It’s not often that you’ll find the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and CNN simultaneously and very suddenly begin publishing dozens of articles on a common and largely uncontroversial religious practice. Yet, as Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign released tax records showing Romney’s participation in paying tithing, these and other news outlets have been buzzing with explanations and possible implications. Everyone seems to want to know what tithing is and why it is so important to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes nicknamed “Mormons.”
The answers to those questions are in the Old Testament. Mormons join Jews and fellow Christians in their belief that the teachings and doctrines in this great book are the word of God.
God commands in Malachi 3:10:
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
Different churches have interpreted tithing differently, but in Mormon practice “tithes” are understood to mean “one-tenth of our increase.” Each member decides what their “increase” is, but for most Mormons it means one-tenth of their income paid at regular intervals.
In addition, Mormons also pay unrelated monthly fast offerings. One Sunday a month, Mormons fast, or go without food, for two meals. Fast offerings are a private donation to the humanitarian efforts of the Church equal to the cost of the meals missed. This money is used for the poor and the needy.
Tithing and fast offerings are widespread in Mormonism. A recent Pew study showed that 79 percent of Mormons pay tithing and 73 percent believe additional donations to help the poor are, “essential for being a good Mormon”.
Mitt Romney’s motivations for paying tithing are between him and God. For most Mormons, including myself, it is safe to assume that we pay tithing because we believe the promise made in Malachi—that by paying tithing, we will be able to support our families and have the spiritual and temporal blessings of God in our lives.
In my own experience, I have found the greatest blessings of paying tithing have come from the way tithing improves my character and judgment. As I have paid my tithing, I have been able to see beyond myself more often, I have learned about budgeting and being part of a community, and I have been able to avoid a preoccupation with money or things that is increasingly common in a materialistic society. These skills have improved my performance as the head of my household, as an employee and as a volunteer.
The Lord challenges all who read the Bible to try living the law of tithing. “Prove me now herewith,” he says, speaking of tithing, “if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” God invites us to test his reality and his generosity with a promise that he will respond if we pay our tithing. Could anything be more newsworthy? And yet, God promises it is true.
Through this invitation, I know again that God is real. He has kept his promise to me. Perhaps Mitt Romney continues to pay tithing because God has kept his promise to Mitt, too. He has kept his promise to millions of believing around the world who continue to pay tithing thousands of years after the end of the Old Testament. If you will learn about and begin to pay a full and honest tithe, God will keep his promise to you, too.
Dallin Kimble is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”). He is a devoted husband and father of two, a freelance writer, a leader is his local town and a graduate student of Public Administration at Arizona State University. More of his writing can be found on his blog at principlesofthegospel.blogspot.com.