Before anyone tries to uncover the reality of any principle or it’s application in any of reality, one must realize the difference between truth and opinion. Regardless of what anyone says, including this author, Truth is simply Reality. It encompasses every fact in existence, and is not affected by anyone’s opinions of it, or words spoken in relation to any part of it.
That being said, there is much confusion surrounding the principle of Tithing and its application to the personal lives of those who believe in it. Most assume into the principle an understanding of it’s application which is more cultural than substantive. An application which is assumed without regard to facts and evidence.
WHAT IS TITHING?
Tithing has been a principle often found in the Bible which is often practiced by those described as faithful followers of the Lord. It is a medium through which the price is paid for the organization of church operations. The word “tithing” has its roots in an old English form of the word which was defined as “tenth”. But, the question remains, a tenth of what exactly?
In D&C 119, a revelation was given to Joseph Smith which defined how this principle would apply to those who believed in the message. In verses 3 and 4:
“And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people. And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.” (emphasis added)
This position has never been altered, and, in fact, has been reiterated by presidents of the Church throughout church history. (See, for example, Gospel Ideals, Discourses of David O. McKay – pg. 197). It states in The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball that:
“Tithing is a tenth of income. Inquiries are received at the office of the First Presidency from time to time from officers and members of the Church asking for information as to what is considered a proper tithe. We have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself (sic), namely, that the members of the Church should pay “one tenth of all their interest annually” which is understood to mean income.” (pg. 208, emphasis added)
Even True To The Faith, a “gospel reference book” released by the Church to aid the membership in clearly understanding modern church positions, states something very similar:
“To pay a full tithe, you give one-tenth of your income to the Lord through His Church. You submit your tithing to a member of your bishopric or branch presidency.” (pg. 181, emphasis added)
So from this it is very clear that the position is to pay ten percent on income and interest. But the giant question still remains: what exactly is income and interest? The word interest is the word used in D&C 119, which then morphed into being associated with the word income in the same context much later in the history. So, lets take a look at these words individually.
The ruling authority on the English language in early American history was the Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary. In fact, this dictionary was the very first thoroughly developed American English dictionary and still remains one of the most well respected, if not the most, respected English dictionaries ever made. This dictionary was certainly the most well-documented basis of contemporary vernacular at the time that D&C 119 was written. In this dictionary, the relevant definition of the word “interest” is, as follows:
“Premium paid for the use of money; the profit per cent. derived from money lent, or property used by another person, or from debts remaining unpaid…Simple Interest is that which arises from the principal sum only. Compound interest is that which arises from the principal with the interest added; interest on interest; Any surplus advantage.”
From this alone it should be noted that interest would not include all money that comes in. It is not merely a quantity of money comes in as a result of one’s direct service and time, but is a fee, if you will, associated with a resource one happened to have had and loaned out. When one works, for instance, at a grocery store, they are selling their time and service for a paycheck, while the entity which runs the grocery store is buying such time/service from that person with the paycheck itself. This is, assuming volunteerism, an even exchange. This is not interest at all. It is quid pro quo, or “this for that”.
Even the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that: “In principle, there can be no difference between the case of selling labor and the case of selling goods.” (Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. at 558)
Interest, on the other hand, is earnings which are not directly linked to the work of an individual. It truly is “interest”, due to the difference in circumstances; there was no direct exchange based upon labor involved. It is a true “surplus advantage” that is made and derived from lent money and/or property. Since this amount of money was and is not a direct earning, we term it “interest”.
Therefore, one must come to the logical conclusion that what is specifically stated in D&C 119, regardless of differing modes of interpretation, exclusively referred to tithing being a tenth of one’s earned interest, and not all money that comes in. If the intention was to apply the due of tithing to all the money that comes in as a result of whatever means available, why wouldn’t the scripture have clearly stated so? And since it does not, wouldn’t the burden of proof be on the side that would state something contrary to the exact wording of the verse?
Eventually, the term income, which although not in the verse discussed above, became commonly associated with the word within the context of tithing. In fact, it is even stated in The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball that: “If a person has no income, then he is exempt, and that is just as honorable as being a full time tithe payer, if we are sure we are exempt, if we are sure that we had no income.” (pg. 209) So, just as before, let’s breakdown the word: Income.
The definition of Income in the american English language is most clear in the legal discussions surrounding the 16th Amendment and the Income Tax.
The word “Gross Income” is defined in IRS Tax Code, Section 22 as:
“(a): Gross Income includes gains, profits, and income derived from salaries, wages, or compensation for personal service” (emphasis added)
Did you notice the word derived? If income truly was all the money that comes in, then what, exactly, is it that is being derived? If gains, profits, and income are the same as salaries, wages, and compensation, then why even use the term “derived” at all? In other words, if “income” meant “all the money that comes in,” then it would be absolutely superfluous to include the word “derived”. The more one studies this topic, the more one realizes that the word income, truly defined, is essentially the same as the word “interest,” and perhaps “increase” as well.
In 1916, around the time of the alleged ratification of the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Federal 2nd Circuit Court ruled that: “The statute and the statute alone determines what is income to be taxed. It taxes only income ‘derived’ from many different sources; one does not ‘derive’ income by rendering services and charging for them.” (Edwards v. Keith, 231 F. 110, emphasis added).
If an apple tree were the source or principal, an apple from one of the branches would be comparable to income. Someone who works at a store is compensated for their time/service via exchange, as was mentioned earlier. That, minus “business expenses”, could be considered principal. If one took this principle and invested it in some medium that entailed interest in it’s use, that interest would be considered income.
Therefore, just as was the case with the word interest, the word income has a significant meaning that must be applied when it comes to the attempt to be a full tithe payer.
It is also interesting to note that in early church history, farmers included their crops and other associated foods (such as eggs), minus “business expenses”, as part of their calculation of what constituted tithing. They saw the natural processes as a sort of divine “interest” or “income” that should be included beside any earthly version of the same (via bonds, for example). Since God, after all, made this Earth, then why not use that “interest” payment on its’ processes as a part of funding, via an earthly organization, the services He would like provided toward members of His church?
A PRINCIPLE OF FREEDOM TOO OFT IGNORED
It is absolutely clear in Latter-Day Scripture that the principles behind the founding of the American systems of government were inspired by the Lord. Joseph Smith, in his inspired dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple, even prays that the Constitution “be established forever”. (D&C 109:54) Elsewhere, Smith even states that the system “is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner.” (HC 3:304) In fact, not only does the Lord state that the founders were “wise men” that He “raised up unto this very purpose” (D&C 101:80), but He elsewhere states that “whatsoever is more or less” than that standard “cometh of evil”. (D&C 98:4-7)
In the U.S. Constitution there is an explicit prohibition on direct taxes upon the people (except as applied to the state governments within the framework outlined therein). They realized that any direct tax burden upon the life, time, and/or property of the individual worked contrary to the entire purpose of having a government in the first place. If governments are there to secure rights, then how could it be valid to champion an infringement on those rights to fund the operation to begin with. A tax upon compensation for services, or any other exchange between private parties would necessarily be a direct tax, and thus, an unjust burden on those rights declared to be God-given.
Now, within the context of tithing, the question would remain: if the words interest and income were left defined the way the “culture” defines it (as everything coming in), how could these two principles be in harmony with each other? In other words, how could the principle behind the unjust burden upon the life of the individual be correct in the public sphere alone, with it mysteriously becoming a virtuous endeavor in the more private sphere of the church organization? Why would the same God that inspired an aversion to direct taxation as a means of funding government services in the US Constitution, “inspire” a more burdensome system when it came to the funding of church services? And, of course, as this author has attempted to show, it seems to be that we, as the people, have been the ones to spread confusion and disharmony; not God himself.
If my points were contrary to the scriptures, one would think that around the time that the Lord God told Adam that “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” in Genesis that that would have been a good time for Him to state that 1/10 of that was to be given back to Him. But, one must also ask, why would a God who is looking out for the progression of His children want to burden the very work and labor that would help lead to that very progress.
Bottom line: Wouldn’t an expectation of a portion of money coming in that is not directly burdening voluntary exchange be the most moral way to fund those services church members enjoy?
In the end, although some may say that the assertion herein is here to “rob God”, the truth of the matter is that full tithes should be paid by those who desire to be faithful members of the Church. It is then that the blessings shall come from the “windows of heaven” (Mal. 3:8-10). But, assuming that what is in this article is truly the case, one may one day have need to ask the question of: who is robbing who exactly? Whether we pay it to government, the church, God, or any other entity, when we volunteer too much of our resources, do we not rob ourselves of worth? In the same way, do we not rob our families of the resources that are theirs?
If God, as the Mormon religion dictates, wants reasonable and perfect-able followers, why would He then be satisfied with mere lemming-type mentalities who have yet to recognize the definitions and applications of key words in His commandments.
If, as it is implied in the New Testament story about the Widow’s mites, as well as stated in True to the Faith that: “paying tithing is not as much a matter of money as it is a matter of faith” (pg. 182), then one should not worry about what applying the Truth would be in terms of church budgeting.The truth, and true principles should come first, and the rest naturally takes care of itself.
But, ultimately, it is up to us, and between us, our consciences, and our God to decide the matter as it relates to our own actions. In the end on this issue, like so many other issues, we choose our own consequences whether positive or negative.