Showing posts with label tithing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tithing. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blessings & Tithing

                As far back as I can remember, the leaders have promised that if a person has the faith to pay tithing, then “the Lord will open the windows of Heaven and pour out his richest blessings”.  Leaders repeat this promise over and over, in different permutations of the original revelation on tithing made by the leader Lorenzo Snow, who promised that if members had the faith to pay tithing, then rain would come to rescue the crops from drought.  Leaders talk about how you can’t afford not to pay tithing.  They give examples of people who paid tithing and were miraculously able to make ends meet.  They promise - over and over - that having the faith to pay your tithing will result in blessings.
                And since Mormons tend to be literal when interpreting the promises of their leaders, this creates an odd dynamic.  As we repeated, over and over, “The Church is perfect.  People aren’t.”  Since the Church is perfect - and the imperfection of people provide such an easy scapegoat - a lack of material blessings is assumed to be correlated with a lack of faith. 
                My parents were poor for many years.  For them, paying tithing was an extreme act of faith, as often the money that was paid to the Mormon Church was needed to feed the family.  And yet paying tithing didn’t result in more material wealth.  My parents struggled along, trying to make the pennies match up, while performing the requirements of Mormonism with diligence.  The faith of my parents - to pay tithing even when tithing was a struggle - is an awe-inspiring testament to their commitment. 
                If you look at the members that rank higher in hierarchy - bishopric, stake presidency, General Authorities, Presidency - you will notice that these leaders are notable more for their professional and financial success.  Thomas S. Monson, the current President, was an advertising executive and eventual general manager for Deseret News Press.  His first counselor, Henry B.Eyring, is a graduate of Harvard Business School and was a professor at Stanford, as well as the president of Ricks College.  His second counselor, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, was a German aviator and airline executive.  These men were part of the middle to upper class, with significant professional achievements, when they were recruited for leadership.  I have no doubt that there are many good and faithful men from modest backgrounds; however, these men do not seem to be reflected in the makeup of the authorities that are responsible for guiding the Mormon Church. 
                Within my own ward, the leaders who were never from the “ragged” families - the families that worked blue-collar jobs while following the command to have lots of children, even if you couldn’t afford them.  Most of the leaders selected were either college professors or white-collar professionals.  I didn’t notice much of a difference between the leaders and the poorer families in terms of their character or faith.  But I did notice a difference in which families were called to leadership positions. 
                For what it was worth, I don’t think the stigma was applied to me, even though I was from a poor family.  I was a bright student and enthusiastic about my studies.  There were a number of wonderful women that stepped in to support and guide me.  But with the oft-repeated promises of receiving blessings if you are faithful enough, there is the mindset that a lack of blessings correlates with a lack of faith.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Mormon Family's Finances

          Recently Bloomberg BusinessWeek published an investigative piece titled "How the Mormons Make Money", written by Caroline Winter.  The Mormon Church is very secretive about their finances; they refuse to publish their financial accounts even to members.  BusinessWeek’s conclusion was that the Mormon Church is very, very rich, with an estimated $40 billion in net worth and $8 billion in annual tithing revenue.  The article also outlined the Mormon Church’s business structure, listing all of the church’s for-profit ventures, which include a $5 billion dollar project aimed at revitalizing downtown Salt Lake City, real estate ventures, insurance holdings, among many others.  Although there was little in this article that surprised me, there is a heavy feeling in my chest as I compare the enormous wealth of the Mormon Church to the very modest - often desperate - financial accounts of my own family.  Although my family’s financial decisions were made of their own free will and they offered tithing out of love for their church, I am considerably saddened when I pause to think that their hard-earned money is funding the business ventures of the Mormon Church.  I was even more saddened to read that the Mormon Church only devotes an estimated 0.7% of their annual wealth to charitable ventures.  
          My parents were both converts; they joined the Mormon Church in their late twenties.  At the time, they had three children; my father was a gunsmith, my mother was a housewife.  My parents were poor.  But in the Mormon Church, there is a strong emphasis on large families - in 1979, three years after my parents joined, the prophet Spencer W Kimball went on record saying “It is an act of extreme selfishness for a married couple to refuse to have children when they are able to do so.”1  
          My parents were obedient and had another four children, the last of which was me.  Their financial situation became more and more desperate as they obeyed the dictates of their religion.  To feed the family, they raised chickens, pigs, cows, and had a large vegetable garden.  I was lucky - my mother went back to school after I was born and became a special education teacher.  By the time I was eight, my mother’s income meant that my family no longer had to worry about where the next meal was coming from.  My parents’ battle to lift themselves out of poverty was ultimately successful but was also brutally hard, as my mother had to juggle the demands of a large family, her school-work, and various part-time jobs.  
          During these financial struggles, my parents always paid their tithing.  Every year the Mormon Church received from my parents 10% of an income that wasn’t enough to feed a family.  There is a strong emphasis within the Church to pay tithing first; leaders promise that if an individual has enough faith, the Lord will provide.  And the Church did give back; when times were desperate, the local leaders stepped in to donate food.  Sometimes members would also pitch in, donating food and helping with babysitting.  In return, my family has also done their part.  The Mormon Church is composed of a lay clergy - the majority of positions are filled by unpaid volunteers.  My father worked for years as the ward clerk, keeping track of membership records.  Now that he has retired, he volunteers his time at the church’s family history center and the Palmyra temple.  My parents also volunteer their time and skills to help members in need.  One of my brothers is now the bishop for his ward; in addition to his full-time job, he volunteers an extra 20+ hours a week tending to the spiritual and practical needs of his congregation.  He is in the third year of what should be a five-year stint.  
          When I was fifteen, my oldest brother had a financial crisis.  He was building a house to replace his run-down trailer when he lost his job as a trucker.  My brother and his family was forced to move in with my parents while he worked full-time to finish his house.  My parents were faced with the burden of feeding five extra mouths, as well as financing the construction of a house.  I woke up every morning with a pit in my stomach, which was only heightened by the sight of the tithing checks sitting on my parent’s dresser, made out for an amount I knew we couldn’t afford.  
          To the ward’s credit, everyone pitched in to help out my brother.  Members volunteered time, coming every Saturday to help my brother build his house.  My brother also received weekly donations of food from the Church Welfare services.  The Relief Society stepped in one time, accompanying my mother to the grocery store and giving her $100 to buy food.  There was a strong sense of community within the ward as they tackled my brother’s crisis.  And yet, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the help received was in the form of volunteer work.  Even in a very dire circumstance, the local ward had few financial resources available to help members in need.  This was in spite of my parents’ monthly tithing donations, along with the tithing contributions of other members.  The policy is for tithing to be wired directly to Church headquarters, a small amount of which is returned to the local ward for assisting members in need.  
          My family pays tithing because they believe in their church.  And while I don’t want to impinge upon their beliefs, I do want to see the Mormon Church treat my family’s sacrifices with respect.  The Mormon Church refuses to release their financial records.  My family has worked so hard over the years to pay their tithing; why won’t the Mormon Church respect their sacrifices by telling them how their money is being used?  

1 Spencer W Kimball, “Fortify Your Homes Against Evil”.  General Conference Address, April 1979.