (a true financial statement also has a section for

    income/expenses). At the end of the year you compare it to last year’s statment and pay tithing on the increase, it’s that simple.

    The net worth approach solves a number of problems, but has a few remaining (and one big new one). The main problem of considereing

    bartered goods is pretty much wiped out, because while you many have to calculate the value of your material possesions for the asset

    column, you only have to do this once in the year. Also, it’s a lot easier to make the estimations than many think – professional

    appraisals are largely unneccessary except for one large ticket items (homes, businesses, rental properties, yachts, etc), others can

    be easily “self” appraised (check the “blue book” for your car, take a guess as to your watch, etc) and much of the rest can simply be

    grouped together as “personal belongings”. In each case the prevailing concept is to calculate (or quickly guess) how much money you

    could actually get for the item if you sold it on the market today. That means the $2000 your family spent on clothing is really only

    worth about $50!

    (By the way, if you think making an annual financial statement is too much work or focuses too much on worldly possessions, there is a

    section below you’ll need to read and think about, but suffice it to say that doing it is merely an act of being a responsible and

    wise steward. One of the largest reasons most Mormons outright dismiss this approach to tithing is financial laziness)

    The net worth approach also puts tithing on a far more equal footing among all the saints. We’ve often heard the idea that tithing is

    imminently fair, that when we all have to pay the same 10% whether rich or poor, then it’s very fair and even across the board. But

    paying paycheck tithing, before living expenses, ends up being far more difficult on the poor than the rich. Net worth tithing ends

    up being much more evenly felt across the board, as fair and equal tithing ought to be. It is then up to those who can to freely give

    more if they feel so inclined, or put their money to other good philanthropic uses.

    Interpreting tithing as 10% of net worth increase has it’s troubles though. First of all, one of the small problems is that you still

    have the issue of receiving a gift so valuable that you could not reasonably afford to pay tithing on the increased net worth that

    gift caused. This problem has to be deal with still, but at least you only figure it out once a year instead of 12, 24, or more

    times!

    The biggest new problem, however, is that this approach significantly changes the idea of what tithing is in the first place. If you

    pay tithing on your paycheck, that’s one version of “increase”, whereas paying on the increase in your wealth at the end of the year

    after all your living expenses and other spending have occured, that’s an entirely different thing (and a lot less tithing).

    First off, a slight problem with this is that it might seem to encourage more consumption, the same way that tax deductions might

    encourage more consumption of those goods and services that are deductible. But that would only be true if you are actively looking

    for ways to get out of paying tithing, whereas if you’re just being a responsible steward of your income and spending habits you

    wouldn’t approach it that way. So long as you feel comfortable with your lifestyle and are not living in sinful rampant excess, you’d

    be fine there. This would simply require wisdom and sound money management, something you should be doing anyway, such as not

    charging on the credit card for that new plasma screen TV when you really can’t afford it.

    But the main problem still remains, whether the Lord’s commandment to pay tithing to the Church can be rightly interpreted as 10% of

    the increase in your wealth at the end of the year, or whether recent statements mentioning “income” mean that tithing ought to be

    calculated according your ongoing weekly or bi-weekly or monthly paycheck money. Nearly 100% of tithing stories and examples given

    from the pulpet lately illustrate tithing according to the “paycheck” interpretation. But is that really necessary, or are church

    members everywhere actually paying far more than God’s Law of Tithing really requires of them?

    Some statements by Joseph Smith and other early church leaders, and the scriptures themselves, seem to lean more towards the annual

    increase in wealth interpretation.

    – Genesis 14:39 (Joseph Smith Translation)
    “Wherefore Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him MORE THAN HE

    HAD NEED.” (Emphasis added.)

    – D&C 119:3,4
    “And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.
    “And after that, those who have been thus tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law

    unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.”

    – James E. Talmage (as he imagined the Lord speaking)
    “You have need of many things in this world-food, clothing, and shelter for your family and yourself, the common comforts of life, and

    the things that shall be conducive to refinement, to development, to righteous enjoyment. You desire material possessions to use for

    the assitance of others and thereby gain greater bleassing for yourself and yours.
    “Now, you shall have the means of acquiring these things; but remember they are mine, and I require of you the payment of a rental

    upon that which I give into your hands. However, your life will not be one of uniform increase in substance and possessions; you will

    have your losses, as well as your gains; you will have your periods of trouble as well as your times of peace. Some years will be

    years of plenty unto you, and others will be years of scarcity.
    “And, now, instead of doing as mortal landlords do-require you to contract with them to pay in advance, whatever your fortunes or your

    prospects may be-you shall pay me not in advance, but when you have received; and you shall pay me in accordance with what you

    receive. If it so be that in one year your income is abundant, then you can afford to pay me a little more; and if it be so that the

    next year is one of distress and your income is not what it was, then you shall pay me less; and should it be that you are reduced to

    the utmost penury so that yo have nothing coming in, you will pay me nothing.
    “Have you ever found a landlord of earth who was willing to make that kind of a contract with you? When I consider the liberality of

    it all, and the consideration that my Lord has had for me, I feel in my heart that I could scarcely raise my countenance to his heaven

    above if I tried to defraud him out of that just rental.”

    – Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols., 3: 120 (1946)
    “In more recent times the Church has not called upon the members to give all their surplus property to the Church, but it has been the

    requirement according to the covenant, that they pay the tenth.”

    More modern statements almost universally lean towards the paycheck interpretation. Commonly heard are bleeding heart stories of poor

    widows who paid their tithing instead of buying bread for the starving kids and then are miraculously helped by a gift of food from an

    “in-tune” neighbor or someone else. These clearly indicate that we should pay tithing regularly on our income, and when that is

    extremely difficult to do, then we will be all the more blessed by doing it. Apostles and prophets have even told of experiences like

    this from the pulpet in General Conference. The most official recent statements regarding tithing also seem to lean toward this

    “paycheck tithing” interpretation simply by saying we pay tithing on “income”, which most people say means “paycheck”.

    – Letter from First Presidency – March 19, 1970
    “What is a proper tithe?”
    “For your guidance in this matter, please be advised that we have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is that

    statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood

    to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this. We feel that every member of the Church should be

    entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly.”

    – The General Handbook of Instructions (for church leaders)
    Definition of Tithing
    The First Presidency has written: “The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of

    the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any

    other statement than this.'” (First Presidency letter, 19 Mar. 1970; see also D&C 119:4).

    With the modern emphasis on paycheck tithing, is there still room for the increase in wealth interpretation? The exact word “income”

    (itself based on the term “increase”) is still open to some interpretation, and could refer to annual wealth (net worth) increase.

    But if so, that would mean that many general authorities, including apostles, are truly mistaken in what they say about tithing,

    because their talks and writings clearly talk about paycheck tithing. Could they be so mistaken on such an important doctrine? It

    seems incredulous, but it could be so.

    First of all, church leaders, including prophets and apostles, have not always agreed with one another on doctrinal issues. Early

    church apostles often debated and argued with each other and prophets like Brigham Young on large issues! In recent years the

    brethren have been far more civil about disagreements, but such still exist. A modern apostle once mentioned how the Quorum of the

    Twelve and the First Presidency are more unified than ever. That’s good news, but it means they were less unified in years past, and

    it also means they are not yet perfectly 100% unified. It is possible that some apostles believe and personally follow the wealth

    increase interpretation of tithing, and they might hear a fellow apostle preach about paycheck tithing in General Conference and

    silently say to themselves, “It’s okay, the Lord has left it open to interpretation, so I won’t worry about that”.

    Secondly, tithing is also often seen by church leaders as a way of showing the Lord that we aren’t just interested in making money and

    getting wealthy and rich. While that’s true, it belies the true nature of wealth and riches.

    Most church leaders were never rich and wealthy men, and usually worked for a paycheck or owned a small business or the like, the

    “normal” type of thing. As such they might have many economic/money/wealth ideas strongly engrained which fit that middle class

    reality, such as a weekly paycheck, but are actually mistaken in the larger reality of how money and wealth in the real world works.

    This is a whole other major issue with Mormons, Christians, and the poor and middle class of the whole world in general. Most people

    think that money is somehow “evil”. If you ask a Mormon about that they might respond with “no, it’s just the ‘love of money’ that is

    evil”, which is still mistaken, and doesn’t even make proper sense when one truly understands what money is, what it represents, and

    how it is acquired. The depth of the issue is far too great to fairly delve here and now, but a few points might still be of service.

    In the days of Joseph Smith people were far more enterprising than on average today. The concepts of an annual accounting of assets

    and wealth and increase were normal language to them, while the middle class today usually have never done a financial statement once,

    much less annually. That’s telling. Our modern world, though richer than in all human history, espouses a certain financial

    ignorance and/or laziness in the majority of the population unheard of in times past. This creates a permeating (and clouded) mindset

    that is hard to break, and it could easily and understandably find it’s way into the writings and talks of general authorities.

    All throughout the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, God blesses rightous people with wealth and riches. Not as a rule, not

    always, but very often. Then we read other passages which say “you connot serve God and mammon”, which confuse us. The answer is not

    simple, but part of it is that wealth and riches have never just literally poured down from heaven like mana (except for the mana!) –

    they always come from industrious enterprise, technological genius and advance, and economic freedom and responsibility. It can be

    seen how those ingredients can come from God as blessings, such as inspired inventiveness, or the desire to serve others leading one

    to build a successful company whose product or service does good.

    The persuit of great good with zeal, hard work, creative genius, and consistant discipline, can also yeild great wealth. In this

    world we are paid in proportion to our contribution. If you shine shoes one at at time for $10 each, in 10 years you might make

    $250,000. If you build company that produces automatic shoe shining widgets that end up shining 10 million men’s shoes, you might end

    up owning a company worth $25 million. But not many people do that, they just can’t envision it, or they don’t know how to start, or

    any of many other reasons. The main problem is that the world they know only involves doing something for a paycheck, not creating

    value or building a system or growing their influence beyond normal capacity (although all of those things are true and eternal

    principles). This explains why many worthy and good people who seemingly “ought” to be blessed by God with riches aren’t. The fact

    is, God never just hands over riches, people have to create them. God will help in ways mentioned above, but he doesn’t just dole

    them out.

    The point of this diversion is that those who really understand the source of great wealth are few in this world, and the rest of us

    labor from a poor or middle class point of view, which changes the meaning of EVERYTHING we see and hear and read and think, including

    tithing.

    If we wish to subscribe to a view of the Law of Tithing that prescribes paying 10% only on the increase of our net worth, our wealth,

    as signified in a full and proper financial accounting taken at the end of the year (which a good steward would rightfully do, but the

    poor and middle class often think is “too much bother”), then we have to overcome the fact that almost everything we hear about

    tithing in the church today clearly views tithing as paying 10% on your paycheck income. To overcome that, we have to account for how

    those general authorities, including prophets and apostles, could be so mistaken. The whole issue of how different people view money

    and wealth creation as briefly discussed above, can make this account.

    The real question is this: Has God truly spoken in recent times, saying that tithing is to be paid on paycheck income? If he hasn’t,

    then we only have the scriptures to go on, and we must grapple with them to interpret the issue. Since the official church stance is

    that we are to feel it out and decide for ourselves what amount of tithing we should pay, it is very clear that God has NOT made any

    such “paycheck” statement. The fact that so many church leaders talk about paycheck tithing does NOT mean that’s the definite true

    way to interpret it, because if it did mean that then the church would be more clear with a new official statement or a new rewriting

    of the General Handbook or something.

    When any leader is pressed on the issue, right up to the prophet, they always ultimately refer back to the revelation to Joseph Smith

    which says “one-tenth of all their interest annually”. After that it is entirely left up to all of us individually what that means.

    Just because 90% of the church, general authority or no, translates that to “paycheck tithing” doesn’t mean the other 10% might not be

    right to think it’s really only supposed to be “net worth tithing”.

    The claim is not here being made that net worth tithing is definitely the correct interpretation, but simply that it is more likely to

    be. It solves major issues that come with paycheck tithing, and it’s problems can more easily be overcome. But the final ultimate

    conclusion is the same as the church’s, that each person must sincerely decide for themselves how much tithing is the right amount.

    Comment by Ben Ramsey — 1/21/2006 @ 6:40 pm

  25. Hmmm…let me add a few “philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.” Tithing is easy in every sense. Offerings…now that’s another story. Offerings are IMHO the truest test of monetary giving because tithing is mandatory and offerings are, well…just that.

    Comment by Randy Smithson — 1/22/2006 @ 2:01 pm

  26. Actually, post number 24 makes a lot of sense and I’ve started to practice this myself (deference of net worth is my actual income).

    Salary or wage really is not your annual or monthly interest! In order to receive that salary or wage there are certain expenses and there are expenses that need to be accounted for to run a family before a profit or interest is able to be calculated.

    If you read the scriptures he listed and think and pray about it, this makes more sense than the gross salary tithing that many practice. If you were an ancient farmer, herdsman, or rancher, would you gather all your resources (home building materials, firewood, clothing, food, etc.) and tithe before you feed or warmed your family…no, you would tithe on the surplus goods you were to profit from and not use for your own basic needs.

    This principle promotes the principle of righteous stewardship…you don’t buy all the things you want and don’t need…you take care of your needs and create a surplus. A surplus is wealth, ownership and interest. Salary or wage is none of those things…only part of the resources you spend your day gathering (i.e. home building materials, firewood, clothing, food, etc.). If we squander those resources and don’t create a surplus (we have probably all faced this), we are not being wise stewards and will rob God.

    Comment by cbaPaul — 11/28/2006 @ 4:07 pm

  27. Fantastic discussion.

    I for one subscribe to the paycheck principle. We write a check monthly based on the 10% of my gross salary. It works for us and we feel comfortable with that mechanism.

    With regards to Net Worth and Net Increase, how would that take into account vacations or other expenditures? Wouldn’t those expenses therefore decrease my net worth and thereby reduce my tithe?

    I suppose everyone is able to approach tithing in the way that they feel is an honest representation of their increase.

    Comment by APorter — 2/14/2007 @ 12:40 pm

  28. the amount I’m forced to pay for taxes to SS and Medicaid are not an ‘increase’ to me, I never see that money, don’t have access to it. If I ever get SS benefits, then I’ll tithe on what I receive. I only tithe on my increase, or in simple terms my net pay, plus 10% of what gets deducted for everything else.

    I also tithe on any tax returns I receive.

    Comment by TJE — 7/9/2007 @ 8:32 pm

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