Mitt Romney recently released his tax returns for 2010 and 2011, showing that he and his wife, Ann, have contributed $4.1 million to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (sometimes inadvertently called “The Mormon Church” by the media) over the past two years. Romney, who is a faithful Mormon, follows the practice of paying one-tenth of his income annually in “tithing” to the Church.
The practice of paying tithing dates back to some of the earliest recorded times. Tithing, which means “tenth,” was practiced by Abraham (see Genesis 14:18-20), and codified into the religious laws of ancient Israel. The most famous Old Testament reference to tithing is found in Malachi 3:8-10, where the prophet chastises the people of his day for “robbing God” by neglecting their tithes and offerings. In the New Testament, tithing is mentioned in Matthew 23:23. There, the Savior chides the Pharisees for paying tithes while omitting the “weightier matters of the law,” explaining that they should do both. The payment of tithes has been practiced by Christians throughout history, and is still a common practice. Tithing provides for the basic expenses of running the Church, and allows for equal access to spiritual things by all members, regardless of income. The payment of tithing acknowledges that all we have belongs to God, and that we value Him above our material possessions. By returning to Him some of the goods He has entrusted to us, we show that we trust Him to continue to provide for us.
Mormons have payed tithing since the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who reintroduced the payment of tithes as part of the restoration of the original church established by Jesus Christ during New Testament times. In a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1838, the Lord answered the prophet’s direct question regarding tithing with the following words, as recorded in The Doctrine and Covenants, a book of modern revelation from God to His prophets today:
And after that, 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. (Doctrine and Covenants 119:4)
Faithful Mormons believe they should pay tithing regularly, as a voluntary contribution to assist with the expenses of the Church. Mitt Romney’s tithes are an expression of his faith in God and his gratitude for God’s daily care.
The Uses of Tithing
Tithing has traditionally been used to pay the expenses of the Church. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), from the local level all the way through to the First Presidency, are all volunteers; thus, tithing money is not used to pay their salaries or living expenses. Instead, tithing is mainly used for the budgets of local congregations, to build meetinghouses and temples, to pay administrative costs, and to finance the Church’s missionary, educational, and humanitarian ventures. Mitt Romney’s tithing could have been used to help build a temple in South America or to provide a lesson manual to a Sunday School teacher in Africa. Because tithing is sent to Church headquarters and used throughout the world, Mormons everywhere have access to church temples, meetinghouses, and materials, regardless of their financial status or where they live.
Tithing is not the only contribution to The Church of Jesus Christ that appears on Mitt Romney’s tax returns. Mormons make other regular offerings to the Church, mostly to help meet the needs of the poor. One of the most important offerings is called a “fast offering.” Fasting is another ancient practice, dating from Old Testament times, that serves the dual purpose of humbling oneself before God and caring for the poor.
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7)
Once a month, Mormons skip two meals and donate the amount they would have spent on food to the local fast offering fund. Administered by local leaders, money from fast offerings is used to help members of the local congregation with basic needs. Surplus funds are sent to regional leaders, where they eventually make their way to the Bishop’s Storehouse, a type of food bank where food, clothing, and household items are available for those who are struggling to provide for themselves.
Other contributions made by Mormons go to support missionary work, worldwide humanitarian aid, educational opportunities for the poor, and temple construction. Each contribution is collected and distributed largely by volunteers, so very little money goes for overhead. Instead, almost all money contributed goes directly to the program it is meant to support. Any money sent by Mitt Romney to the Church’s Humanitarian Fund, for example, went directly to supplies for victims of disasters and other pressing humanitarian needs throughout the world. Money sent as charitable contributions to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is money well spent. Mitt Romney’s taxes reflect his commitment to help the poor, relieve suffering, and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.