Narrator: Tithing was not always the mega-star we see today, headlining churches around the world with millions of subscribing fans.
No, the story of Tithing's climb to the top could have been ripped from the pages of a dime-store novel, full of intrigue, dark secrets and betrayal.
The rags-to-riches tale of Tithing began in poverty. Tithing was a poor thing, hanging around in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, hospital wards and orphanages.
But everything changed after Tithing was adopted by its very own "Daddy Warbucks." After that, it went through a drug-fueled period of self-discovery. It fell among a hard-partying crowd wearing silks and scarlets and all manner of precious clothing. A favorite of the paparazzi, Tithing was often seen with harlots hanging on both arms while spending money like it was going out of style.
Then one day Tithing realized it had lost its way. It felt miserable despite all of its gold and silver. Drowned in the popularity and stardom, would Tithing rediscover its true nature and humble roots? Could it ever give up the praise and adulation? Was Tithing set to make the comeback of the Millennium?
Stay tuned. THIS IS THE TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY . . . OF TITHING.
Moses: Yeah, I remember Tithing. Back in the day, before it became a big deal, I heard of it. Just something that Abraham had paid to Melchizedek, you know?
The thing that stands out to me was how Tithing was different back then. I guess fame can go to one's head, right? Because before Tithing had its big break, it used to be modest. Real modest.
Not many people remember the way Tithing used to be. I recall that Abram paid Tithes of all the riches that he possessed which God had given him, "more than that which he had need" (JST Gen. 14:39). No one talks about that last part nowadays.
Narrator: Tithing struggled with anonymity, scraping by on what was left over after people's needs had been met. It craved more. Would Moses help Tithing jump start its career?
Moses: No, Tithing did not make my Top Ten list. A lot of people ask me why I didn't include Tithing in the Ten Commandments. I just felt there were a lot of other things that were more important.
You gotta recall I was busy pioneering social justice to the Egyptians. Pharaoh was trying to kill me. And I had to figure out how to feed thousands of Israelites for forty years with more than just quail.
Tithing was not a priority.
Narrator: But all that was about to change. Tithing was about to make its first fortune, and religion would never be the same . . .
Moses: One day I introduced Tithing to my brother Aaron's sons and, boy, they really hit it off. No kidding, they were inseparable. And that is when a light bulb went off. I figured out a way to include Tithing in our group. I wrote it all down, somewhere. But here are three principles that were important:
1. Tithing was not intended to be a universal requirement.
Tithing was something for landowners (Deut. 14:22-26). You see, tithing was tied to the land we had received from the Lord. You paid from the abundance of your field based on what you could afford, whether turtle doves or bullocks.
It was not a tax for heaven's sake! I've been saying that for years. I tried to make this as clear as I could:
The Lord said to Moses, Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering.
You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.
(Exodus 25:1-2, NIV version) 2. Tithing was supposed to be given to (not taken from) the poor, widows, fatherless and strangers (Deut. 14:28-29).
I never wanted Tithing to be a burden. I mean, let's not forget that tithing was paid in kind; it was foodstuffs. Those who made the offering got to eat it with the priests and their families. So the giver and the receiver shared a feast. Tithing was like a potluck.
3. The priests had to pay Tithing themselves.
I never wanted those who collected Tithing to think they were any better than the rest of us. Sure, every band has its primadonnas. But to keep everybody on the same level, I told the Levites (who were fed by tithes) to pay a heave offering of 1/10 of what they received (Numbers 18:26).
Narrator: As Tithing catapulted to the top of the charts, who can forget that publicity train wreck caused by the sons of Eli? But over time Tithing settled into its steady gig as the tambourine player of The Law of Moses.
[Foreboding music in background] Would its happiness last? Was Tithing ready for its greatest challenge yet? Would Tithing survive the teachings of a carpenter's son from Nazareth?
Matthew: So I remember Jesus making fun of the way the Pharisees treated Tithing.
Paul: Yeah, Tithing did not like the way it was being talked about. At all. Jesus said the Jews were using it to "devour widows' houses," which of course they were. They couldn't handle the truth. What they were doing was just wrong. Plain wrong.
Matthew: Uh huh. The Pharisees were totally legalistic about it. They treated Tithing like a spiritual tax that reflected their righteousness, making a big show of how generous they were, blaring trumpets--
Paul: And you'd know a thing or two about taxes, right--
Matthew: [Laughing] Nice one. Seriously, though, Jesus told them that Tithing was not one of the "weightier matters of the law." Which made them mad because Jesus was telling them that Tithing was, like, one of the "lighter matters of the law." He was Tithing-Lite. It totally exposed their hypocrisy.
Paul: And didn't Jesus mention Tithing in his Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican?
Matthew: Exactly. That parable is one of my favorites, naturally.
Paul: The Pharisee was bragging to God, being like, "I fast twice a week and I give tithes of all that I possess."
Matthew: For all the good it did him. Paying Tithing did not justify him--
Paul: Because we are justified by grace through faith.
Matthew: [Nodding] So one time, Jesus made a big example of this widow who gave the temple treasury two pennies. It was all she had. I mean, she didn't even have money left over for food. Jesus looked at her, and you can imagine what he was thinking. She was a victim of a religious system that had twisted Tithing into this Jekyll-and-Hyde monster, taking something that was meant to bless her into something that oppressed her.
Paul: Exactly! I've spent my life trying to convince Christians that Tithing was "old law" and that we are no longer under the yoke of the Law of Moses anymore. Thank goodness. There's no flat tax, kiddos! There's no "minimum monthly payment" necessary to remain God's sons and daughters. I said:
Each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income.
(1 Cor. 16:2, NIV version)
For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.
(2 Cor. 8:3, ESV version)
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
(2 Cor. 9:7, NIV version)
Matthew: That's the beauty of voluntary giving. Unfortunately, Tithing never seemed to learn the lesson. It got into a lot of fights. It made me sad, seeing how it would take something pure and holy and turn it into a cold obligation, as a means of self-righteousness and control.
Narrator: After Jesus destroyed the priestcraft of the Pharisees, Tithing fell upon hard times. It was down but not out. Would Tithing find better success among the Nephites in the New World? Would it find a foothold in the latter-days?
Mormon: Tithing never really fit in here. Sure, the Nephites lived the law of Moses (at least until Christ was resurrected and told them to S.T.O.P.). But otherwise we never did the whole one-tenth percentage thing.
King Noah: I think that is why Tithing got desperate. It came to me, asking for temp work. So I gave it a job, but I called it "Tribute" instead. Tax, Tribute, Tithing . . . what's the difference? I collected one-fifth of everybody's gold, silver, ziff, copper, and brass.
Mormon: [Shaking his head] Wasn't that a bit excessive?
King Noah: Hardly! I was a paragon compared to the King of the Lamanites who charged a Tribute of one-half of our gold, silver and precious things. Talk about a jerk.
Mormon: I still don't understand how you pulled it off, convincing people to pay your "Tribute."
King Noah: It was easy. I used a part of the Tribute I collected to build a fabulous Temple. And tower. And palace. But the important thing was for the people to know that sacrificing their hard-earned money was an act of faith and obedience, and the Temple was a symbol of that, which we built out of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass. It was a fine sanctuary. I made them pay Tribute for their own good. It was all for them, actually. They needed the blessings that come by sacrifice.
Mormon: Well, if you'd have listened to Abinadi--
King Noah: But I had a good thing going! Until Abinadi came, saying "Why do you set your hearts on riches? Why do you cause the people to commit sin?" How was I supposed to know he was a messenger from God when I was so busy running the church?
Mormon: Well, it got a lot worse after the collapse of the Nephite Zion. I mean, churches were being built up unto themselves to get gain, like yours, Noah, and they were lifted up in pride, wearing costly apparel and fine pearls, and persecuting the true followers of Christ--
King Noah: How did the churches go about "persecuting" the true believers?
Mormon: How did you persecute Abinadi? You punished him. The churches wanted money. And the true believers refused to play ball. So things got nasty and the wicked churches tried to "exercise power and authority over the disciples of Jesus who did tarry with them, and they did cast them into prison . . . and did seek to kill them . . . [but] the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches" (4 Nephi 1:30-34). Tithing got carried away in the spirit of sectarianism.
King Noah: Hey, whatever happened to Tithing, in the end?
Mormon: Oh, it did very well. Sadly, "they did still continue to build up churches unto themselves, and adorn them with all manner of precious things" (4 Nephi 1:41). All that was big business. And then it all went bankrupt at Cumorah.
King Noah: It's a shame.
Mormon: What is?
King Noah: All that Tithing . . . all the money, those gorgeous buildings and fine pearls . . . gone forever.
Narrator: And then came the bombshell exposé by the Wall Street Journal that shook the industry from top to bottom. Similar to the Milli Vanilli lip syncing scandal of 1990, it was leaked that Tithing had been giving lip service over the previous decades. Could Tithing rise above the controversy? Was Tithing's career over?
Wall Street Journal Reporter: Mr. Snow, you are largely credited for pulling the church from the brink of financial ruin. How did you and Tithing do it?
Lorenzo Snow: Well, let's see. I guess my relationship with Tithing began on December 7, 1837, when Bishop Edward Partridge officially declared that members should pay 2% of their net worth, after deducting debts.
Brigham Young: [Interjecting] 2% was never going to cut it.
Lorenzo Snow: No, we needed more than that--
Brigham Young: Which is why I implemented a little Tithe we could call a "Membership Fee." Before baptism, or before immigrating to Deseret, a person had to donate 10% of their entire net worth to the church.
Lorenzo Snow: [Uncomfortably] Well, I did away with that particular Tithing practice.
Brigham Young: You WHAT?
Wall Street Journal Reporter: Mr. Young, isn't it true that you and the Twelve, on August 15, 1844, just weeks after Joseph Smith's death, did in fact institute a 10% 'Membership Fee' on all members and converts and then instructed them to pay an ongoing Tithe of 10% annually thereafter?
Brigham Young: Yes.
Wall Street Journal Reporter: And isn't it true that on January 29, 1845, you and the Twelve voted to exempt yourselves from the obligation to pay tithing?
Brigham Young: Yes.
Wall Street Journal Reporter: While, at the same time, you voted to pay yourselves a weekly salary without telling the members of the church?
Brigham Young: Yes.
Wall Street Journal Reporter: And isn't it true that you died a multi-millionaire?
Brigham Young: Yes.
Wall Street Journal Reporter: And yet, you said that no one, yourself included, ever lived the law of tithing as it had been revealed?
Brigham Young: That's right. (Deseret Evening News, 9 October 1875, p. 2)
Wall Street Journal Reporter: So what was the point of telling the people to pay Tithing if you and the church were not living it the way God had revealed it?
Brigham Young: As I've said before, I shall talk and act as I please. Spoken words are but wind, and when spoken are gone.
Wall Street Journal Reporter: Now, Mr. Snow, what our readers want to know is why you made the payment of 10% Tithing a condition for entry into the Temple?
Lorenzo Snow: Well, in 1899 I went on tour. Tithing and I toured throughout Utah, and I linked the payment of Tithes with worthiness to enter the Temple, yes.
Wall Street Journal Reporter: Going back to 1899. You said, "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 tithing." Is that right?
Lorenzo Snow: No, that's not exactly what I said--
Wall Street Journal Reporter: Really? Because I quoted it directly from your book, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, chapter 12 (2011).
Lorenzo Snow: Well, they must have edited my full statement. I don't know why. I actually said, "I plead with you in the name of the Lord, and I pray that every man, woman and child who has means shall pay one tenth of their income as tithing."
Wall Street Journal Reporter: That makes a big difference to the overall meaning, doesn't it?
Lorenzo Snow: I think so.
Wall Street Journal Reporter: Now, do you consider the blessings of the Temple and its ordinances to be necessary for exaltation?
Lorenzo Snow: Absolutely.
Wall Street Journal Reporter: And yet, you charge an admission fee to the Temple, don't you? Is that comparable to the money changers that Jesus whipped out of the temple? Is that like selling the tokens of the temple for money?
Narrator: Tithing reinvented itself yet again by entering into its Heavy Metal Phase. (Or should we say, its Precious Metal Phase?) Its popularity continued to soar well into the Twenty First Century, as it had amassed a personal fortune of over $100 Billion Dollars.
And then it abruptly fell from grace in the year 2035 . . .
Narrator: In an address given by Kam L. Case in the April 2035 General Conference, the Windows of Heaven opened. Literally.
President Case: My dear brothers and sisters, we have been through much tribulation these past years. After the Independent Republic of Pocatello succeeded from the Union and joined forces with the star Wormwood, we have at last brokered peace. We must begin to rebuild our communities. Now, more than ever, we must pay Tithing as a sign of our great faith.
If paying Tithing means that you cannot pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying Tithing means that you cannot pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying Tithing means that you don't have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing--
Narrator: What happened next was voted the most Bodacious Event of the 21st Century by our viewers. The video has been replayed online on YouTube2 more than 1.5 trillion times and is the most viewed clip of all time.
Keanu Reeves: [Booming voice coming from above as an angel is seen slowly descending in a white robe.] Brother Case, my name is Celeritas, and I come from the presence of Michael, the Archangel, to deliver this message:
And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you.
Ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi.
Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother?
I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar.
Should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord.
Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts.
(Malachi excerpts from chapters 1 to 3)
Narrator: Join us next time for the True Hollywood Story of . . . Fast Offerings.