Camels, Needles, Heaven

Rich people who pay tithing are, by all accounts, still losers compared to the poor. Or, anyway, though their ten percent is a lot more money, it is money that had little effect on their life and so is not a very impressive sacrifice. Thus their salvation is put in jeapardy by diminishing marginal returns! How does the Kingdom deal with this? One approach is to have them give way more; such as encouraging fast offerings to be more generous (which we do), or go all out with a law of consecration (which we currently don’t). I’ve seen some pretty generous fast offerings, but I think there is another way we help to equalize the sacrifice– time.

The problem with giving money is that rich people have way more of it. But they don’t have more time. It is true that they can spend it differently, but by and large, rich people tend to work just like poor people do. In fact, on average* I think they are employed more hours. So if you load them up with callings, their sacrifice is much more comparable to the sacrifice of a poor person. Poor people give a great deal just to tithe and pay fast offerings, thus in some cases their sacrifice cup runneth over before one even starts handing out callings.

This approach works well if the goal is helping those who are serving, but obviously there is another side to it, because we actually do want the service to be done well. Fortunately, rich people tend(!) to be as or more administratively competent as poor people. On the down side, if the time is a substitute for giving more money, well, we could put that money to great use building up the kingdom, even if it did not do as much to build up the giver. Thus, the fact that we don’t send high-wage members out en masse to work and bring in money, but instead bring them back in to serve their Church directly suggests to me that a substantial part of giving is about the giver.

Another down side is that pushing things in this direction tends to fill high profile callings up with wealthier members. Then people either

1. start equating wealth with righteousness or
2. start accusing other people of equating wealth with righteousness (because rich people are getting those callings).

Either one is a problem. And, as you can clearly see, I view callings as blessings only in the way other sacrifices are blessings. Some people actually want certain callings. For them, the sacrifice can come by not getting a calling they like.

Of course, maybe this model is not the explanation at all. Maybe rich people get higher profile callings strictly because they are more competent or more spiritual. Maybe this perception is off and rich people don’t land more time consuming callings. Or maybe the relationship is to test the faith of the egalitarians among us. I haven’t a clue. But I think thinking in terms of sacrifice provides an interesting angle to understanding the distribution of callings.


* Now don’t come running in with stories of the poor mother of 12 you know who works four jobs and doesn’t have any time left at all. I’m thinking in terms of averages, not exceptions and that is clearly an exception.

36 comments for “Camels, Needles, Heaven

  1. Or, anyway, though their ten percent is a lot more money, it is money that had little effect on their life and so is not a very impressive sacrifice.

    Why do you assume the widow’s mite represented 10% of her increase? I have usually assumed it represented all she had (read: “Law of Concecration”).

  2. Rich people should get credit when they invest their money into worthwhile activities.

    A) They create jobs that allow poor people to get an income on which they can pay tithing on.
    B) They create products that are needed by either the church or the world.

  3. Nice thoughts, Frank. This way of thinking does something to close the equity gap that remains if only tithing is considered. And I suppose the economic time allocation problem can be broadened from work vs. leisure to a choice of work vs. service vs. leisure.

  4. Geoff: I agree. I liken that story to the one of the widow giving her last meal to Elijah, showing her faith and obedience. Not a tenth of her meal, her whole meal.

  5. Geoff:

    “Why do you assume the widow’s mite represented 10% of her increase?”

    I don’t, I just thought the scripture applied to tithing as well as to the setting in which it was used (where the widow gave “all that she had” but the rich gave out of their abundance).

    Dave: that sounds right to me.

    Roland: I agree that there are lots of good things one can do with money. The problem I am trying to get at is that there seems to be something special about sacrifice (as in the quote from Mark) even if the actual benefit to others is less. It is in sacrifice where one’s wealth makes tithing less of a kicker.

  6. I can\’t speak for Utah or Idaho, but out in the mission field it turns out that very often the highest profile callings in the church are given to people of wealth. I\’m thinking of the Marriotts, Mitt Romney and in the Miami area, where I live, where almost all stake callings and bishopric callings go to the wealthier people. So there\’s something to Frank\’s post. I would also agree heartily with Roland\’s #2, unpopular as it may turn out to be.

  7. For what it is worth, I know that the Church frequently taps rich members for substantial supra-tithing contributions. I’ve no idea if this is done on a systematic level such that diminishing marginal value of money is overcome.

    I would also point out that one of the reasons that rich people are rich is that their diminishing marginal value of money is less than normal people, so that their disutility from 10 percent might be higher than the disutility from 10 percent of a normal person who happened to have their income. I’ve no idea how big an impact this is, and I suspect that it is not huge. Still, I suspect that marginal valuation of money plays some role in wealth. One of the reasons I am not rich is that I really don’t care that much about getting a lot more money.

  8. I have not found it easier or harder to pay tithing based on my various income levels or the amount of my other financial obligations (mortgage or rent).

  9. What is just the right amount of sacrifice? How about ten percent of one’s increase, applied to everyone the same, so we don’t need to start worrying overmuch about whether our neighbors are getting the right amount of blessings?

    In my limited experience with very wealthy people, they have found it very hard to be generous with money. As lots of writers have noted, poor people can be very generous. Many of them will give you all they have–after all, it wasn’t that much. Wealthy people have a lot to lose, and money is a jealous mistress–if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about money, it tends to go away. I would be reluctant to think it’s easier for a rich person to give up ten percent than it is for a poor person.

  10. “One of the reasons I am not rich is that I really don’t care that much about getting a lot more money.”

    Obviously, the other reason is that you are abnormally wicked.

    Your argument about different valuations for money makes sense, although with you I doubt whether it goes far enough to cover the whole gap.

  11. I consider this question here to be pretty-much the same question facing attorneys in how to give pro bono (charitable) legal services. They also face the question of whether to donate time or money. Should we simply send a lump payment to local charitable legal organizations, or should we be required to spend time representing indigent clients (often outside our own practice areas).

    Argument in favor of simply donating money:

    It’s more efficient.

    I’m a bankruptcy attorney. That’s my specialty and expertise. I don’t know a thing about criminal procedure. There would be a lot of wasted time, trial and error, and less effective representation going on if I tried to represent an indigent woman accused of a crime.

    Also, a simple cash donation could go toward funding a dedicated staff of legal services people, either at the county bar or state bar level, who do have knowlege of criminal representation. Or I could donate to the local law school’s legal services clinic and let a group of students do all the trial-and-error stuff while gaining valuable legal experience.

    Furthermore, my representation of a criminal defendant could cut into my own practice area, limiting my ability to provide services to clients who need bankruptcy help.

    Argument in favor of donating time:

    First, it’s more valuable to me than money. Therefore it represents a more significant charitable gesture.

    Second, maybe it’s a good idea for me to expand my horizons and take stock of the other crying needs in my community. Perhaps it helps my heart travel abroad among my fellow man more fully.

    Third, there are certain areas of law where the needs are overwhelming and few attorneys really want to practice there. If nobody takes the cases, the needs aren’t addressed.

    Extra thoughts:

    Some law firms and attorneys take high profile cases of poor clients simply to add prestige to their firm profile. For instance, some larger firms won’t even be interested in representing a drunk hobo accused of killing a police officer in the state court system. But once his case makes it to the Supreme Court, suddenly all these bigwigs seem to have a conscience and want to represent this “poor defensless man.”

    Similarly, some attorneys take pro bono cases in their own practice areas as a way of showing-off their legal skills before their colleagues and potential clients. In this sense, pro bono is simply a smart business move.

    Nothing wrong with this, per se. But these are good examples of “doing your alms” in public. “Verily… they have their reward.”

    My own feeling is that it’s better to simply require attorneys to fund the local legal services. Those guys are severly underfunded and could really use a boost. If I want to provide personal charitable services, I’ll do it by cutting the fee I charge for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in cases of severe poverty. That is also a crying need in the community, and one I am well equipped to meet.

    But I have no current intention of going beyond the field of bankruptcy and consumer protection in my charitable obligations. I have opted instead, to try and cultivate a true sense of mission in my own field. I try to open my heart to the needs that are before me and meet those. I can’t be everything to everyone.

    My vote is to require the money, and then encourage people to visualize their own capacity for service and how best to provide it.

  12. “One approach is to have them give way more; such as encouraging fast offerings to be more generous (which we do), or go all out with a law of consecration (which we currently don’t).”

    I would just like to chime in to say that nothing prevents one from living the law of consecration today. It is not synonymous with the United Order, which took various forms at various times in various places. In fact, the endowed have covenanted to live the law of consecration–so those who aren’t doing it right now are in big trouble. Give all your surplus income as a fast offering, or burn.

  13. We are already committed to living the law of consecration. If you’ve been through the temple, you’re already in this.

    They tell us that it is a commitment that hasn’t been officially “called-in” on by the Church yet. But you may still be required to practice it via personal revelation.

    But the Spirit can only call you if your mind is open to the possibility in the first place.

  14. Seth gives a good example of the dilemmas facing the wealthy–the stewardship of all that capacity.

    When money is just for buying things and my time has little value to the world, giving ten percent seems not so hard. But if I do surgery, should I tie up my time on a quorum service project? If my money could be reinvested and create a couple more jobs, should I turn over more than is required to the fast offering fund?

  15. 14.
    Yes and yes.

    Pres. Romney explained that the purpose of the Church’s welfare system was, inasmuch as possible, to humble the rich and to exalt the poor. With this thought in mind while canning peaches on a welfare project a couple years ago, it occured to me that more people could be fed if I maximized and donated the money I could earn during that time instead of pushing peaches onto the sorting belt. I then was overcome with the realization that God set-up this system in which those people were being denied so that I would have that humble/ing experience — I felt very humbled at that realization of their deprivation and I’ve watched much more closely since how I handle what you aptly call “the stewardship of all that capacity.” It’s likely that the poor are net gainers by my increased efforts and donations for them since then *and* I’m a better, happier person.

    I believe this is part of why we’re challenged to give a “generous” fast offering, even when a couple jobs could be create by investing elsewhere — that would create a couple jobs but not the changes in heart and unity (John 17) developed by this kind of service.

  16. Manaen (#15), I agree, in part, i.e. that there is a spiritual benefit to the wealthy to being personally involved with welfare, expanding their horizons and so on. I also maintain that, mutatis mutandis, the Lord does not count one hour of service of a wealthy person any more than one hour of service of one not so favored.

    However, as a practical matter, the welfare system is a failure if it is not an economically efficient means of providing for the poor, where economy is measured in the Lord’s terms and not in worldly terms. Money is the currency of the worldly economy – the spirit (or spiritual effort) is the currency of the economy of heaven.

    The primary purpose of the welfare system is to alleviate suffering, and to do it efficiently. If an activity, by and large, requires more suffering than the suffering it alleviates, the activity is not only a zero sum game, it is actually spiritually counter-productive, causing a net spiritual loss.

    Of course we have to be careful to count all the externalities, including the ones you mention, the same way we would count the blessings of exercise, for example.

  17. Manaen’s (Romney’s) statement of the purpose of the welfare system rings true to me. I wouldn’t want it to be forgotten as we seek “to alleviate suffering, and to do it efficiently.” Part of the purpose of suffering may be to teach us efficiency and skill at counting externalities–at least the ones we can perceive–but part of it must be to teach us to be one with each other–to humble the rich and exalt the poor.

  18. Perhaps people have more time consuming callings should be allowed to pay less than 10% in tithing? In fact, if you spend enough time in your calling, you could even get paid!

  19. “Now don’t come running in with stories of the poor mother of 12 you know who works four jobs and doesn’t have any time left at all. I’m thinking in terms of averages, not exceptions and that is clearly an exception.”

    This spirit should also apply when we egalitarians bash the rich and libertarians/conservatives point to the Hunstmans and Marriots as proof that the right are all swell and righteous.

    As for the rich having high profile callings — they can have em.

  20. My understanding if the “humble the rich, and exalt the poor” precept is that it will not be fulfilled until we are living the law of consecration and stewardship under some sort of United Order again, meaning that there will be no more rich and no more poor, so far as temporal blessings are concerned.

    Simply teaching wealthly people to have a better attitude about things, a greater appreciation of their blessings, barely scratches the surface.

  21. I think it’s being fulfilled all the time. Lots of people are watching closely those who have less and finding ways to help. And lots are receiving needed assistance.

    I suspect there will always be those with more–or larger stewardships, if you prefer.

  22. What I mean by “wealthy” is not a position of greater responsibility or stewardship, but a the condition of a person who uses the temporal fruit of some enterprise for his and his own families personal benefit such that they enjoy material posessions far greater than those of others. This is the scripture in context:

    And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.

    But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

    For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

    Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.
    (D&C 104:15-18)

    I agree that the principle is being fulfilled in part, however, all the time, and that many wealthy individuals in the Church are examples in this regard.

  23. 1 Timothy 6:5
    5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

    The corollary: those who are poor = ungodly. Wrong.

    112 And the bishop, Newel K. Whitney, also should travel round about and among all the churches, searching after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.

    There’s only one way to humble the rich and the proud: ask them to part with their money.

    D&C 6:7
    7 Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.

    We are never supposed to seek riches.

    Matthew 19:24
    24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

    Matthew 6:24
    24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

    According to the dictionary mammon = money.

    The definition of a rich man is a man who has more than he needs.

    My personal opnion: we’ll be very surprised someday how many rich men (regardless of religion) are not in the celestial kingdom when all is said and done.

  24. This makes sense, Frank, but I think the demographics of church wards go a ways toward mitigating the effect. I suspect that most wealthy members of the church live in wards that are also wealthy and that have a very deep leadership pool. Thus most of those wealthy members’ Franklin planners lie fallow as they languish as Scout treasurer or High Priest group teacher.

    Also, do you think this effect only holds true for men? What about working and non-working women and the relative prestige of women’s callings?

  25. I think that the high proportion of “rich people” in high callings is mainly due to two things:

    1. The predjudices of those making the callings; and

    2. The predjudices of the stake and ward memberships at large.

    #1 simply references to the fact that rich people APPEAR to have their lives in order more than poor people do. The dress nicer, seem more content and don’t seem constantly on the brink of disaster.

    #2 simply references the fact that, more likely than not, the membership of the ward feels the same way the stake presidency does. They want someone they can look up to sitting as bishop. That’s easier to do when he has a nice suit and a well taken-care-of family.

    The fallacy is that rich homes are often no better than poor ones. Spousal abuse, for instance, cuts across all socio-economic boundaries (it’s a myth that domestic violence is mostly a “poor problem”). You don’t really know what’s going on at home.

    Furthermore, the “holy image” can be just as easily provided by ease and complacency as by real righteousness. That “glow of the spirit” could be genuine. Or it could simply be botox shots, health club membership, and the peace of mind that comes from not worrying about whether you will make enough in the next paycheck to keep your family secure.

    I’m exaggerating I think. I don’t think that Mormon lay leadership is infested with shallow fakers. I think the virtues are there and that they are genuine more often than not.

    But I am saying that virtue is easier to see in a prosperous family than in an impoverished one.

  26. Thanks for all the comments!

    RW: I think the problem you point out is exactly related to how narrowly ward and stake boundaries are drawn compared to the community. Palo Alto is pretty much full of rich people (but not East Palo Alto…). In Utah, it is hard to get wards to stretch too far across different demographics. But in many places I think it can happen.

    “Also, do you think this effect only holds true for men? What about working and non-working women and the relative prestige of women’s callings?”

    I don’t see why it would not hold for the wealthy women, whose tithing is almost no sacrifice. She then may land in a time-consuming calling.


    You are welcome to your prejudice that the cause is other people’s prejudice :). What I have modeled here is that, even if rich people’s lives are no more in order than poor people’s (as you claim in a reasonably convincing fashion). God may still have a reason for affirmative action for rich people, so as to provide them with the sacrifice they may not be getting in other areas.

  27. About women: Most wealthy women in the church don’t work for their money, because they’re supported by their husbands, so a big calling isn’t a drain on scarce time. Whereas wealthy women who do support themselves don’t, in my experience, get time-consuming callings, because the “big” women’s callings virtually all require availability during the workweek.

  28. Hmm, a contra point …

    When I’ve been poor, tithing has always been easy. What would I do with it, save up a couple weeks worth and buy a Big Mac? When I’ve had more money, tithing represented real things: a trip to Rome, a new car, a boat, etc. I could see real things in the money I spent.

    So, I’d see the issue differently. When I’ve had more money, tithing always seemed like more of a sacrifice than when I had little.

    Not to mention, those times I faded into magical thinking: pay tithing, God will give me more money in return; when I had little money, I could use something in return, when I’ve had a lot, I don’t really need anything. Given God has already not kept the angel of death away when I was paying tithing, there really isn’t anything else I want from him in the short term.

    But, we pay tithing, because it appears to please God, though it doesn’t seem to change the way he deals with us or make that much of a difference to the Church, even when we have relatively more money, it isn’t that much in the larger picture.

    Though I’d have liked that boat and my wife still wants a Porche …

  29. Ah,

    Its best to be middle class EH? Discuss….. (and no, people with expensive boats and luxury SUV’s are not middle class as much as they tell you they are)

  30. RW:

    “Most wealthy women in the church don’t work for their money, because they’re supported by their husbands, so a big calling isn’t a drain on scarce time.”

    My wife does not earn the money in our house, but she is easily as busy as me. Perhaps you are thinking here of a woman with grown children and lots of time and money? Or somebody with a nanny? The sacrifice-gap theory suggests that they need some seriously heavy callings! On the other hand, older women may have gotten a fair bit of sacrifice in when they had three small children at home. :)

    It could be a fun issue to look at, because certainly those women often are doing a lot of volunteer time in their church, community, schools, etc.

  31. * Now don’t come running in with stories of the poor mother of 12 you know who works four jobs and doesn’t have any time left at all. I’m thinking in terms of averages, not exceptions and that is clearly an exception.

    I agree with you that we should make broad characterizations based on averages and probabilities rather than exceptional anecdotes. But what is your basis for asserting that the single mother with four jobs or whoever else is the exception? Really what I\’m saying is that an average is a statistical term and an \”average\” without data is not an average at all. I\’m not saying that you\’re wrong, but if you don\’t provide any data to back up your characterization of the average poor person, that that characterization is only an anecdote and carries no more weight than the \”poor mother of 12\” or any other anecdote. In this light, then the idea that the poor work harder on average than the rich, should not just be dismissed.

    Another interesting idea would be to look at the incidence of mental illness among the poor. I don\’t know what that is, but I am aware that the homeless have higher rates of mental illness than the general population. That would certainly affect the \”value\” of their sacrifice when compared to the rest of the church.

    But really, evaluating the value of sacrifice is problematic since it requires us to look \”on the heart\” while our natures limit us generally to only looking on \”the outward appearance.\”

  32. I’ve said this over at M*, but I think it applies here as well:

    D&C 49: 20
    20 But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.

    I think, though, that that scripture doesn’t just condemn the rich (though it does that) but it pretty much condemns all of us who live in “richer” first world nations. “The whole world lieth in sin” that includes me as well as the millionaries.

    (I just felt that scripture was missing from comment #25).

  33. JKC,

    “In this light, then the idea that the poor work harder on average than the rich, should not just be dismissed.”

    Don’t worry, I am not just talking about anedotes. I have a vague recollection (happy to be superceded if anybody cares to do the work and finds me wrong) that the “hours worked” numbers rise (or at least don’t decline much at all) with income. The average number of children among the LDS is close to 3. It may be slightly higher for poor families, but I doubt it gets above 4. So yes, although I didn’t provide citations, these are averages based on a rough familiarity with the data.

    I am not sure what to make of the mentally ill homeless. I am pretty sure this is not a large group in the church, nor a typical one. Certainly those in this group have a high burden but I don’t think that undoes the insights I’m pointing out here.

    You are worried that we can not look on the heart. This is certainly true, but that is going to mostly be a problem with individuals. Across groups, one can often do quite a bit better because the individual idiosyncracies can be averaged out.

  34. The entire question of the use of our money and other assets [e.g. time] reduces itself to the statement that the Savior made: “I came but to do the will of the Father.” As the law of consecration says, we should consider everything we have [e.g. time, money, our lives] as belonging to the Lord – with us being STEWARDS. As stewards we aggressively make plans on how to use whatever assets we have. Then we submit those plans to the Lord. If the Lord approves of our plans, and if we carry out these approved plans in the Lord’s way, then the Lord approves of us, and we are exalted. If the Lord disapproves of our plans, we go back to the drawing board and come up new plans; we continue this process until we come up plans that the Lord approves. Thus, the question of our use of money, time, and othe assets becomes: What does the Lord want me to do with my assets?

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