As with all churches, Mormons have a practice of tithing. I was brought up with it, so it was normal, and even looked forward to earning money from the parents so that I could fill out the tithing slip and give the envelope to the Bishop.
Now, in the Mormon Church, as with pretty much everything else, it’s different from other religions. They don’t pass an offering plate around and you put whatever happens to be in you pockets or handbag in it. No, this is much more calculated than that. You get a tithing slip, which you fill out with your name and address, ward, and then the amount you’re paying to the church.
There are several categories too. Tithing. Fast Offering (this is an addition sum that one donates on Fast Sunday, and is supposed to be the cost of the day’s food that you didn’t eat). Then it gets into the optional ones that aren’t counted toward your 10%. Humanitarian aid. Missionary. Book of Mormon.
At the end of the year, it all get tallied up and you then meet with the Bishop for “Tithing Settlement.” During this meeting, you bring all your tithing slips (if you kept them all. I used to put them in my scripture case) and your pay stubs, and then you compare your records with the Bishop’s records. Then the Bishop asks you if you’re a “Full Tithe Payer.” Your eligibility for certain Church activities and benefits hinges on your answer.
The Church has their own welfare program. I remember as a kid going down to the Bishop’s Storehouse to get food from the church when money was tight during the recession in the 80’s. More recently, my sister and her husband had to seek church aid because the jobs they were working still didn’t pay enough to keep them afloat. It wasn’t until she went through this that I understood better how the Church system works (though I still don’t know all the details).
In order to get aid from the church, first one has to be a full tithe payer. Then they show the Bishop their bills and income. If anything is superfluous, they’re expected to cut it out. Then the Bishop asks if they have asked their family for help. This part completely humiliated my sister. I helped them out several times (single, so I had extra money) and I was glad to do so, but the idea that the church would send them begging their families for money before stepping in to help was infuriating to me. Wasn’t that the point of tithing?
It’s no wonder then that I had issues paying tithing again after being inactive. It was something that just didn’t make sense to me any more. I remember a talk someone gave in Sacrament Meeting about tithing, saying that it’s the only commandment that you can do “perfectly.” Even then I had issues with that statement because even if I were to pay a “full tithe,” if I’m not doing it with the right motivation behind it, it’s still not “doing it perfectly.” (Or maybe that’s another myth that was driven into my head as a kid, that doing the right thing just because wasn’t good enough.)
Mormons love to preach about the blessings from tithing. From “this person couldn’t pay their bills but decided to tithe anyway, then miraculously they still had enough for the mortgage” to “he paid his tithing when he didn’t want to, and now he got promoted. See how the Lord gives back?” it fills our lessons. There’s one story that they always tell in conjunction with it. That of St. George, UT.
Apparently it was suffering a drought (it’s in southern Utah…it’s kinda dry to begin with) and the President of the Church at the time, Lorenzo Snow, told them that it was because they weren’t paying their tithing fully. As the story goes, they started paying not just the 10% asked, but “all they had” which then brought the rain. It’s a common story that pretty much everyone in the Church knows because it’s used so often that it may as well appear in the books a Fairy Tales next to Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood.
When I was going to Seminary (not the college, but the Mormon scripture class in high school), my teacher one year talked about this incident, but unlike every other time I’d heard it she didn’t pain it in a good light. “We’re directed to give 10%. Not 11 or 12%. Not 8 or 9%. 10.” It made no sense to me that she was saying that overpaying was just as bad as underpaying. It still doesn’t.
After all my inactivity and my sister’s experience with the Church Welfare, I never could pay my tithing, and certainly not pay it “perfectly” as the one girl had said in her talk. I do wish that there was a magical way to make my coffers grow, but it isn’t through giving it away to an organization that harasses its member who are seeking help.
I have to do it the old fashioned way. Overtime.