Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tithing and Giving

I have been researching the area of Christian tithing for a little while now. A couple things stemmed this particular quest of knowledge:

#1) I am a big fan of Dave Ramsey, a financial talk show host who is also a Christian, he promotes the (wonderful) idea of being debt free, and recommends tithing 10% to your church or synagogue no matter what your financial situation.

#2) I recently (beginning about five years ago after we lost our son) became a churchgoer. I was born a Catholic, tired of organized religion in high school, and continued for many years as a Christian who worked directly with God and "eliminated the middleman" (church). My wife and I started attending a wonderful United Methodist church in Michigan when we needed support after losing our son. At this church, the pastor (who became one of my best friends) hated to talk about money. People gave out of a sense of need, as we did.

#3) After moving to Texas, we started going to a wonderful church here. It is a large Methodist church with lots of property and plans to build. It has fancy lighting and sound, a computer lab for it's elementary school, and big plans for the future. They are also big on the tithe (giving 10% of your take home income to the church). Although they are good about not picking on you individually, it is brought up frequently during church. They are also big on annual pledging (I am not). Anyway, when you join the church, you make a pledge in front of God and everybody, I don't have a problem with most of it but part of the pledge is "I will give ten percent of my money." I cannot pledge this. It is the only reason I still don’t feel called to join, even though I love going to that church.

So, really, that is what has me thinking about tithing right about now. Personally, I believe in giving to the church, from the heart, as you would give to any other charity. And for a while, I was thinking that all of your charitable giving should count toward your tithing, as, when the tithe was created so many, many years ago, the church was pretty much the only charity around. If I had to give 10% to the church, I would have no money left to give to other organizations that I find to be important. So, when we get to church (depending on my travel schedule and my wife's work schedule (she sometimes works on Sundays)) we write a check for $25 and feel good about it. If we made more, we would give more.

Another thing that bothers me about their "10%" rule is that this church has so many bells and whistles. Don't get me wrong, I like bells and whistles, with my A.D.D. I need bells and whistles to stay interested. They have fancy automated stage lighting that changes colors and can be aimed anywhere in the room. The seats are comfortable, and the sound system is excellent. They also have a wonderful multimedia system including three projectors and monitors in other parts of the facility. They are looking at putting in a large expensive telephone system. If I gave 10%, I would want that money to go towards the poor, to spreading God's word, and doing other churchy things. The bells and whistles are icing on the cake. Don't get me wrong, if they wanted to buy another bell or whistle, and they wanted to take a special collection, I would be happy to give. But I don't think a biblical tithe should go toward maintaining a fancy facility. Now, I would freely admit, that they would need to take tithe or giving money for general operating expenses, including phone systems, computers, and infrastructure. In this day and age, you need these types of things to run a business, non-profit or not. I call these types of expenses the "icing in the middle of the cake" -- it holds the layers together. But you really don't need the bells and whistles, the icing on the cake, to hold a church together.

As far as annual pledges, I don't participate in those because I feel it is pledging money that I don't have yet, and if the worst happened and I lost my job and we had to scale back on our giving, I would feel bad about not keeping my pledge promise. I know, I know, there are compelling reasons for churches to have pledge drives. It helps them create their budgets, for one. But I just can't pledge money I don't have yet. It's a personal problem, I know.

After saying all of that, I love to give money to charities. My wife and I are blessed with good jobs, a healthy income, an affordable mortgage, and no other debt. We save well, we budget well, and we are able to give well. Starting last year, we set goals for the end of the year to give larger one-time donations to a few charities. This year, our goals are even higher. I won't provide amounts here, but we gave large sums to St. Jude's Children's hospital, the American Radio Relay League (a national amateur radio organization that focuses on radio education and public service), and the USO, with some smaller donations to a few local radio clubs for good measure. Basically, we split the amount evenly and my wife decides how to give her half and I decide on my half. It's fun. Our goal for this year is a 50% increase over last year. (And these goals don't include the collection plate offerings at church).

Anyway, I found an interesting website today called Now, they have some interesting biblical interpretations about tithing. As with most of the biblical interpretations out there, there may have been some bias against tithing while they did their research and picked bible verses. There may be conflicting verses that they didn't quote as well. I don't know. I'm not good enough at reading and interpreting the bible (remember my A.D.D.) to really know if they know what they are talking about. But they bring up some interesting points (everything within quotes, including links, from, some links did not transfer but the asterisks did, they point to bible text):

#1) "A Biblical tithe is 10% of certain agricultural products from the land of Israel to be paid by the farmers to the Levites, who in turn tithed to the priests. Wage earners and the poor were exempt from tithing. The poor were allowed to benefit from tithes."

#2) "Israeli* animals, seeds and fruit are tithed: When your herds or flocks go out to pasture, remove every tenth animal* that passes by. If you only have 9 or less, then there is no tenth animal, hence no tithe. You tithe on cattle and sheep*. Produce of the land is tithed by calculating what is one tenth, and that is your tithe. Examples: Seed and fruit* Grain, wine and oil* Grain, wine, oil and honey* Spices* and herbs* "

#3) "Money and wages are not tithed as money is considered as unrighteous*. Other things not tithed: Unclean animals, beasts of burden, fish, birds, insects, reptiles*. The spoils of battle are not tithed."

#4) "Israelite* farmers*, gardeners* and Levites*. Wage earners did not tithe since only agricultural products were tithed. See Jesus."

#5) "Charging a fixed 10% of everyone's income is unjust because the poor can't afford it. The Bible recognized this, and granted the poor the right to receive tithes, instead of having to pay them.* It was only the land owners (farmers), and the Levites who tithed. Most countries recognize the injustice of a flat taxation rate for everyone, and charge a progressively higher income tax on the rich, and often nothing on the poor, who are sometimes sustained by the state. "
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! OK, I personally believe in a flat TAX. I think a flat TAX to the government is fair, with perhaps an exemption for poor people who simply cannot pay… but up into the middle class and higher, flat fair taxes for all! So let's not get confused. However, as it applies to charitable GIVING, I approve of this statement. One should GIVE according to their own ability.

#6) "The biblical principle of giving, is that we give whatever we feel moved to give from our hearts, without compulsion. This was stated by both Moses*, and Paul* Tithing and giving are different concepts."
Could not agree more! is an interesting website. Again, it may tweak some people off. And there may be other parts of the bible that promote monitary tithing that they did not mention. But it raises a lot of good points and I enjoyed reading it. That being said, I am going to continue my quest to learn more about tithing and it's modern day applications.

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