Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tithing and the law of consecration

I know it has been a while since I have posted here. If you are just in angst over my lack of contribution lately, all I can say is that I would probably not do well living the law of consecration either. Sorry. I just had to share a few events that have transpired in recent months. I have been going to church most every Sunday with my family. I have a few reasons for this, which I am not ready to go into here on my blog just yet, but I look forward to sharing when the time is right. Needless to say, some Sunday's are tough and some are OK or not too bad. I am sure my anger has subsided a lot compared to where it was a year ago. In hindsight, I really needed time to work through my anger. Time that was likely better spent not in the pew literally trying to go fist-to-cuffs with my neighbors at church every Sunday. I am much more able to brush off those members of the church who I now see as the hopelessly over-zealous.

In fact, as I was pondering the things that were said by folks that were getting up to bare their testimonies at the last fast and testimony meeting, I realized that these people just need the church. If it weren't for the church, their lives would be pretty crappy. I mean church members might judge them or mistreat them every once in a while, but there are enough young missionaries around nowadays to continue to make them feel welcome at church every Sunday - and that really makes a difference to some people. Of course it is interesting to see people get caught up in the Mormon Mirage. The imagined ideal that the church represents in the world. These are folks for whom the kool-aid is very cold and refreshing. It tastes good to them. It is not the warm and extremely watered down crap it is to me now.

At any rate, I have been going to the gospel essentials class the last few months for some reason. I'm not sure why, but I think it must be because I can't stand gospel doctrine. There is this idea in my head for some reason that people in gospel doctrine are the more tenured church members, that they might be more receptive to seeing some of the holes in the correlated lessons. This leads me to a false hope that my seemingly obvious questions and comments, intended to challenge the positive bias, might be better received. Yeah, they aren't. People dig deep to revert to the psychological gospel comfort foods of testimony and denial. I just can't get through some lessons some days. I'm not sure why gospel essentials would be any better, though. I guess I figure if I can stir up some contention among the newlyweds (newly wedded to the church) I might have a better success rate. It is interesting to me, though, because it seems the church deliberately leaves a lot of the funky history and quirky doctrinal stuff completely out of the gospel essentials lessons. It is a little more challenging to create cognitive dissonance when there just isn't much there to work with. Maybe I like the challenge.

So, a couple weeks ago, the lesson was on tithing. I had some fun with this one. I especially enjoy this teacher because he usually shows a video for every lesson. This last week he actually showed two videos! On this particular Sunday the video featured a very old woman who lived in some very, presumably, impoverished part of the world. She was apparently taught the principal of tithing and wanted to be diligent in paying a full tithe, even though she really didn't have anything to give.She still lived in squalor though, unfortunately. While I don't remember all the details of the video, it seems like she was given some blankets or something because she didn't have any heat in her home. I felt so bad for this old woman, but I also felt contempt for the church for exploiting her circumstances to serve it's purposes. If you ask me, the church didn't do nearly enough to offer assistance to this poor old woman. At least if she was part of a reality series she would have gotten paid pretty well to have people's heartstrings pulled by Bonneville's Heartsell techniques.

There is this vicious tendency among the leaders and members of the church to tie together their faithfulness in the payment of their tithing and the quality or quantity of blessings they will receive from God. Just doing a quick search on revealed the following passage:

President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “In more recent times the Church has not called upon the members to give all their surplus property to the Church, but it has been the requirement according to the covenant, that they pay the tenth. It is remarkable how many excuses can be made and interpretations given as to what constitutes the tenth, by many members of the Church. It is written, however, that as we measure it shall be measured to us again. If we are stingy with the Lord, he may be stingy with us, or in other words, withhold his blessings.

Isn't it just a total cop out to say that the Lord "may" be stingy with us? As opposed to something like, "If we are stingy with the Lord, he WILL be stingy with us." Nope, he can't say that can he? Because that could be easily dis-proven. The hurdle for thinking members of the church is when they realize that not everybody who pays a full tithing is handsomely rewarded or blessed. And conversely, not everyone who doesn't pay much or anything in tithing has blessings withheld.

What really got me thinking enough to motivate me in writing this blog post was a quote that the teacher read in support of the modern-day teaching of tithing. Apparently, 20 years ago this April, Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk in General Conference where he cited a letter issued by the First Presidency back in 1970 that "interest" as contained in D&C 119:4 means "income". He said,

In the Lord’s commandment to the people of this day, tithing is “‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income.” The First Presidency has said, “No one is justified in making any other statement than this” (First Presidency letter, 19 Mar. 1970, quoted in theGeneral Handbook of Instructions, 1989, p. 9-1)

It turns out I haven't been paying enough attention to what the church now seems to be saying about tithing. In my last post I mentioned that the church seemed to be silent on what is considered a full tithe. It seems I was mistaken on that point. The only real question to be answered by faithful members of the church is whether that means gross or net income. That is just so sad to me. I know I can't get through to those who believe the church is true beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I hope my sadness will resonate with some of you. In reading the lesson from the Doctrine and Covenants manual quoted above, it is interesting to see how the case for the payment of tithing has changed over the years. Just since 1970, Dallin Oaks decides to omit a key portion of the letter. The original quote in its entirety reads:

“For your guidance in this matter, please be advised that we have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this. We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly.”

Now compare that to the migration from attempting to salvage the failed law of consecration, and the idea of donating your surplus goods back to the community, and figuring out a new way to finance church ventures as explained by the quote I had above. Re-read the quote, but ask yourself, is the tithe intended to be on my income or on my surplus?

President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “In more recent times the Church has not called upon the members to give all their surplus property to the Church, but it has been the requirement according to the covenant, that they pay the tenth.

This quote comes from a book called "Church History and Modern Revelation Volume 2:92". I have not found a free copy of it online, but I would be interested in getting some additional clarification of what exactly he means by "the tenth".

So, back to the Sunday school lesson. It seems that whenever tithing is brought up at church, it is supported by the idea that you are doing it to receive the blessings God has prepared for you. I couldn't resist then asking, "What is the poor woman, highlighted in the tithing video we were just shown, doing to deserve her situation? It appears she was paying her tithing?" Of course, this brings the comments down around me that there is a difference between "temporal" and "spiritual" blessings, that we can't know what treasures are being laid up for us in heaven (Exactly!). I just wanted to know, is the idea that one is blessed for paying tithing a reality or not? Of course, LDS general authorities have endless streams of stories about the blessings people have received for paying tithing. To those I simply think that people see what they are looking for. If you believe it, that becomes your reality. If you don't believe it, it sounds kind of silly. That reminds of a faux pas a member of the bishopric made while giving a testimony a while back. he said, "..I'll see it when I believe it." Belief is pretty much just a choice in many cases. Albeit a choice that is re-enforced through weekly group-think sessions where all the great mind control and thought stopping techniques are used.

This leads me to my epic conclusion. I somehow ended up in the bishop's office for tithing settlement with my family a few weeks back. The bishop did his faithful best to outline what tithing is and why it is important to my children. I just sat back and waited for the question to come to me. I hadn't really given my response much thought ahead of time, I just let it come. The bishop asked me how I declared my tithing for the year and I said I choose not to declare. I said, I think the modern definition of what a full tithing is is a much more onus one than was originally intended. I said, I think the idea of tithing being paid on income represents a falling away of the true principles of a people who desire to be Christ-like. The bishop took it well and was very charitable in his response. He said he could respect that and he didn't take any desire to be contentious on my part from what I said. My bishop is a good man. I like him, but I don't have to agree with him 100% of the time, and that's OK. At least that's what I keep telling myself anyway.