Disclaimer: The contents of this Post do not constitute an attempt to give financial or investment advice. Unless, you know, it relates to the gospel.
Chances are we have all heard of some version of the "Prosperity Gospel."
What exactly is the Prosperity Gospel? It's largely a belief that, in exchange for us giving money to our churches, God will bless us with more money , and better health, and lots of other stuff . . . but mainly more money.
The theory goes that the more generous we are in giving to our religion, the more generous God will be in giving us material wealth.
Quid Pro Quo, baby!
Interestingly, the Prosperity Theology has found its biggest support from the middle class, although it attracts many poor people, too. (I suppose if we had to choose between buying a lottery ticket or giving to our church, we might as well roll the dice on God, right? Or, as the Prosperity Gospel would say, "What's the difference?")
According to Wikipedia, "Prosperity churches place a strong emphasis on the importance of giving. Prosperity church leaders often claim that specific blessings can be exchanged for the money being donated to their ministry. While some prosperity churches have a reputation for manipulating and alienating the poor, many prosperity churches hold seminars on financial responsibility. Prosperity teachers often cultivate authoritarian organizations. (Wikipedia, excerpts from "Prosperity Theology," edited for clarity.) Recipe for Religious (i.e. Financial) Success
1. Take the Protestant Work Ethic; 2. Mix in a good amount of New Age Philosophy; 3. Add in a sprinkle of Bible verses; 4. Bake in an American pseudo-culture of Capitalism; 5. And voila! You have all the ingredients you need to preach the Good News of the Prosperity Gospel.
Pay to Play
In March 2019, the U.S. Federal Government indicted several rich celebrities for bribing ivy league universities to gain college admission for their children. It was called "Operation Varsity Blues."
The New York Times called the scandal "College Entry Fraud." The paper said, "A teenage girl who did not play soccer magically became a star soccer recruit at Yale. Cost to her parents: $1.2 million. . . . A student with no experience rowing won a spot on the U.S.C. crew team after a photograph of another person in a boat was submitted as evidence of her prowess. Her parents wired $200,000 into a special account." (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/12/us/college-admissions-cheating-scandal.html)
Heaven Entry Fraud
What about Heaven Entry Fraud ("H.E.F.")? Are the admission standards for Zion too steep for us?
After all, we may not be the brightest student, or a talented athlete, or living a life of sainthood. So can we buy our admission into Zion?
Under H.E.F., in exchange for a healthy amount of cash, our religions promise us:
Eat, drink and be merry; nevertheless, fear God-- he will justify in committing a little sin . . . and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
(2 Nephi 28:8)
Sure, H.E.F. artificially lowers the standards of the Sermon on the Mount, but we can still pat ourselves on the back as a member of the crew team!
A Protection Racket is a genius scheme: A group, or gang, promises to protect others who are vulnerable, for a regular "protection payment."
For example, let's say I live in a seedy New York neighborhood. A gang comes into my store and says, "Tim, there are a lot of bad guys out there. If you pay us $500 a month, we'll make sure they don't pick on you."
"What happens if I don't pay you the protection money?" I ask.
"Then we'll pick on you."
Well, darned if we do, and darned if we don't.
In many Islamic countries, conventional insurance is illegal. Why? Because Sharia law forbids gambling. And what is insurance but a form of gambling?
Christians, on the other hand, seem to love insurance. I mean, haven't we all heard that paying Tithing is our fire insurance?
Protection Money is like insurance . . . purchased at the business end of a pistol.
Verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.
Those words were given in 1831 -- seven years before D&C 119 gave the Law of Tithing in 1838. So we're not talking about that Tithing. Nobody was "paying tithing" in 1831.
So what does the Lord mean when He says it is "a day for the tithing of my people" if He was not referring to giving ten percent-or-whatever-percent-it-was-back-then?
It appears "tithing" has something to do with "sacrifice."
We need to look at the preceding verse for context. What kind of "tithe" does the Lord require?
For I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men.
How is it possible to "tithe" our hearts? Well, in the same year (1831) the Lord explained:
Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
So the sacrifice/tithing was not about money at all. It was about the heart.
Two years after the Lord gave Sections 64 and 59, he said:
Their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice-- yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command-- they are accepted of me.
Okay, so "a day of sacrifice, a day for the tithing of my people" would have been understood by the saints at the time as a requirement to sacrifice whatever the Lord commanded, which was a broken heart and contrite spirit. (Is there a reason to sacrifice what the Lord does not command?)
This agrees with what the Lord told the Nephites after his resurrection:
Your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away . . . . And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
(3 Nephi 9:19-20)
Tithing (as we know it) was not a "thing" until after 1844. So the next time you hear someone say paying tithing is "fire insurance," just know they are using the verse anachronistically.
A Testimonial of Tithing
Where does a testimony of tithing come from?
We've all heard testimonies about tithing at church, haven't we? Is there something similar about them all?
Let me see if I can reduce a testimony of tithing to its bare bones:
I had to choose between paying my tithing or paying my [fill in the blank]. I paid my tithing and was blessed by [fill in the blank]. I know the Lord blessed me because I paid my tithing.
Variations on a Theme
I don't pay tithing on what I earn; I pay tithing on what I want to earn.
I wish I paid $100,000 in tithing, because that would mean I earned one million dollars.
You wouldn't be struggling financially if you paid an honest tithe.
If you are stingy in giving your tithes, then the Lord will be stingy in giving you blessings.
Do we see anything problematic in those statements?
Have you ever heard someone teach tithing in a non-self-interested way? Is it possible our testimony of tithing may be placed in the wrong thing when we focus on what we get from paying tithing?
I know people frame it as a "faith" principle ("If I pay tithing, then God will take care of my needs"), but, like all legalistic principles, it ultimately becomes a question of faith in our own obedience rather than in Jesus Christ.
How the Pharisees loved tithing! The Jews were only required to tithe their foodstuffs under the law of Moses, but in Jesus's parable of the Pharisee and Publican, the wicked Pharisee bragged, "I give tithes of all that I possess" (Luke 18:12).
Do we see the point? The Pharisee in the parable was paying more tithing than the Law required (which made him feel really good). But God was not pleased with him at all.
Have we turned tithing into an infomercial for the Prosperity Gospel?
"Don't worry about how much you've donated because God gives a MONEY BACK GUARANTEE!"
"You will not find these blessings in any other religion, so ACT NOW! This is for a LIMITED TIME ONLY -- just until you die!"
"Are you tired of worrying about the Second Coming? Then send in your payment now and you will receive a FLAME RETARDANT WARRANTY!"
"If you pay RIGHT NOW we'll double the offer and throw in access to our full line of ordinances necessary for your EXALTATION!"
"BISHOP COUNSELORS are STANDING BY to receive your donation."
"BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! In exchange for easy monthly payments, you'll receive the satisfaction of knowing God APPROVES OF YOU and LOVES YOU!"
What Did Jesus Teach?
In a previous post I mentioned the principle of non-reciprocity. If we are recompensed for our sacrifice, then it was not a sacrifice. A real sacrifice seeks nothing in return.
But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
I confess, in all seriousness, that the way we preach and practice tithing today is amiss.
What if we applied the following words to the church's practice of tithing?
Destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred in the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.