Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tithing and multi-level marketing

I really wish people would think about what they are saying to themselves and others when they pay tithing to the church. I don't care what church it is. I don't care what charity it is. Tithing is about giving to those organizations or groups who reflect your values and in whom you have confidence in to spend the donations they receive in a prudent and accountable manner that will mostly help those intended. I do not believe in paying any tithing to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for these reasons. OK, now that you know where I stand (and I have lost all credibility as one expressing my opinion to the faithful members of the church), please bear with me and consider what I am about to say;

Paying a tithing in a manner that is based on faith, and not on practical principles of prudent money management, is a completely unreasonable approach.

Let me explain what I mean by this with an analogy: I know there are lots of multi-level marketing organizations out there. Some have been around a long time, others are fairly new and many have come and gone. I am not trying to knock the potential for earning an income in these types of organizations, what I wish to point out is the magical thinking that tends to cause problems for people who do not exercise common sense when it comes to their amount of investment and hope for reward participating in them. Participants may anticipate earning certain amounts of income based more on the promises of others and not so much on a realistic approach to their likely investment to reward ratio.

Let's say you get recruited into _____ (insert the name of your least favorite multi-level marketing organization here). Your friend has a meeting at their house where you are introduced to the product/service and you are impressed by what you see. You think this is something you could see yourself at least buying for your own personal use. Then you are introduced to the business aspect of the organization which, you are told, requires further investment in business management materials, larger or more frequent subscription levels of the products/services, and efforts in recruiting others to join the organization. You realize that you enjoy talking to people, and you think you know lots of people so you figure this could be a good business opportunity for you.

Swayed by the expressions of confidence by this person you thought was your good friend (who you thought had your best interests at heart), you decide to sign up and determine to make the financial commitment you are assured will result in the success you are hoping for financially. Unfortunately, you haven't taken the time to examine your real financial situation to be able to determine whether or not you will realistically be able to afford the anticipated investment. Once you take a more critical look at your finances you realize that you just do not have the ability to spend the kind of money (or time) that soon it becomes apparent is required to have the success you are hoping for. The question soon comes to your mind; How much should I continue to invest in time and money on something that is not turning out as I hoped it would? Sure, maybe you are not doing enough in terms of investment. Maybe you are not patient enough to see the fruits of your labors, after all, it takes at least a year to cultivate a crop to be able to finally enjoy the harvest. Maybe you didn't think through enough of the obstacles that would come your way. Not only that, but you also begin to see some problems with the service of the organization and perhaps even the desired results advertised are not really as great as promised. The soap kind of starts to smell annoying after using it for so long. Maybe a lifetime commitment to one brand of soap isn't what I want.

The point is the doubts creep in. At some point, in this consideration of the difficulties encountered in keeping up with things the way you hoped you would be able to, you begin to seriously question whether or not you can really afford this investment to be able to see it pay off. You decide to start charging the cost of participation to credit cards. You soon find yourself unable to even keep up with the monthly payments on those cards. You are really in a crisis now. This investment is actually ruining your finances and you determine that you cannot continue this endeavor in good conscience.

You decide to talk to the friend who introduced you to the business in the first place. You tell him your concerns, but he seems un-fazed. He says you are just experiencing a little buyers remorse and that in order to have the success he has enjoyed you just have to keep up on buying the products and inviting people to the meetings. He again assures you that if you will just run with the plan you will soon have success. The promises are never really quantified, however. There really isn't any way to gauge the success you are being promised will come. You are pretty much told that if you just continue to buy the products, at the level required, every week, the success will come.

A few months later, you are really suffering. The collections calls are becoming more frequent, the bills are piling up and many are going unpaid. Regardless, you continue to be steadfast in the plan you believe in. If I can just get one more person to the meeting this month, it will start to turn around. If I can just reach the next level of achievement with my weekly product purchase (or even just increase the amount of my order a little bit), I will finally start to see the income I deserve. I will soon have the success I desire and the financial independence I so believe is possible. I get re-assured that I can succeed at the weekly meetings for the company. They all testify to me of their successes and I really believe that success will soon come for me too, if I just have faith in the business and the plan set out by the leaders of the company.

So what is wrong with the thinking here? It must be simply that the person is lacking the faith necessary to succeed, right?

Wait a minute! Who is screaming the obvious right now that the person in this situation needs to stop living beyond what they can realistically afford IMMEDIATELY! They need to be able to admit that they simply cannot continue the purchases each week and need to severely curtail them or even eliminate them altogether until they can have the funds to invest IN A BUSINESS- that they treat like a profitable BUSINESS venture. They should not be encouraged to spend money they do not have under any pretense of a get rich scheme.

We all are susceptible to this magical thinking. The belief that we can just get what we want if we have enough faith in those people or institutions that promise us untold successes and blessings, is sometimes a trap we easily fall into. We fall into these traps because we are greedy and because we want to believe people when they promise us a way to obtain what we want most. It is not that we are not smart or that we don't really have the potential to understand and gain control of our financial situations, it is just that we get caught up in the hope presented to us. Our minds naturally fill in what is missing from the advertisements.

There is a commercial on TV that advertises a guaranteed issue life insurance policy to seniors. They make it seem like such a good deal by saying that the cost of the coverage will never go up. They also say that it is guaranteed issue (meaning that you can't be turned down). These kinds of promises make it sound like a pretty good thing (and it may very well be for the right candidate), but there are also some things they don't tell you which could make a very big difference in your decision to purchase the coverage. They don't tell you that the policy will exclude certain health conditions and not pay out if you happen to die as a result of an excluded health condition. They also don't tell you that the policy is really for only a very small amount of money and likely would barely even be able to pay for your casket, let alone your funeral should you need it. They deliberately and intentionally leave these things out of the advertisement. Is that right or just or fair? I don't know. Obviously we should all proceed under the mantra of buyer beware and try to get answers to the questions the sales person is not asking for us. In my opinion, we need to be coming up with our own questions and not settling for unresponsive answers from sales people when we ask them the tough questions. Preparing yourself with challenging questions, to ask of those trying to sell you something, about the potential weaknesses of a product or service should be something to remember.

This is all abandoned as unnecessary, for some reason, when it comes to religion. When promises are made (surrounding the ultimate success that is, or blessings that are, promised to come for living as taught by the church) and don't come, why do we abandon the obvious questions we should be asking? Why do we suddenly abandon our skepticism in favor of this faith that might actually be asking too much of us? Why is it that if someone decides to question the faith, they are encouraged to remain silent as to not discourage the faith of others in the group? Shouldn't these things all be warning signs?

Unfortunately, for many, these signs are just not enough. Unfortunately, the lure of magical thinking and the belief that there is an afterlife where all of these things will be made known, and justice equitably meted out at the judgment bar, is just too enticing of a thought-if you feel your actions are in line with the judgment being delivered. It is the hook that keeps us thinking if we just can get through this trial, which-we are constantly reminded-is only 'but a small moment', everything will be right again and I will be so much better because of it. It may not be money we are necessarily focused on, but the things money can buy is sneaked in every once in a while to keep it interesting. Streets paved with gold and glorious mansions on high are mentioned just enough to keep the carrot clearly dangling in front of us to condition our behavior and thinking.

Tithing is such a huge example of this. The church will not come out and clearly say how the members should define the payment of a full tithe. I believe they are deliberate in this. Tithing is talked about in terms of the faith required to pay it and not in terms of what exactly it should be paid on. I believe the design has had the intended effect. In the LDS Church, especially, the conversations among believers tend to center on whether or not members should pay 10% of their gross or net income. Nobody ever seems to mention the idea that income isn't increase or interest at all! Income is the exchange of your labor for monetary units (by the hour or a fixed amount per year) that can be used to live and put away in investment. Increase, or interest as it is referred to in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, is the amount your monetary units have increased due to investment in the marketplace (or bank or whomever you trust to earn you a return on your money).

From this new understanding of WHAT tithing should be paid on, we can derive a few things;

1. Tithing isn't really expected of the poor. However, the church likes to tell the story of the widow's mite and how even the poorest widow can give 10% of what she has to the church. Perhaps the widow is entitled to her faith, but the widow should also be told by a responsible church leader what exactly tithing is expected to be paid on. It should not be expected that we give 10% of our estate (i.e. the sum of our earnings and investments) every year. If the poor are doing this, then they deserve to be taken care of by giving back to them a 10-fold increase of what they put in. While she may be expected to pay, the lesson should be focused on the desire to help and serve others and not on the amount of money paid to the church. Unfortunately that is the focus of too many sermons on tithing.

2. Tithing IS expected of the rich. People who have healthy investment portfolios that represent a sizable income should be paying 10% of THAT income (interest/increase). That income IS actually interest. It is the earnings on the principal. Do you think the wealthy should give 10% of their principal sums in tithing every year? If they did that, they'd be near broke in about 11 or 12 years (obviously depending on the size of the investment). Tithing is not meant to diminish our estate or principal holdings. It is meant to be taken from the fluff that comes once our estate is secure. When we pay tithing on our principal (the monetary units gained for the exchange of our labor), we are actually causing a significant diminishing of our estate. While this diminishing may not be immediately felt by some, it is very real (and, I would submit, dangerous).

3. Tithing is not expected to support a large multinational corporate structure with massive real estate holdings and a diverse portfolio of large investment holdings. Tithing is meant to help the poor among us...period. It may include support of community projects, that are as transparent as possible and, that directly benefit the community the donations are coming from. Perhaps there are cases where groups may decide to reach out to more impoverished parts of the world, but those are decisions that should be made at the local level by those whose money has been contributed. A centralized collection system and distribution by a corporate board of directors in charge of the for-profit investment holdings of the corporation, on the other hand, does not sound like the way tithing should be handled to me.

The real poison of these teachings, of paying tithing on income instead of interest or increase - in my opinion, is the actual increase of poverty due to the pervasiveness of these ideas. The church should do the responsible thing and come out and give clarity on this issue, but they choose not to.

I humbly submit that the LDS Church is so caught up in the support of it's corporate structure and survival that it is really not concerned with the harm its teachings are doing to society. People are having to make due on less and less nowadays and the church is continuing to emphasize the number of gaudy, under-utilized structures (temples) it is building all around the world. Does anyone see what is really going on here? The church is more interested in increasing the size of it's real estate holdings than it is in helping people in ways that are community based and directed by the ones making the contributions.

Sure, the defenders of the faith will point to the amount of aid the church has given to devastated areas around the world. While this is a good point, it would be even more poignant if the church would release more information about how much it is actually giving in comparison to what it takes in. My guess is that the amount spent by the church in these efforts is meager and paltry compared to what it takes in. I welcome being proved wrong on this point. However, I think my challenge will simply fall on deaf ears. Of course, it really could be that the church understands the principle of tithing even better than the members do and they only pay out to charitable causes 10% of the interest they earn on all of their holdings. This is an interesting possibility...

It is simply unconscionable to me that these ideas (I would actually rather refer to them as heresies) are allowed to persist in the church. When I have asked faithful members why this is, or even how the amount of tithing paid should be calculated, I am told it is always up to the individual. However, when I press them or ask what they pay on, they will usually answer with 10% of either 'net' or 'gross' income. The idea that the amount to be paid is based solely on the thoughts of the individual, when coupled with the idea that we WILL be judged based on our works creates a very lucrative self perpetuating cycle of thoughts leading to behaviors that cannot be broken in the members of the church. Many, at least in my opinion anyway, will continue to follow this concept even though doing so represents a huge and unnecessary sacrifice to their families. Putting them deeper and deeper into poverty as they pay their estate away to others in the church and the government. Well, I don't really want to get started on that subject. Suffice to say, I feel it is very unfortunate that those who are best in the position to fix this problem (church leaders) are the one's least having the incentive to do so. This is a problem.

The way I think most members of the church justify this, clearly irrational, way of thinking about their large overall contributions to the church is to think in terms of the blessings they will get if they pay as they think they should or the loss of blessings they will experience due to not paying enough in tithing.

Let's think on that for a moment. If you ask the member to identify the specific blessings they can clearly associate with the payment of a full tithing (at least according to their faithful and overly generous interpretation), what will they say? Usually the member will be quick to point out that paying tithing is not a get rich quick scheme. In other words, you can't expect to be blessed financially for the payment of tithing. (To this, I just want to say, well self respecting financial planner would advocate giving away 10% of your farm, or land, every year to achieve financial independence. But that is exactly what members of the church believe, and actually feel bad about falling short of, when they do not diligently practice the payment of a full tithe.) So what, exactly, are the blessings that come from paying tithing? If financial abundance is off the table, what is left? And why is it that the church seems to choose only those that are financially well off to be called to positions of leadership? It seems awfully convenient to attempt to preach that the payment of a full tithe will not lead to financial abundance and then tend to call only the financially abundant members to enjoy the great blessings of serving in high capacities of responsibility in the church and kingdom of God on the earth! Perhaps I am just jealous I was never called to be a high ranking leader in the church. No, actually, there is no perhaps about it. I was told in my patriarchal blessing that I would be called to sit in the councils of the church when I got older, gosh darn it, I was expecting that to be the case and fully expecting to be called to be in the Quorum of the 12 apostles. Why did I think such a thing? More magical thinking on my part most likely.

Whatever the faithful member comes up with in terms of blessings that they believe have come because of the payment of their overly generous tithes and offerings to the church, for each one of them, they are likely forgetting an instance (or more than several actually) where that blessing did not come.

Why do we pick and choose to see as consequences, aka blessings for obedience to a principle of the gospel, only those times or instances which happen to support our views? Why do we block out all of the dis-confirming evidences for our beliefs? Sometimes, the dis-confirming evidence even shows up in the very scenario the believer is using to bolster their faith in the payment of a full tithe. These are actually somewhat humorous to think about when they are encountered. Of course, one has to then grapple with whether or not such thoughts should be spoken out loud. Usually they aren't, but they cause a chuckle or two anyway.

I'm pretty sure Jesus said something along the lines of, 'Let those who have ears to hear, hear and eyes to see, see.' I hope someone will hear and see what I am saying here.

While I freely admit that I may have some things to learn in terms of my attitude of giving to those causes that will support my community, I think that I also need to feel that the financial security of my family simply must come first. When I feel comfortable that the security is there to some extent, I believe I will then be more likely, and able, to look to the ways I can best contribute generously to those causes I desire to support. I honestly do think giving is important, but I think I must feel it is OK to give to the support of my family's security first. I'm OK with that and you should be too.

Just like Maslow's hierarchy of human needs, I need to be sure my needs of survival, social interaction and financial support of my family are met first, before I am capable of stepping up and into the need of giving back to others outside those in my immediate care and contributing generously to my community.

Of course, I do feel the need to address the fact that many self development guru's do advise listeners and readers to practice the payment of a tithe in donations to charity. I believe this could be due to the incentive a generous tithe gives to be motivated to work harder. I guess it could be thought that the more painful the offering to charity, the more diligent one will work to be motivated to earn more. We likely all could benefit from being less selfish. I'm sure I need it more than most.

However, I almost wonder if these kinds of positions are motivated more by political beliefs than religious ones. Conservatives, I believe, tend to be more about tenets that encourage a rugged individualism and support those ideas that motivate humans to behave in ways that encourage taking care of themselves. This view of paying generous, and substantial I suppose, offerings to charity could be a necessary component of getting radical conservatism to actually work over the long term. If people don't give generously and voluntarily, however, the government will necessarily come in and ask it of us. The liberal corollary, thus, would be that since we have shown that it is not really in our nature to voluntarily give substantially of our wealth to support the poor among us, in a way that is meaningful, someone has to take care of these things. If churches are falling down on the job, someone has to pick up the slack. And, unfortunately, as inefficient as we all like the claim the government is, it actually does the job of cutting out the middle man in terms of those who would seek to profit off the donations intended for the poor and otherwise afflicted whom we have an obligation to support.

I feel like I can only begin to scratch the surface of some of these issues. I feel sometimes like I can come across as angry in what I am saying. Maybe I am a little angry. Maybe my anger isn't really anger. Maybe I am actually just very hurt that I see now that the church was not all I was told it was my whole life. Maybe I am now just a half-full kind of guy. Regardless of my personal issues, I think what I am saying here has some merit. Please stop to consider what motivates your actions before putting your family in jeopardy by paying tithing on your gross or net income. Think that it is OK with God if you actually use that money to take care of the needs of your family first. There are plenty of people who earn plenty on their dividends and investments to take up the slack. Tithing is not really a sacrifice that is expected of you without consideration of your family and their needs to be taken care of. It is not about sacrifice really. It is just a practical method of taking care of people that is meant to be painless and sort of ancillary. At least, this is my opinion anyway.

To put it in simpler terms; if you are a person who feels very strongly that tithing should be paid to the church as 10% of your gross OR net income, think of it this way. Each month you write that tithing check out to the church, you are literally taking 10% of your house payment and giving it to the church (since you are taking it out of the money you earn to make your house payment or rent). You are taking 10% of your car payment and giving it to the church. You are also taking 10% of all of your other bills and household expenses for the month and giving that to the church. Do you really think the church wants this? Do you think God wants this? Do you really think that if you just keep up in this silly behavior that you will actually be better off for it? Sure, if you want to say, well, we eat out at fine restaurants a lot or we take really nice vacations or we put a bunch of money in savings every month and therefore taking 10% of that and giving it to the church would be OK...fine. Then reduce the amounts you spend on these luxury items by that same 10% and give that to the church. I personally still feel like this is a bit generous, but that's OK. Do what you want but, please, stop acting foolishly and then beating yourself up about not giving enough or it not being a 'full' and 'honest' tithe! Don't give what you can't realistically afford. If you have to borrow money from savings to get through the month, it is OK to not pay tithing that month. If you are even worse off and have no money in savings, but feel like you need to charge purchases on credit cards to get by, go ask the church for some assistance with food (since that is all they will really give you), but, by all means, do not pay tithing. The Lord doesn't expect it and you shouldn't either. If you feel bad for some reason about your new outlook on the law of tithing, think on the atonement. It was done so you could forgive yourself about your misunderstanding of the intent of the law of tithing. Forgive yourself. Stop hurting yourself and your family. Give to them first and then things will take care of themselves. Be kind. Love one another. Love yourself.

I'm going to step down from my soap box now. Perhaps I'll come back and have more to say sometime soon. Thanks for reading.


  1. Good Job! I enjoyed enough reading your latest article to read it again and again! It was so helpful. Waiting for your next entry.

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