Tithing was always a heavy medal. The weight caused the material it was pinned against to sag, and the constant flopping around with every movement soon began to be annoying, and the fastener constantly irritated the skin. But by God, as a devout Mormon it was a medal worth wearing.
After all, tithing wasn’t just a sign of devotion, of commitment to the one true God. It was also a commandment with a promise. The very windows of heaven were opened to one who paid a faithful tithe, and the blessings were pouring down in such quantity that there was hardly any room left to receive any more of them.
Mormon scripture states that members should be tithed, that they “shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually” to the church. In order for members to qualify as worthy of god’s stamp of approval, i.e., to receive a recommend to enter a Mormon temple, they must indicate in a private interview with their ecclesiastical leaders that they pay “a full tithe.”
But what is a full tithe? Unfortunately, the church doesn’t give very much more clarification than what is stated in the scriptures. The word “interest” has been defined to mean “income,” but beyond that, the members are left to themselves to determine exactly how to calculate what counts as income and what doesn’t. It’s hard to blame the church authorities for not wanting to create a tome equivalent to the US tax code to clarify the tithing code. For one thing, it would encourage pharisaic dedication along with its attendant loopholes. But perhaps even more convincingly, by making a statement that determining the amount to be paid as tithing by each member is a decision to be arrived at by the member in consultation with god, my guess is that the amount donated is, on average, higher than it would be if they published a set of guidelines.
I spent a lot of time with my parents recently. Every time I was talking with them, I wondered if it would be the moment that I would tell them I no longer believe the things they taught me growing up. How do you tell something like that to the people responsible for all the good you have in your life? How would they react?
My father has never been very vocal. I may have heard him one time affirm his faith in a public setting. I’ve sometimes wondered if he fully believes everything. Some things, like tithing, he’s always seemed fully committed to. Other things, like attending church regularly, seem like they’ve been hit or miss over the years. I figure if either of my parents would be willing to entertain my disbelief, it would be my father.
This morning my wife mentioned that she’d like to go back to visit the people and places she knew when she was serving a mission. In the conversation, I mentioned that I too had been thinking about my mission. That surprised her, and she asked me for details.
I explained that I had just been thinking about some of the experiences of my mission, how I had interpreted them at the time, and how I was trying to reinterpret them now after the intervening years and knowledge. Continue reading