Misguided faith?

There was a lot that I liked about this month’s Ensign; but one of the short articles bothered me.  It was the tithing article where the writer, a single mother of six, compared utility and mortgage bills to tithing, and then stated that:

I would rather lose the water source to my house than lose the living water offered by the Savior. I would rather have no food on our table than be without the Bread of Life. I would prefer to endure the darkness and discomfort of no electricity than to forfeit the Light of Christ in my life. I would rather abide with my children in a tent than relinquish my privilege of entering the house of the Lord.

Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea that it’s more important to pay tithing than to put a roof over one’s children’s heads?  Is the writer seriously saying that she would let her children starve on the streets, in order to continue her tithe?

I realize that this is probably hyperbole.  The passage uses lots of scriptural symbolism as a writing device, perhaps figuratively; and besides, LDS welfare is quite effective, and it’s unlikely that her Bishop would actually let any of the children starve.  So maybe it’s just rhetoric.  But it’s still rhetoric that makes me uncomfortable

Recent court cases have put a spotlight on families who refuse medicine in favor of faith healing, sometimes with tragic results.  Is it reasonable to rely on tithing or prayer to replace medicines or mortgage payments?  (I’m reminded of the time when I relied on prayer instead of study to help me through a college midterm, with predictably bad results.)

At what point do we cross into the territory of misguided faith?

63 comments for “Misguided faith?

  1. “Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea that it’s more important to pay tithing than to put a roof over one’s children’s heads?”


  2. I admire her faith. I do not think it is misguided. Although her hyperbole may be a little over the top.

    Paying tithing will not make you starve. You cannot tithe if you have no income. If you do have income, then only 10% is required. 90% should be adequate to purchase sufficient food and shelter. If it is not, then the Lord will provide. And, as you point out, some support may come through the Church.

  3. I suspect if this woman had gone to her bishop, the counsel she would have received is either (1) pay your power bill and make your house payment, then pay what you can as tithing this month and let’s work on improving your situation next month; or (2) you give me a full tithing check, and I’ll have the clerk issue a check to pay your power bill and half your house payment. Why the Ensign paints the woman’s situation as a test of faith rather than an opportunity for the ward to help a deserving Saint seems unfortunate.

  4. If I had to choose between tithing and feeding/clothing/sheltering my children, I wouldn’t hesitate to write up an I.O.U. to the Lord. He’d literally have to send an angel to convince me to make that kind of sacrifice.

    I’m also uncomfortable with stories that link the payment of tithing with specific blessings and/or miracles, like someone dropping by with dinner or offering to fix the broken-down car. I’ve never experienced such a blatant cause-and-effect relationship between paying tithing and blessings, and so I’m forced to conclude that either such events are truly coincidences, or God certainly IS a respecter of persons.

  5. @ Ugly Mahana:
    The Lord doesn’t always provide, even if you consider food stamps and homeless shelters as part of His program. And for too many families, 90% of their meager income isn’t NEARLY enough to purchase adequate food and sufficient shelter.

  6. “Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea that it’s more important to pay tithing than to put a roof over one’s children’s heads?”



  7. I think this woman’s devotion to the Church and to the Savior is admirable. At the same time, I feel sad when I consider what is implied in her statement, which is that if she did not pay her tithing for one month, and instead honored her mortgage and utility obligations, the Savior would withdraw his Living Water from her and her children, would withdraw his Bread of Life from her and her children, would withdraw the Light of Christ from her life, and that He would consider her unfit to enter the house of the Lord.

    It is sad to me that anyone believes the Savior’s Living Water and Bread of Life and Light are granted or withdrawn based on whether we pay tithing rather than honoring our mortgage and utility obligations for a month. And I like to think there aren’t any Bishops in the Church who would make her feel unworthy to enter the House of the Lord for the same reason.

    I personally find it difficult to believe anyone really thinks the Savior actually operates this way.

  8. “Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea that it’s more important to pay tithing than to put a roof over one’s children’s heads?”

    No, because, as you noted, I believe the author is being rhetorical. I view it less as a statement of how to handle the nuts and bolts of finances, etc., and more an iteration of her testimony. So, I can get behind her rhetoric, no problem.

    (Besides, I think a day or two in a tent would do some kids a lot of good.)

  9. The Savior allowed the widow to cast her mites into the treasury and it was all she had. He could have stopped her and told her to use it to buy food and shelter. I doubt that anyone has ever starved to death or gone without shelter due to the payment of tithing.

  10. Sorry, that was me. And I guess I just outed myself on the other “anon” comment I made here today.

  11. “Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea that it’s more important to pay tithing than to put a roof over one’s children’s heads?”

    Personally, I’m squeamish that the Ensign editorial staff, whether on their own or by higher direction, actually allowed the statement to go to print. Even if this author is using a bit of hyperbole, it just became “church-approved” by appearing in the Ensign, and I’m sure there are a few who would act accordingly, seeing the statement in that light.

    Speaking of the Ensign, with all the recent media about a certain senator’s adultery, family hush-money, etc., I wonder if anyone has thought of renaming the official LDS magazine? Maybe they could call it the Romney? The Hatch? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t call it the Reid. (Okay—I’m just kidding—really!) ;-)

  12. Note that she doesn’t actually say her family was suffering, only that she “dreaded” facing the bills and the worry that came with them and the mental effort to juggle the money to cover the need. She doesn’t say anything like “and I had to choose whether to pay tithing or pay the mortgage.”

    She also doesn’t claim that paying tithing brings a tit-for-tat increase in means. The only blessings she mentions as a result of paying tithing are “peace of mind, freedom from worldly and material worry, and confidence in His holy name” — all mental attitudes. That’s what faith is, to a large degree — the mental attitude of confidence that somehow, somewhere everything will work out. To claim that blessing, she doesn’t have to find a wad of cash; she only needs the confidence to stop worrying. Paying tithing gave her that confidence.

    Please imagine I’m saying this with all the gentleness possible: You’re looking for controversy where there is none.

    Or as Steve put it, “Nope.”

  13. gst,

    I knew it was you.

    I reminds me of a conversation I had with a coworker recently. She is an inactive, possibly you might say former Mormon, but well schooled in all Cache Valley lore. Anyway. She tells me that she isn’t worried about food storage, because she’s heard when it gets bad enough people will come looking for her storage. She says she is keeping a shotgun and a meat grinder.

    That’s faith that the Lord will provide… maybe misguided in some respects. ~

  14. Was Abraham misguided when ascending Mount Moriah with Isaac?

    Kaimi, since your question is about rhetoric, whether or not the Abraham story is literal, the Ensign writer’s articulation of faith seems to follow a similar rhetorical vein.

    (Maybe you are uncomfortable with the Abraham story too…I know I am sometimes)

  15. I don’t think the article comes across as “over the top” for most LDS; I think it probably comes across as “over the top” for many outside the Church.

    Change the facts a little bit–the IRS (or another creditor) has sent a bill equal to all of the person’s assets, which would not leave enough to pay tithing. In fact, the creditor or the IRS is about to levy on the bank account and other assets. Is it better to risk jail by moving the assets out of the account in order to tithe (sometimes called a “fraudulent conveyance” or a “preference”? While it is not a defense in court to argue that tithing takes priority over, say, a secured loan, is it better to stand before God and argue that the conveyance/preference was justified because, under the law of God, tithing takes preference over every other type of debt?

    I do not think we will ever see an Ensign article making that argument.

  16. Do we have verifiable examples from today of instances where instead of purchasing food, a family gave the church tithing, and was then blessed by God in some miraculous way?

    Then of course, by when are we supposed to be paying tithing? Is there a window from the moment we receive our income from our labors? A day? A week? A month? A year? At what point does the Lord withdraw His blessings for us not paying our tithing? If I happen to be running short this month, but budget to shift tithing to next month when I happen to have more income, am I screwed for not paying tithing “on time?” The only instance we have of an accounting of our tithing status is in December, for our yearly number. Technically, tithing therefore doesn’t need to be brought to account until that time.

    Therefore, I just don’t get these stories, where families are forced to choose between starvation and the Lord’s ire.

  17. Kaimi, your point seems a bit like the tithing clerk’s who tried to turn away Joseph F. Smith’s mother when she went to pay tithing. I forget what it was, but insert her reply here.

  18. Andrew #7: Nicely put. Your comment described the feeling that was bothering me when I read the quote.

    While I can respect to some degree the righteous desire that comes out in the woman’s statement, I don’t think that it is a responsible choice by those who put the Ensign together. I’m imagining a whole bunch of people who are going to take this idea even farther than is expressed in the article. If a little misplaced fervor is good, then a lot of fervor grossly misplaced is better, right?

    We’re not teaching people to be reasonable. Items like this appearing in a church publication that so many regard as neo-scriptural fans the flames of the fanatic fringe. (Neal Maxwell, eat your heart out) :)

  19. I believe in tithing. I believe in blessings from it. Yes, paying tithing makes going before your Bishop, asking for welfare help, more acceptable for all, IMHO.

    But, I am concerned about many wanting to make people who get help from the Church feel like dirt, even if they tried. Yet, the Church has built Temples in places where there was not enough demand to justify building them. So, we have 2 or 3 Temples that rely on LDS tourist heavily for patronage, and are then not what you call cost effective. But, beat up on people who need help from the LDS welfare system?

    Oh yes, food stamps are a joke in my state. All of your cars can not be worth over $3500. You can’t have a dime in a 401K or any other types of saving. And, there’s a sliding scale on how much you get versus what your income is.

  20. If, as I know from sad experience, a tithing obligation is recognized in bankruptcy court (if you have been paying it all along) as an acceptable reason not to pay creditors all that you otherwise might be able to pay, I don’t see how it can be considered a fraudulent conveyence to pay it in advance of a garnishment. I suppose if you have not been paying tithing and you suddenly decide to give your money to the chuch to keep it out of the hands of your other creditor, that would be a different matter.

  21. Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea that it’s more important to pay tithing than to put a roof over one’s children’s heads?

    No. I’ve been in that situation and discovered that after I paid my tithing, the Lord helped me provide for my family in miraculous ways. My testimony of tithing in found in my Ensign article, “The Tithing Overcoat.”

  22. I imagine that forcing your children to walk across the plains with limited provisions and only rudimentary medical care available could get could get you in trouble today.

  23. Eric,

    No it wouldn’t, unless that’s the only way you can get your family to your destination (which happens all the time in poor regions around the world).

  24. @3 – Have you actually talked to any bishop over this?

    The bishop will take your option 2. They are counseled to instruct the member to pay tithing and to cover other expenses with welfare. In on way is the bishop counseled to instruct the member to avoid tithing she could pay.

  25. Dan (17), I’ll ask a counter example:

    Do we have verifiable examples from today of instances where regular tithepayers who asked their bishops for help ended up desperately hungry or homeless, especially where that 10% paid to some creditor would have made an observable difference?

  26. #25 is correct. And by so doing, the member can receive the blessings of tithing while still having their temporal needs met. The handbook on welfare states that members should do “all that they can to provide for themselves and their families.” If they’re not paying tithes and offerings, they’re not really doing all they can do.

  27. Pres. Hinckley on destitute people and tithing:

    “There is much of poverty in this land. I do not know how it can be cured without the aid of a higher power, and it is my testimony that the answer to the problems of Guatemala and the poverty of her people lies in the revealed word of the Lord: Tithing. If there is anyone here today who is not paying his or her tithing, I challenge you to deal with the Lord and earn His blessings. You may feel you cannot afford it. He has made the promise, and His is the power to keep that promise, and it is my testimony that He does keep that promise.”

    President Gordon B. Hinckley, Jan. 26, 1997
    Guatemala City North and South Regional Conference

    Hard to argue with him.

  28. I’m guessing it’s a bit of a hyperbole. She’s saying that if she justifies not paying it this month then she may keep making the same justification every month and therefore get out of the habit of paying tithing. She just didn’t want it to come to that and I’m sure (hopefully) she went to her bishop and told him the situation. I guess it’s the idea that you’ll pay the Lord first and have faith that he’ll make up the rest some how??? It’s a bit over the top for my taste, but I understand where she’s coming from.

  29. I was a little disturbed in that article by the way she put that, as well. If things get very tight, I think the right thing is to pray about it and then follow the spirit. I really don’t think Heavenly Father wants us to pay our tithing when we can’t pay our mortgages or eat. On the other hand, when we have extra surplus, I think it’s good to dedicate more than 10% to doing the Lord’s work, in whatever way we’re prompted, if that’s possible. If we’re not generous to those with less than ourselves, it’s hard to expect we can count on generosity to us in times of our own need. All financial positions in life are temporary, as illness, theft, economic downturns, bank closings, war, political disaster, or many other things can wipe anyone out. So we do the best we can while we have surplus, and when we have nothing, we pray for help from others. It’s just how life is, I think.

  30. I learned this past 4th of July that we need a standing army because it’s not realistic to assume the Lord is going to protect our freedoms from terrorist attack. It follows that it’s not realistic to assume the Lord is going to put a roof over our head and food on the table. Or something.

  31. Maybe she should just donate an appreciated asset like rich folks do. One of my bishops long ago told me there were people in the ward who had never paid a dime in tithing…they just donated appreciated assets.

  32. Re #15: Bankruptcy law takes the general attitude that any money you spend in the six months or so prior to declaring bankruptcy isn’t really yours, and if you prefer one creditor over another, especially one you are related to, or worse if you give unusual amounts to anyone not otherwise exempt the bankruptcy trustee has the power to recover it, as if it were stolen property.

    There was a legal case in Utah several years back where the trustee sued to recover tithing donations bankruptcy filer from the Church on those grounds. As a consequence Orrin Hatch proposed legislation to exempt charitable contributions from the bankruptcy law regarding fraudulent transfers. This legislation, the Religious Liberties and Charitable Donations Protection Act, was enacted in 1998.

    After a similar case in New York where a bankruptcy judge apparently interpreted the then current law to approve such recovery regardless, Congress approved (and President Bush signed) legislation (the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Clarification Act of 2006, or “Hatch-Obama bill”) to clarify its intent to protect reasonable contributions in 2006.

    So it would appear that tithe payers, in general, are legally in the clear. However, I don’t think this completely resolves the ethical question – borrowing money from someone, using it to make charitable contributions, and then declaring bankruptcy (for example) seems ethically dubious to me. Is it really legitimate to pay tithing with borrowed money that one has no intention of paying back? As a general practice, should members borrow money to pay their tithing in any case? I don’t think so – the real solution is to get one’s finances in order so you can pay tithing with your own money.

  33. Lighten up! This was truely written in the spirit of the great psalmists… Let us not look past the mark or spirit of this important message! We can in reality pay a full tithe in even the most dire circumstances of our humble lives. This mother is demonstrating her magnificent courage and faith, which is far grater than some of our comments. If I had a one TENTH of her faith, I would be a far better person. Is this not the point of this message?

  34. All,

    Just remember that those who really are facing a “eat food or pay my tithing option” don’t speak English and don’t have access to the internet. So, by virtue of those two barriers won’t be chiming in to offer their opinions here. And, I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to speak for them.

    And it really is that dire for them. If they go to their bishop he doesn’t have the resources to help them out, it’s really only in the U.S. and Canada where bishops have the cash to hand out use Dave’s option (2) in comment #3.

    I remember on my mission a branch president telling me about how he was grateful that he had the cash on hand to help pay for someone’s medicine that month. And this wasn’t expensive HIV medicine cocktails, it was something like anti-biotics. And that pretty much sapped funds he had available that month. So if Dave’s hypothetical (2) would have starved if they had come after he paid for the medicine.

    I guess that’s my bottom line point. Just remember by virtue of you being able to read Kaimi’s post, it’s pretty much academic for you. It’s not academic for those who can’t, and you aren’t going hear from them.

  35. Not too many years ago I was living in a cramped studio apartment in a “ghetto” neighborhood. My unit had previously been occupied by a crack dealer, as I learned from his former customers who would knock on my window in the middle of the night, only to be disappointed upon finding me instead of “Terry.” I supported myself by delivering pizza part-time while attending the local community college. I didn’t report all my tips to the IRS–and never felt very good about this–but in my precarious hand-to-mouth circumstances I was far more afraid of forfeiting the blessings of the tithe than of invoking the wrath of Uncle Sam. I paid a full tithe. Go ahead–I DARE anyone to tell me I did the wrong thing.

    Shame on any Latter-day Saint who would even hint that a poor person ought not to pay tithing, or even that he/she has an excuse not to. I can assure you, the blessings of the tithe are, if anything, proportional to the degree of personal sacrifice involved. I’ve been blessed by it enormously.

    I suppose some people think the widow should have kept her mites. After all, there are plenty of folks “whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19)

    Does anyone really think that a poor person’s economic circumstances are going to significantly improve by retaining 10% of his/her measly income? Now THAT’S “misguided faith.”

  36. I certainly do not mean to imply that people in difficult circumstances shouldn’t pay their tithing, I am saying that all people who pay tithing should pay it with their money.

  37. Re: David Clark, #37

    Having been a branch president in a country outside of the US & Canada, I can tell you that there’s plenty of welfare money to cover the needs of the members. The Church always makes the money available to cover the needs of the members who are destitute and can’t pay their tithing.

    And, to echo a couple of other people’s comments, the church guideline is that a member in a situation like the one in the article should pay her tithing and the church will cover the cost of her housing, food, medicine utilities whatever is necessary.

  38. #41

    Which country?, the money didn’t make it to Nicaragua. So, I guess money was specifically held only from Nicaraguan saints for some perverse reason. Is that what you are saying?

    Of course I am sure the likely retort is that I was obviously misinformed or that the particular branch president didn’t know how to get the money. When in doubt, blame the messenger.

    Oh, and I forgot, I was a branch president for a couple of months in Nicaragua. I didn’t bother asking where the money was, and no one bothered to tell me. Probably because everyone knew there wasn’t any. But then again, I was probably misinformed. When in doubt, blame the messenger.

  39. #41 I would be very interested in knowing where you served, as I have family in a third world country who has been denied help from their bishop, for the very main reason that everyone, including the bishop, is in need of the same welfare, and it is juts not there.

  40. The church had funds for the needy in Romania, certainly more than what most Romanians were able to pay in tithing and fast offerings.

  41. # 41 –

    Having been a branch president in a country outside of the US & Canada, I can tell you that there’s plenty of welfare money to cover the needs of the members. The Church always makes the money available to cover the needs of the members who are destitute and can’t pay their tithing.

    Probably so in some countries. But not everywhere. If that were true, we would baptize tens of thousands. The truth is that we baptize some who believe this, and then these drop out when finding out it doesn’t work that easily. In some countries there simply isn’t enough welfare money for all the needy. By pouring in more money, the Church would only make the problems worse. It only functions when there is a balance and church membership reflects this balance.

  42. Interesting. Enough funds in Romania. I am about to venture a guess that there is enough money for saints in poverty in most European countries, Canada, US, even say Australia and New Zealand. I will also venture a guess that South and Central America, Asia, and Africa have no such luxury.

  43. I’m uncomfortable with what she says but I don’t know why. I really don’t think its an either-or situation. I guess her statement precludes faith that the Lord will provide. It’s kind of stupid to think you’ll starve paying your tithing.

    I’ve always paid tithing and never came close to being really hungry.

  44. #4 Perhaps if you’re the kind to write the Lord an IOU, you’re not the kind who would be in need of a drop-by bag of groceries? Just a thought…

    A stake president once said something along the lines of, “I admire those who pay their tithing in dire circumstances and get a check in the mail the next day to save their situation. I admire even more those who who pay their tithing who go bankrupt.” Watching my parents go through just that unexpected and horrible financial circumstance, but continuing to pay their tithing throughout their lives was one of the most testimony building experiences our family has had.

  45. No bishop would allow a faithful tithe payer to be without food on the table and a roof over their heads.

    It’s more about willingness. We have to be willing to sacrifice even if it means the bishop is going to give us the money right back in the form of fast offerings.

  46. “No bishop would allow a faithful tithe payer to be without food on the table and a roof over their heads.”…well, now that we got that cleared up….
    “Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea that it’s more important to pay tithing than to put a roof over one’s children’s heads?” This reminds me of a talk by Lynn G Robison where he spoke of how the examples in the scriptures are often of extreme examples (Elijah and the widow with her meal). She was preparing the last meal before she and her son were to die from no more food. She was asked to give of her last food to the prophet, he said, leaving us no room to question if we have enough money. And really, from this story in the Ensign, I don’t think we are talking about “putting a roof over one’s children’s heads.” It is a discussion of putting “that” roof over the children’s head. There are other roofs if she can’t afford that mortgage payment and still pay her tithing. I agree with the commenter who said that you are trying to stir up controversy when there is none here.

  47. I think you are missing a lot of what is in the article. I have never been really poor and have never been a mother of six children, no husband, and no family. My best friend, however, has been really poor and it is scary and tremendously stressful. This story is about praying and having the worry lifted because the Lord will carry our burdens and does bring us strength and comfort.
    I can only offer my small story about when my husband was laid off in January (a surprise layoff btw). That evening we cried tears of joy because we had each other and we had our children. It brought into focus what was really important in our lives.
    This woman had that kind of experience. She knew that she had that gospel and that paying tithing was a privilege and that her Savior was there to support her through life’s challenges. She says “The burden of worry immediately lifted. My love for the Lord overcame the weakness generated by my fears.”

  48. I didn’t like the ending of the article but chalked it up to her obvious (imo) hyperbole.

    I can’t imagine any instance where I would feel comfortable counseling someone to not pay tithing.

  49. Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea that it’s more important to pay tithing than to put a roof over one’s children’s heads?

    No. Also, it is extremely unlikely that someone who is conscientious about paying their tithing or making it a priority would ever let their kids starve, go without shelter or suffer other deprivations.

  50. Any denomination that would not turn around and provide at least as much assistance as was paid by a member in such desperate circumstances in tithing that month has a serious ethical problem in accepting those contributions in the first place.

    As a consequence, assuming the member makes his or her bishop aware of the seriousness of the situation, the prospect that paying tithing will lead to an immediate temporal loss in such circumstances should be a non-existent problem.

    I can’t say I have ever met someone who was provided with less fast offering assistance under such circumstances than he or she paid in tithing that month. Usually much more, although not indefinitely, of course.

  51. I have never “borrowed money” specifically to pay tithing, except in the sense, which I acknowledge, that any money one spends when already in debt is borrowed money. From that perspective, however, very few people pay tithing with anything but borrowed money.

  52. Bless this woman, but her concept of the Savior’s love is certainly not mine. Those children were provided by Him to nurture and care for. There will be other ways and other times to square things up.

  53. It is really only “borrowed money” if one isn’t current on his or her bills, with the possible exception of borrowing to pay one’s regular expenses to free up money to pay others.

    Otherwise the borrowing is still reasonably associated with the house or car, etc. rather than something else. If you skip your house payment to pay your tithing, that would be different.

  54. Of course, if you consider your tithing to be a debt as immediately pressing as your mortgage, perhaps you are borrowing from your tithing to make your house payment…

  55. I think it’s worthy of note that the article was in the “Latter-day Saint Voices” department, not a main article that was assigned or commissioned. I’m sure it still went through an editorial approval process. But it’s in the voice of a member, not as a leader preaching to the flock.

    Since some comments above referred to overseas applicability, I’d like to point out that the same article appeared in the international Liahona.

  56. The JST for ROMANS 13: 6-7 is interesting. I recommend it for your consideration.

    6 For, for this cause pay ye your consecrations also unto them; for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
    7 But first, render to all their dues, according to custom, tribute to whom tribute, custom to whom custom, that your consecrations may be done in fear of him to whom fear belongs, and in honor of him to whom honor belongs.

    Perhaps this suggests that we pay our consecrations (tithing) to our bishops after we have paid our debts to others…

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