Jay McCarthy writes:
I am Mormon. I am from Massachusetts, but lived in Utah for a long time, and have lived in prosperous and not-prosperous Mormon areas.
I don’t think tithing is an effective way to get social status.
Let me explain some mechanics. When I get a paycheck, I got to a Web site the church runs and tell them to transfer 10% from my checking account to their accounts. The new online system lets me do it whenever I want, whereas previously (the online system is about eight months old) I wrote a check and handed it to a local church leader. Even in the old days of physical checks, there was extreme paranoia about keeping this an anonymous process. You would occasionally see people handing their checks, but the only people who could know what the amount was was the local leader (called a bishop) and their one or two clerks. (Aside: this local leader and their clerks are lay people that volunteer on a rotating basis for terms of about three to five years.) In the new system, only the local leader sees your tithing amount and maybe a clerk as they print out reports.
The next step is that each year, around the end of the year (December), you have a meeting with the local leader called “tithing settlement”. Before the meeting, you get a sealed letter from a clerk with a statement of all the money you’ve given. You go to the meeting as an entire family (in my case, my wife and three kids younger than 8). It normally lasts about 30 minutes and you spend the time chatting about how things are going in your life and if you have any needs and what is going on. At the end the bishop remembers, “Oh, it’s tithing settlement.” And says, “Is this amount tithed listed on your report accurate?” then asks “Are you a full tithe payer, a partial tithe payer, or not a tithe payer?”. Whatever you answer, he will have no comment about and then you leave.
The other way that tithing is noticed is that every two years you renewed what is called your “temple recommend”. This is an barcoded ID card that is tied to your membership records in the church database. When you want to go to the temple, you bring this card and they scan it to verify that you are allowed in the temple. (Aside, the temple is not where you go each Sunday. There are about 150 in the world. It is for special occasions and most people that are working try to go monthly, but most retired people try to go daily.) During this renewal process, you have an interview with two local leaders—one that you go to church with and one from the administrative unit above that (called a stake). During this interview, you are asked lots of “Yes” and “No” questions (they are encouraged to not require more than “Yes” or “No” answers, because historically some of these leaders changed the requirements to reflect their own interpretations of the rules.) One of the questions is, “Are you a full tithe payer?”. There is no checking of this answer with the answer you give at tithing settlement.
So, in summary, tithing is such a secretive process that I don’t believe it is a good way to get status.
In the preceding discussion, I always wrote “tithing”, but actually we would say “tithes and offerings” because when you pay you can always give additional money. The additional money can be flagged for certain programs. (The tithing CANNOT be flagged.) For instance, one program is called a “fast offering” and it is used for the poor and needy who are local to you. Others are to sponsor a missionary or help build a temple.
I have never heard a local leader with knowledge of offering matters ever say anything about how much a family gave or if they were giving a lot or being generous or anything like that. I have not been a local leader, but I have been on the executive committee of local congregations and attended all the meetings that the local leader did. If they said anything, it would be considered an incredible violation of protocol.
In my opinion, Mormons gain social status within the group by two major ways. First, by externality conformity to norms, such as dressing modestly, having lots of kids, never cursing, discussing the gospel with each other, and so on. Second, by in kind donation of time. Everything that happens at church is done by volunteers and there are many things that need to happen. Each Sunday, meetings are three hours long and there are many classes and lectures that need to be given. The first hour has about three lectures. The second and third hour each have about fifteen concurrent lessons (for different age groups). So, this means that about 33 people need to volunteer to teach for an hour weekly. On the Wednesdays, all youth from 8 to 18 have their own classes and activities at the church that need to be taught by someone. There’s another program for high school students called Seminary (a dumb name) where they are taught about the scriptures EVERY DAY before school. Outside of Utah, this is a volunteer position typically done by one person and is an immense time commitment. (That’s what I do.)
I think these things are much more expensive than tithing and an academic analysis of Mormonism would get more out of studying their impact than studying tithes and offerings.
— A few small comments.
The tithing settlement form says “The Church provided no goods or services in consideration, in whole or in part, for the contributions detailed below but only intangible religious benefits.” I chuckle every time I see that.
I assume that the details of your tithing are considered if you are considered for prestigious volunteer jobs, like bishop.
In executive meetings, we do hear about what percentage of the local membership paid tithing. In my experience, in Utah, social conformity is high but tithing payment is relatively low, but outside of Utah it is the opposite: there are more diverse Mormons and everyone is paying tithing.
Mormon home production is not caused by tithing. It’s explicit motivation is worry about the millennium (a similar impetus to “preppers”) and getting attacked by the government (as happened in Missouri, Illinois, and Utah in the 1800s.) It’s implicit motivation is to gain social status by conformity to norms.
Here is the original post.