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Tithingby Howard D. Swainston
Tithing is the basic contribution by which Latter-day Saints fund the activities of the Church. By revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord stated that members should pay "one-tenth of all their interest [increase] annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever" (D&C 119:4).
The law of tithing has ancient origins. The word "tithe" means "tenth" and connotes a tenth part of something given as a voluntary contribution. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20; Alma 13:14-15). Jacob also covenanted to pay a tenth of everything the Lord gave him (Gen. 28:20-22). Tithing was a fundamental part of the Law of Moses (Lev. 27:30-32; Num. 18:25-28; Deut. 26:12-14) and was used in support of priests, holy edifices, and sanctuaries (Amos 4:4).
The prophet Malachi underscored the seriousness of paying tithes:
The collection of tithing is the responsibility of the bishop in each ward. Tithes are presented confidentially to him or his counselors. He forwards the tithes collected locally to Church headquarters, where a committee consisting of the First Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles supervises the distribution and expenditure of tithing funds (D&C 120). These funds are used for such purposes as the building and maintenance of meetinghouses, temples, and other facilities, as well as for the partial support of the missionary, educational, and Welfare programs of the Church.
At the end of each year, ward members meet individually with their bishop in a tithing settlement interview to verify Church records of their individual contributions and to declare confidentially to the bishop whether or not the amount contributed is a "full tithe."
The common mode of tithing payment is by cash. However, when income has been received in some other form, the member may pay accordingly, as was done anciently (Lev. 27:30, 32). In its early years the Church maintained "tithing houses" to receive payments in grain, livestock, vegetables, and fruits.
A 1970 letter from the First Presidency stated that notwithstanding the fact that members should pay one-tenth of their income, "every member of the Church is entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord and to make payment accordingly" (Mar. 19, 1970; cf. Doxey, pp. 16, 18). Hence, the exact amount paid is not as important as that each member feels that he or she has paid an honest tenth.
As part of the latter-day restoration of the gospel, the law of tithing was reestablished. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery initiated implementation of the principle in 1834, when they pledged one-tenth of all the Lord should give them as an offering for the poor (HC 2:174-75). In 1838 the Prophet inquired about tithing for the Church (HC 3:44) and received the law, now published as Section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The term "tithing" had been used in some revelations before 1838 (e.g., D&C 64:23; 85:3; 97:11-12) but connoted all free-will offerings or contributions, whether they were less or more than 10 percent.
Prior to the revelation on tithing, an adaptation of the law of consecration of property was practiced by the Church to care for the poor, to purchase lands, and to build Church facilities (D&C 42:30-39). The declared spiritual object of that law was to "advance the cause" of "the salvation of man" (D&C 78:4-7) by creating equality in both "earthly things" and "heavenly things." This proved too difficult at the time, especially under the disruptive conditions suffered by Church members in Missouri, and the practice was temporarily suspended in 1840 (HC 4:93). The law of tithing was given in part to fulfill material needs and to prepare the membership of the Church to live the material aspects of the law of consecration at some future time. Tithing has variously been described as the donation of (1) a tenth of what people owned when they converted; (2) a tenth of their "increase" or income each year; and (3) one workday in ten of their labor, teams, and tools to public projects. Today, tithe payers pay a tenth of their "increase," or income.
Although many in the early decades of the Church were slow to obey the principle and practice of tithing, leaders continued to affirm the obligatory nature of the commandment. In January 1845 the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles under the direction of President Brigham Young issued an epistle reminding the Saints of their duty to pay tithing (HC 7:358). In 1881 obedience to the law of tithing became a requirement for temple attendance (JD 22:207-208) for those with an income. In May 1899 a manifestation was given to President Lorenzo Snow that even though the Church was beleaguered by financial difficulties, it was nonetheless bound by the law of tithing, as were its members individually, and all would be blessed materially and spiritually by heeding it (Snow, p. 439).
As with all commandments, there is a correlation between observance of the law of tithing and blessings or punishments. The promises to the obedient are great, but the revelation also warns, "It shall come to pass that all shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you" (D&C 119:5). President Joseph F. Smith taught that the disobedient "have cut themselves off from the blessings of Zion," but added that the Lord will fulfill his rich promises to the faithful tithe payers of the Church (GD, pp. 225-27). "A host of testimonies might be secured of the joy in life that follows obedience to this important law of the Lord" (Widtsoe, Vol. 1, p. 228). President Heber J. Grant counseled the Church that obedience to the law of tithing provides a protective shield (D&C 64:23-24) from economic distress (pp. 59-60).
[See also Opening the Windows of Heavenby President James E. Faust; Tithing: A Privlege by Elder Ronald E. Poelman; Daily Living home page; Activity in the Church home page; Bishop, History of the Office; Financial Contributions.]
Doxey, Roy W. Tithing: The Lord's Law. Salt Lake City, 1976.
Grant, Heber J. Gospel Standards. Salt Lake City, 1941.
Kimball, Spencer W. "Tithing." In Faith Precedes the Miracle, pp. 281-90. Salt Lake City, 1975.
Snow, LeRoi C. "The Lord's Way Out of Bondage." IE 41 (July 1938):400-401, 439-42.
Widtsoe, John A. Evidences and Reconciliations, 3 vols. Salt Lake City, 1943.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 4, Tithing
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company