As a young man of nineteen, experiencing my first contact with Latter-day Saints, I sat ready to put one dollar in the collection plate during Sunday School opening exercises. I would show my Mormon hosts that I was not stingy. After all, I was only earning thirty-five cents an hour, so one dollar was no small contribution. But Sunday School came and went, and there was no collection plate.
And again at sacrament meeting that Sunday evening, where I had decided to double my contribution to two dollars, there was no collection. The explanation must be, I was sure, that you contributed at the door on your way out. With my hand in my pocket, I was ready—but I had to switch pockets because everyone wanted to shake my hand.
Once outside the building, I casually asked my hosts, “When do they take up the collection?”
They smiled and answered, “We don’t pass the collection plate in our church.”
“Never?” I asked.
“Never,” they replied.
“Great!” I thought. “This is my kind of church.” Obviously, it was time for me to learn about tithing.
I had been praying long and hard about religion. An unrelenting feeling of uneasiness had come over me—a feeling that was driving me to find spiritual relief. On the following Wednesday night the missionaries gave me the lesson on tithing, and I found the relief I was looking for. Never will I forget the comfort that flowed into my system when those two elders began to instruct me about tithing. From their very first word until their last amen, I knew it was true. The very next Sunday I paid my first tithing, although it was six months before I was baptized.
During my thirty years in the Church, I have observed a number of misunderstandings about tithing—errors in thinking that stand between people and the great blessings that come from living that beautiful law. I have analyzed four of them.
Error 1: It Takes Money to Pay Tithing.
It doesn’t take money to pay tithing, it takes faith.
In the Church-produced movie called The Windows of Heaven, the reality of faith as the moving force behind the payment of tithing is emphasized. Depicted in the film is the great financial dilemma faced by the Church during President Lorenzo Snow’s administration. The Church was deeply in debt, and there was no sign of relief. While seeking a solution, President Snow had several proposals presented to him, all of which involved a plan for seeking contributions from Church members. Feeling that the proposals were all unsatisfactory, he followed the promptings of the Spirit and journeyed to one of the hardest-pressed communities in the Church, St. George, Utah, which was experiencing its worst drought in thirty-five years.
Through inspiration, President Snow appealed to these desperate people to show their faith through the payment of tithing. By complying with his appeal, the windows of heaven (Mal. 3:10) were opened, literally, and the people were blessed.
Error 2: Tithing Is Measured in Quantity of Money Paid.
A tithing paid is still a tithe, no matter how much money a person pays.
Once I received 5 cents in behalf of the Church from the poor, eight-year-old Navajo girl whom I baptized in 1954. After her confirmation, she approached me with her little fist clenched tightly around that 5 cents. Then she held it out to me and said, “Here is my tithing, elder. It is a full tithing.”
That little Navajo girl had paid as much tithing as the wealthiest member of the Church ever paid—a full tithe.
Error 3: Payment of Tithing Creates a Financial Hardship on the Tithepayer.
One of the special memories of my life is an experience that occurred during the early years of my marriage. I was attending Brigham Young University (in Provo, Utah,) and we had just moved into our first home with our first baby.
Since we had a new baby, my wife was no longer working and we were seriously troubled financially. One month we figured out that if we payed our tithing in addition to the other bills we had to pay, we would be left with exactly fifty cents. But we really didn’t struggle with that decision very long because we believed what the Lord had told us through the prophet Malachi. (See Mal. 3:10–12.) We paid our tithing.
The following Monday I was downtown looking at picture frames on display in a store. One of our friends at Brigham Young University had given us a beautiful etching to hang in our home, but of course I could not afford to buy a frame. As I turned to leave, though, I felt impressed to go back and ask the young man behind the counter if he knew of anyone who was looking for a house painter. My father had been a painter, and his father also, and I had been trained in the trade. I didn’t think there was much chance of getting a job because it was winter and because there was not much work anywhere. Nevertheless, I heeded the urge and asked the clerk about employment.
He said, “You know, one of our customers was in here just this morning looking for a well trained painter.” He gave me the man’s address, I called him within the hour, and by afternoon I was earning two dollars an hour as foreman of a painting crew. That was high wages at the time, and I have never been out of a job since.
No, tithing does not impoverish people. Tithing enriches people. The payment of tithing really does open the windows of Heaven.
Error 4: Tithing Money Is Our Money.
I’m reminded of a story told by President George Albert Smith. As he conversed with a wealthy friend who was a member of the Church, the friend brought up the subject of tithing. He said that he didn’t pay tithing in the usual way, but instead would put a tenth of his income in the bank each year and use it as he chose to for charitable purposes. “Now, what do you think of that?” he asked.
President Smith responded, “I think you are a very generous man with someone else’s property.” (Improvement Era, June 1947, p. 357.)
President Marion G. Romney also reminds us that tithing is a debt we owe the Lord, not a contribution:
“Tithing is a debt which everyone owes to the Lord as rent for using the things that the Lord has made and given to him to use. The Lord, to whom one owes tithing, is in a position of a preferred creditor. If there is not enough to pay all creditors, he should be paid first. You may be a little shocked by this statement, but it is true. Other creditors, however, need not worry, for the Lord always blesses the person who has faith enough to pay tithing so his or her ability to pay other creditors is not thereby reduced.”