The years of 2011–2012 are being called by many in the media the “Mormon moment.” It is truly a unique time in Mormon history. Two Mormon candidates for the Presidency of the United States of America have brought a great deal of discussion to the forefront. Many other things have contributed to the discussion, such as the Book of Mormon musical on Broadway and shows on reality television claiming to depict Mormon polygamists who are really fundamentalists. Much of this discussion has been good. Though many misconceptions still exist about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the nicknamed “Mormon Church” is officially called, the discussion has begun to show some of the truth about what Latter-day Saints believe.
A lot of attention has been given to presidential-candidate Mitt Romney’s recent publication of his taxes. Romney has been the center of much attention and discussion as a Mormon candidate for president. One misconception that exists among the general public about the LDS Church is the principle of tithing. Tithing in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differs in a few key ways from the principle in other Christian churches.
All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are commanded to pay a tithe, which the Lord has designated as one-tenth of a person’s annual income. Unlike many other churches whose clergy is professional, the “Mormon Church” has a lay clergy. This means that all those who hold any type of leadership position give of their time and service voluntarily and without monetary compensation. This holds true even for the highest leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Individuals who serve in the LDS Church support themselves financially on their own.
Though the commandment to pay tithing is referenced in the Old Testament, modern scripture also reveals that Saints today should be faithful in paying their tithing. The Doctrine and Covenants, which is considered by Latter-day Saints to be a record of modern scripture, says the following: “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” (D&C 119:4).
Funds from tithing are used to build up the Lord’s kingdom on the earth. They are used to erect meetinghouses and temples and to provide for the poor as needed. The procedures for dispensing of the tithes which are collected are standardized around the world and are very strict. The First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric comprise the Council on the Disposition of Tithes. These men meet together to allot tithing money to different areas of the church. They do so in prayer and solemnity. The tithing funds are viewed as sacred. They are the Lord’s. Thus, any who are involved in spending it view the responsibility as a very serious one. They truly desire to know God’s will in how the money should be wisely spent. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accrues no debt. No building is begun unless all the funds are already present to pay for it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to be financially successful because financial control is based upon budgeting, organizational structure, sound judgment and investments, and frequent complete audits. The audit committee is made up of disinterested, experienced businessmen who are not connected to the Church in any other way. Church leaders are scrupulous in ensuring only ethical practices and procedures are used for Church funds.
Though tithing is viewed as a commandment, it is still voluntary. It is also kept confidential. No one but the individual, the bishop and his clerk know how much a person pays in tithing. Once a year, individuals have the opportunity to meet with the bishop and to declare if they are a full-tithe payer or a non-full-tithe payer. No records are checked against pay stubs. It is all on the honor system.
In addition to paying tithing, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the opportunity to contribute to many other Church funds. Some of these include the missionary fund (which provides financial help for individuals who wish to serve a mission but cannot afford to support themselves entirely), the Book of Mormon fund (which allows copies of the Book of Mormon to be distributed for free to interested parties), the Humanitarian Aid Fund (which helps victims of natural disasters and war worldwide, regardless of religious affiliation), and the Perpetual Education Fund (which gives small loans to church members allowing them to gain a technical education; upon graduation and employment, they pay back the loan without interest, allowing others to benefit from the program).
Mitt Romney’s current tax records show that 15 percent of his income was contributed to charitable causes. While 10 percent of this is likely his tithing, the extra 5 percent could be split up in myriad ways through the Church’s other funds or through charitable foundations not connected with the Church at all.
Mitt Romney’s Mormon donations, as well as donations from millions of other members, allow The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to continue doing the Lord’s work throughout the world. None of these funds benefit individuals. They are all used for the building up of the Kingdom of God.
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.