On [the August 15, 2012] episode of NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams, reporter Natalie Morales interviewed Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. You can see the interview here.
During the course of the interview the questions turned to the campaign, and to their refusal to release additional tax returns to the public. At the conclusion of her reasons for not releasing additional tax returns, she said that they pay their taxes, and added “beyond paying our taxes we give ten percent of our income to charity.” I know the Romney’s have given a great amount to various charitable organizations outside of the LDS community, but this sparked in my mind a debate: is paying tithing the same as donating money to charity?
To me, no, not even close.
Is tithing tax deductible as a charitable donation? Yes, but I would argue that, in general, tithe payers are not writing their tithing checks as a charitable gift (I pay mine online, are checks still a thing?). The Law of Tithing is a religious commandment of obedience and sacrifice. It is in place to not only show the faithfulness of the members, but also as one of the main monetary resources the church has to help build the Kingdom of God.
Former president of the church, Gordon B. Hinckley, said “Our major source of revenue is the ancient law of the tithe. Our people are expected to pay 10 percent of their income to move forward the work of the Church.” (emphasis added) (source: Mormon.org)
It is the expectation that fully active members pay ten percent of their income to the church that excludes it from being actual charity. Members of the church are required to be full tithe payers in order to participate in temple ceremonies and to hold specific callings in the church.
On the other hand, paying a fast offering is specifically designed as a charitable contribution to help those who are in need. But tithing and fast offerings are completely separate in both the motivation in giving, and its use.
In my personal experience, the act of paying tithing is not done with the mindset that I am being charitable; rather it is done with the mindset of being obedient. But when I am paying a fast offering, I am in the mindset of knowing this money will help someone else. Thinking of tithing as a charitable contribution actually diminishes the motivation behind writing the check, and demeans the intent of the law.
[On a side note, you can also watch Rock Center with Brian Williams' airing of "Mormon in America."]
This post was originally published August 23, 2012. Some updates were made in reference to dates.
Kyle works in Democratic politics, yet somehow his bishop still lets him participate in church activities. He hails from Washington DC, but is embarking on a year of living in Salt Lake City and being a stay-at-home dad, while his amazing wife brings home the bacon. Actual bacon. No, seriously, she works across the street from a grocery store. It's delicious. Kyle's Mormon street cred comes from the fact that he is the youngest of seven children and is only five years older than his niece. Twitter: @KJinDC.