"The important thing to remember is that requiring obedience to a tradition is bad. Word of Wisdom. Tradition. Tithing? Tradition. White Shirts? Tradition. Deacons passing the Sacrament? Tradition. Baptism? Not tradition."
I don't think people liked me calling tithing a tradition because we've been taught it is a law of God which we must keep. I think this post will be eye opening for those that hold this view.
The context for my remark was a broader discussion about the way our traditions can easily devour the word of God as a tiger swallowing a wildebeest.
"In modern terms, we see the same thing with the Word of Wisdom. The revelation came as wise counsel, and was specifically NOT "by way of constraint." Then the Church began creating traditions and interpretations around it. The tradition, over time, became more important than the actual words God had given. Now the Church enforces the tradition (through a Temple Recommend Interview) instead of the revelation itself ― which was supposed to be elective all along. You see what a mess it has become."
A mess? Can the same be said about tithing? How has tithing become a "tradition?"
Don't Pick at Scabs
As a young man I played football for my school.
My position on the scrimmage line was left guard (I was too big to be a running back and too clumsy to throw the ball; but toss my body in front of others to block? No problem.)
One hot afternoon on the practice field I was injured during a skirmish. A defensive player's shoulder pads got locked with mine like the horns of two mountain goats fighting over territory.
In the process, something sharp and jagged shredded my lower shoulder and upper arm, leaving a long bloody gash.
The thing I remember about my injury was how my dad encouraged me afterward to apply Vitamin E to the wound to reduce scarring (I still have a scar, but it's hardly an impressive Football Injury to brag about).
Vitamin E came in little capsules and for several weeks I used my mother's sewing needles to pierce the capsules and push the sticky liquid onto my red, puckered skin.
The second thing I remember was my dad telling me to stop picking at the scab and allow the wound to "be."
Tithing is something of a scab. It itches my spirit; it's a pustule that weeps pus in my heart; a thorn in the side of the gospel used to purchase entry into the temple.
Believe me, I take no delight in writing about tithing. Some people get fired up about women's issues; or gay issues; or race issues; and all of those are important to me, too, because I have covenanted to mourn with those that mourn. But it stings like cold iron when I see tithing being used as a tool of priestcraft ― it affects every one of us.
So this morning on the train I felt like maybe it wouldn't hurt to pick at this scab just a little more.
Why Are Religious Traditions Bad?
When I talk about traditions, I am not talking about giving pj's on Christmas Eve or cooking a goose for Thanksgiving.
We all have many wonderful, harmless, endearing traditions.
But religious traditions are different: they become a hedge we build around the law; and as a hedge blocking our path, even so traditions impede our coming unto Christ by getting us to stop short, viewing the Tree from behind the hedge where we are unable to pluck the fruit thereof.
They arise when we take any commandment, principle or doctrine and begin telling others how they're supposed to faithfully obey it (like how many knots we can tie on the Sabbath before it becomes "work").
Let's take a harmless example: church worship music. We want the songs to be sacred and so the Brethren do not allow electric guitars to accompany us in Sacrament Meeting.
But I don't know if you have noticed how often the scriptures talk about rejoicing and shouting and clapping for joy. Hardly the reverent strumming of a harp's strings, to be sure.
And so we concoct a "proper" version of reverence, playing hymns like funeral dirges, and think God is pleased?
What makes the sound vibrations produced by an organ so much more spiritual than a bass guitar?
But here's where it gets tricky: once a tradition is born, we will begin developing new commandments, principles and doctrines based on the tradition!
This is why requiring obedience to traditions is so dangerous ― because traditions multiply and replenish like locusts that consume God's word, leaving us famished.
I don't want to gloss over this point. When we extrapolate doctrine from our traditions, we've really put the cart before the horse.
President Packer was famous for doing this, like in his Unwritten Order of Things talk, which was an apologetic for our traditions.
I don't know about you, but that talk sent shudders down my spiritual spine. When we give authority to our traditions, we are saying, "Whether the tradition is correct or not, and whether we've consulted God or not, and whether there's a better way or not ― the important thing is we're doing things as we've always done them, which means they must be right, right?"
Zechariah warned us not to become too attached to our traditions, which have a way of making us intractable and hard-of-hearing to the whisperings of the Spirit. The prophet Zechariah said:
Oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor . . . . But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.
Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law.
I love the imagery in this passage that describes us "pulling away the shoulder" and "stopping their ears that they should not hear" ― like my toddlers when they ran across the kitchen floor with no clothes while I tried to herd them towards bed, telling them to put on pajamas and brush their teeth, and they covered their ears with their hands, crying, "I can't hear you, I can't hear you!"
Didn't President Packer understand that the Catholics had already cornered the market on tradition? Quite literally: in response to the Protestant Reformation the best theologians in the Catholic Church met during the Counter Reformation, and in the Council of Trent (1545-1563) they developed two sources of authority: (1) Scripture (herein they agreed with the Protestants) AND (2) the tradition of the Church.
How dare we accuse the Catholic church of apostasy for governing through councils and tradition when today WE'RE DOING THE EXACT SAME!
To continue with our example of worship music, I remember reading then-Elder Packer saying: "We would be ill-advised to describe [sacred gospel themes] in the company of rock music, even soft rock music. . . . I do not know how that can be done and result in increased spirituality. I think it cannot be done." (Boyd K. Packer, "The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord, 1976).
Here we see Elder Packer leaning into his tradition and his upbringing, drawing conclusions about rock music and "modern beats" based on the Church's musical culture that he was familiar and comfortable with.
But ask your Evangelical friends how many of them can testify that they have been spiritually edified listening to modern Christian soft rock music?
Traditions are rooted to our cultural bias and experiences. But the Lord's gospel transcends such inconsequential things as time and culture.
My Tithing Declaration
Considering the gymnastics the Church has put tithing through, here is my Declaration:
I DECLARE that we do not keep the law of tithing as it has ever been revealed by God to man.
(1) Tithing Was For the Poor.
Melchizedek (the person, not the priesthood) received tithes from Abram for a particular purpose. Guess what the divine purpose of tithing was in the City of Peace, or Zion?
And this Melchizedek was called the king of heaven by his people. And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest and keeper of the storehouse of God;
Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes FOR THE POOR.
(Genesis 14:36-38, JST)
Do we pay tithing "for the poor?" No, we collect tithing from the poor.
What an upside-down world we live in. We tell the poor folk in Africa to pay tithing, and why? So they can receive the blessings that come from paying tithing? That's a poor excuse, I think, for grinding the faces of the poor.
What do we need their money for? Is it to build chapels and temples and pay for sexual abuse settlements (to the tune of $250 million) and the salaries of Kirton and McConkie lawyers and to fund the BYU universities and vacation homes for the apostles and a fleet of vehicles and gardeners and security guards and computer programmers and the budget of the Church Office Building and . . . . boy it's expensive to have a respectable church these days!
(2)Tithing Was Paid in Kind.
Remember when, under the Law of Moses, tithing (the heave offering) was paid in foodstuffs? It was like a potluck supper that everybody rejoiced over together? We shared a meal and broke bread as brothers.
What I like about tithing under the Law of Moses was the way it was intended to bring the priests and the laypeople together in unity and shared fellowship.
(3) Leaders Were Not Exempt from Paying Tithing.
The priests under the Law of Moses were not exempt from tithing. But in the Church we don't tithe tithing, do we? We exempt mission presidents and who-knows-who-else (like the General Authorities) from paying tithing on their "necessary living expenses" (despite the fact that Church employees and university staff and faculty must pay tithing on their earnings in order to retain their employment).
Read carefully the following passages from the Mission Presidents Handbook:
Okay, well-to-do mission presidents get a pass on tithing while we require poor saints to pay?
"Wait, Tim!" someone objects. "It says right there that if mission presidents have outside income they should pay normal tithing in their home wards."
True. So we need to figure out what is "reimbursed" by the Church, which is NOT tithed. Well, lucky for us, the Handbook tells us (no, not the public one; I'm talking about the secret Handbook for leaders).
Leaders are reimbursed for "necessary living expenses" which include:
- food - clothing - household supplies - family activities - dry cleaning - phones - modest gifts - medical expenses - dental care and eye doctors - support for full-time missionary dependents - travel expenses - school expenses - extracurricular activities - babysitters - undergraduate tuition for dependents - utilities - rent - life insurance - health insurance premiums - a gardener - (yes, this is for real) a part-time housekeeper and cook.
You think I am making this up? No, these are all listed in the Church's own Handbook.
Repeat: these are what the leaders consider to be NECESSARY living expenses (which are Tithing-Exempt).
In other words, the Handbook appears to justify us in covering all of our "necessary living expenses" before paying a dime of tithing. Good to know!
(4) Tithing Becomes Extortion When Exacted from Widows and the Poor The architect of tithing in modern times was Lorenzo Snow. But President Snow was not a cad, recognizing that tithing should NOT be required of those living paycheck-to-paycheck.
In a bit of subterfuge, the Correlation Department quoted President Snow in the Teachings of Lorenzo Snow study manual on tithing . . . but did they quote him accurately? Ummm. Here's what we got from the Manual: "I plead with you in the name of the Lord, and I pray that every man, woman and child . . . shall pay one-tenth of their income as a tithing."
Now, contrast that quote with the original Conference Report from October 1899:
Ah, those magical ellipses. Ellipsesgate, I call it. Those three little dots tell us everything we need to understand about the avarice of tithing in the current regime.
As we learn from The Book of Proverbs:
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker.
(Proverbs 14:31, NIV)
(5) Joseph F. Smith 1907 Statement on Tithing.
Joseph F. Smith, the President of the Church, promised the members in General Conference in April 1907 that the day would come when we would stop paying tithing to the church.
When will we see the fulfillment of this prophecy?
"Furthermore, I want to say to you, we may not be able to reach it right away, but we expect to see the day when we will not have to ask you for one dollar of donation for any purpose, except that which you volunteer to give of your own accord, because we will have tithes sufficient in the storehouse of the Lord to pay everything that is needful for the advancement of the kingdom of God. I want to live to see that day."
Today the The Church has at least $124 billion dollars invested in stocks and bonds, which generates enough income for the Church from interest (about $7 billion dollars) to cover all of the Church's budgetary needs annually. And it also has all of the land holdings and other business enterprises.
(6) The Church Lost Any Divine Prerogative to Collect Tithing When it Abandoned the Law of Common Consent and Refused Financial Transparency and Accountability.
I didn't know we could pick-and-choose which of God's laws we keep.
Isn't it revealing that of all the commandments, tithing is the one we have an annual check-up with the bishop about? They really do want us to be paid up!
Nevermind that tithing didn't even make the Top Ten List of Moses' Ten Commandments; nevermind that Jesus never instructed his disciples to pay tithing, but told them to liberally care for the poor anonymously, promising that our Father who seeth in secret shall reward us openly.
But fair-is-fair. It seems like it would be fair to say the Church lost any right to collect tithing when it forsook the law of common consent (see D&C 26:2) and chose to keep its counsels and doings hidden from the membership.
(7) Can't use D&C 119 to justify current practice.
Those who wish to defend tithing use D&C 119 as their silver bullet, quoting the verse that says tithing is to be "a standing law" forever.
Well, I have bad news. The practice of tithing has changed so much over time that it bears little resemblance to what Joseph Smith restored. If they think they are keeping the law of tithing as it was given to Joseph Smith, then they haven't paid attention to what the revelation actually says.
Just because we have appropriated the term "tithing" and slapped the label on what is more accurately called protection money, that doesn't make our financial contributions "tithing" anymore than calling coffee "warmed Coca Cola" makes it soda.
We can call tithing whatever we want; just don't call it a law of God when we are doing something different than what God said.
So any claim to authority ― in this case D&C 119 ― goes right out the window because we aren't keeping the law Joseph revealed, the way it was given.
This shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.
And so we can conclude:
a. Tithing in ancient times was for supporting the poor.
b. Tithing in 19th Century was for supporting the church.
Wait. What? This has been such a weird journey tithing's been on.
(8) History shows "standing laws" don't mean "forever"
Well, speaking of sore subjects, we need to talk about circumcision by way of analogy to tithing.
This is a sensitive topic, I know. But of all the signs the Lord could have established with Abraham, here we are.
Tithing being a "standing law" unto the Church pales in comparison to the ultimate standing law of circumcision.
The whole episode is related in Genesis 17. The Lord told Abraham:
This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and they seed after thee: Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
He that is born in thy house must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
(Gen. 17:10, 13)
The important things to remember are circumcision was (1) a God-given commandment that (2) applied to every male in the household of faith and (3) was to practiced forever as an everlasting covenant.
The penalty for not being circumcised was quite severe:
[He that is not circumcised] shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
"Cut off?" Sounds painful.
And then the apostle Paul stumbles into Christianity on the Road to Damascus 2000 years later (who was an expert on circumcision: just ask Timothy).
Paul catches the fire of the gospel and runs from synagogue to synagogue preaching:
"Psych! No more circumcision. No, I'm not kidding. Christ has done away with the lesser law. We're free!"
It was as crazy as me running around Elders Quorum jubilantly saying:
"Psych! No more tithing. No, I'm not kidding. Christ has done away with the lesser law. We're free!"
In fact, Paul viewed it as a sign of faithlessness if a person required others to be circumcised: it showed they were stuck in their old tradition and didn't trust God's work through His Son; to them he said:
Christ is become of no effect unto you.
In order to get the full effect of Paul's statement and how jarring it must have sounded to his listeners, just remember that circumcision was a covenant from God that was supposed to last forever, and was the primary-identifier for spotting one of the Lord's chosen people.
How would we have responded, hearing Paul preach, "Do you believe in Christ or circumcision? You must choose. What's going save you at the last day?"
Well, then all hell broke loose. Literally!
The early Church was torn apart between two opposing camps like the Israelites marshalled against the Philistines for war: (1) the Judaizers who were on Team Circumcision and (2) Paul with his gentile converts for Christ.
Where stood Peter? Well, I'm glad you asked, because that was a bit awkward. Peter was caught trying to play the middle.
You see, Peter got it. He had a vision of unclean things and was told that the gospel must be preached to the gentiles, who were uncircumcised. So his heart was in the right place.
But socially things were complicated for Peter, who was getting lots of pressure and criticism from the Judaizers who faulted him for eating with unclean, uncircumcised folk.
In Antioch it all hit the fan in spectacular fashion when Paul rebuked Peter in public for caving to the circumcision-crowd, trying to placate those who placed confidence in their tradition:
But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.
(Galatians 2:14, 16)
Lesson learned: Don't get between Christ and his servant, Paul!
Modern Revelation to the Rescue
In the Doctrine and Covenants we have an entire section dealing with the circumcision controversy in Section 74.
And it came to pass that there arose a great contention among the people . . .
Well, we all know how the Lord feels about "contention." Now imagine a "great contention" among His children.
concerning the law of circumcision for the unbelieving husband
This unbelieving husband we're talking about was the Judaizer husband who wanted to keep the law of circumcision. He is referred to here as "unbelieving" because his faith was in the Law as opposed to Christ.
was desirous that his children should be circumcised and become subject to the law of Moses, which law was fulfilled.
What's the problem with having it both ways? Why can't we follow Christ and also follow the law of circumcision?
the children, being brought up in subjection to the law of Moses, gave heed to the traditions of their fathers
Oh oh. Notice the focus on "the children." We really are in trouble if we get the rising generation off on the wrong foot.
When we mix the gospel with our traditions, what do we create? Ten Points to Gryffindor if you said "abominations."
and believed not the gospel of Christ, wherein they became unholy.
I don't think the Lord could say it any more plainly: traditions make us "unholy." Why, though? What is so destructive about overlaying our traditions onto the gospel?
And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.
But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.
We don't often quote that second verse, but I think it's important because the Lord is implying that when we pass along to our children our traditions we are doing them a disservice. It is not the faith of our fathers we want to pass along but a living faith in Christ.
Continuing with circumcision:
Their children might remain without circumcision; and the tradition might be done away.
I don't know about you, but if I'm going to "bring up" my children in the light and truth of the gospel then I will need to discourage them from following the traditions of their fathers which are incorrect.
Christ is saying: Let it end here, now.
On Sunday I sat in a side pew in the chapel for Sacrament Meeting. There was a double-missionary farewell so the room was packed.
Sitting beside me was my 15 year old daughter as the counselor in the bishopric made his announcements, including how important it was for everyone to sign up for Tithing Declaration.
I leaned over to my daughter and whispered, "I wrote a poem about that!"
"Oh?" she replied.
I handed her my phone and let her read it as the organ began to play music. Tithing Declaration a poem
And Jesus went into the temple and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and said unto them, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
― Matthew 21:12-13
Whomsoever loves to make a lie that will not die: There’s nothing in this world he says your money cannot buy. But Whosoever my words believe they shall be born anew: Whose money can buy nothing here where I have ransomed you.