Paying the Lord’s nth

June 16, 2004 | 35 comments
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We were treated this past week to a priesthood lesson on the law of tithing, which we were told is a simple rule that can be lived perfectly. We owe this particular trope, I believe, to President Spencer W. Kimball, who suggested that on the road to perfection, we master the commandments one at a time. He recommended beginning with tithing, because it’s easy to count to ten. At ten percent we are “perfect” in obeying the law of tithing, and we can then move on to perfect ourselves in incremental obedience to the next commandment.

This formulation of tithing treats it as a clear and bright-line command. In legal scholarship, such bright-line commands are called “rules” — for example, “Drive at 55 miles per hour.” In contrast to rules, legal scholars have also recognized in law a different kind of imperative called a “standard” – for example, “Drive at a reasonable speed.” Unlike clear, hard-edged rules, standards are fuzzy and highly fact dependent, and change from situation to situation.

The gospel, like law, appears to have its share of bright-line rules, like “No sexual intercourse outside of marriage.” It also has lots of fuzzy standards, like “Love your neighbor” and “Magnify your calling,” and of course the (in)famous “WWJD” – What would Jesus do?

Rules are clear and easy to understand; they tell you in advance what behavior is expected. Because of this, they’re cheap and easy to enforce. Standards, on the other hand, are uncertain and expensive to enforce, because someone has to decide how they apply in each situation. They also tend, as my eleven year old daughter points out, to lead to infinite recursions — “When I ask myself, ‘What would Jesus do,’” she says, “The answer is ‘The right thing.’ But what is the right thing? Obviously, what Jesus would do. But what would Jesus do . . . .?”

Despite their attractive simplicity, rules also have a tendency to modulate into standards – consider that you typically can drive 5 to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, and the police will not bother you as long as the pavement is dry, traffic is moving smoothly, etc. Gospel rules like tithing, it seems to me, are no different. Anyone who thinks tithing is a clear and simple law just isn’t paying attention. Consider:

1) As a graduate student, I was provided with a living stipend. The Chair of the department called me in when I first arrived and said, “We know that you’re a Mormon. We had a Mormon student in the program once before, so we know you give 10% of your money to your church. We’d like to ask you not to do that. The stipend money is for graduate students to live on; if you feel that you can live on 10% less than what we’re giving you, we’ll give that to some other student who needs it.”

I thought about that for awhile and eventually decided that if I accepted the money, it would be dishonest to pay tithing on it. I have since then occasionally been confronted with variations of the same problem with grants or research stipends, where I concluded that the money actually belonged to someone besides myself. At the same time, it was a little troubling not to pay tithing on money I had control over and was using to live on.

2) In a different column of the tithing calculation, I work for an employer who pays a portion of my health, life, and disability insurance. Due to peculiarities in the tax and federal employment laws, it costs the employer less to do this than to give the money to me as salary. I never thought about it much until my employer began listing this “invisible income” on my pay stubs. It is in some sense an “increase” to me – if the tax laws were a bit different, I would get it as salary and have to pay the full price of my insurance. Is the employer’s contribution titheable?

3) I have no idea why I pay tithing on the gross amount of my paycheck, rather than the take-home figure, except that I’ve heard for years that is what we typically should do. I have never heard a satisfactory justification for this. The usual mantra is that federal and state withholding is like paying a bill to the government, and you don’t calculate tithing after paying your other bills. This analogy is of course patently absurd from an either an economic or accounting standpoint, or just as a matter of plain sense.

4) I also have no idea how to correctly pay tithes on my retirement fund, which by the time I need to use it will comprise previously untithed deposits by various employers, previously tithed deposits by me (since I have been paying on my gross paycheck) and previously untithed interest or appreciation on my portfolio. There may be some enormously complicated algorithm to sort this out so as to avoid double tithing. Fortunately, I have another thirty years or so to figure this out.

The stock response to such concerns is to say not to worry about it, that tithing is between the Lord and me, and I should pay whatever I feel comfortable about. Which is a perfectly fine response, except that it converts the bright-line tithing “rule” into a fuzzy fact-dependent “standard” — I should pay some amount of tithing, “n,” where “n” is 8% or 12% or 32% or whatever per cent I feel the Lord would approve in my particular circumstances.

Which makes me wonder. Legal scholarship on rules suggests that there are almost never any real bright-line imperatives in law, and when there are, they tend to modulate into standards. Is the same true of the gospel?

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35 Responses to Paying the Lord’s nth

  1. Gordon Smith on June 16, 2004 at 7:53 pm

    fix bug

  2. sid on June 16, 2004 at 8:07 pm

    Dan, dont you think that your Dept Chair overstepped her bounds by asking you to decline the stipend if you paid your tithing? I wonder if they asked the same sort of question to say, a non-religios student who might budget 10% of his income to buy beer, or marijuana or or for that matter anything else? Wasnt t hat , in a sense a invasion of your privacy? And does a person in such a position have the right to recommend that a LDS student not be given a stipend just because they were open about their practise of giving a percentage as tithing? Methinks that is is a case of discrimination on the grounds of Dan’s religios practises. But, hey, I am not a layer – just a wanna-be!!! :) :)

  3. Gordon Smith on June 16, 2004 at 8:12 pm

    Dan, The bug is in our software, not your reasoning.

    We have occasionally had discussions here about rules v. standards on a micro level (i.e., with respect to particular issues), but I am not sure anyone has raised the macro point. My inclination is to think that the answer to your question is “yes.” We tend to teach rules to children because rules do not require as much thought. As children grow, they begin to pick the rules apart and we starting talking standards.

    But I think there is another part of the picture that you did not include: standards tend to modulate into rules. As you correctly note, standards are tough to employ. When we see too many people using the “spirit of the law” as an excuse to behave in ways that we think are unacceptable, we begin to create new rules. For some reason, home teaching pops to mind here.

  4. Dan Burk on June 16, 2004 at 8:26 pm

    Sid — I may have been unclear, the proposal was to lower my stipend 10% if I wanted to pay tithing — which made me wonder about a different recursion, losing the stipend in 10% increments as I proposed to pay tithing on each successively smaller sum.

    I probably was discriminated against in the department, but not necessarily in that instance — I presume that they would have objected to a Muslim or a Baptist giving 10% of the stipend to their mosque or church, and I assume that I was perfectly free to spend 10% of the salary on beer or pot or green jello just like anyone else.

    As for privacy — it’s unlikely that they would have known if I had paid tithing on the stipend, that’s where the dishonesty problem came up in my mind.

  5. Dan Burk on June 16, 2004 at 8:34 pm

    Gordon is correct that standards also modulate into rules — I’m not entirely certain that I follow his home teaching example, but the missionary “White Handbook” is a fabulous example, especially the supplement that they gave us while we were in the MTC, with rules like “Missionaries may not sunbathe in the nude” and “Missionaries may not detonate explosives in the flush toilets.”

    The oscillation between rules and standards — Carol Roses’ “Crystals and Mud” — is part of my point — occasionally the Lord substitutes rules for standards, as when he revoked his original commandments from Sinai and replaced them with the Law of Moses; or vice versa as when the Savior declared the Law fulfilled and substituted his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount/at the Temple. But usually we are doing the modulating as an organizational matter, which leaves the question of what is the core imperative behind the current formulation?

  6. Gordon Smith on June 16, 2004 at 8:45 pm

    Re Home Teaching:

    Rule: Visit your families in their home once a month. (This results in formal compliance, token visits, not “real” home teaching. On the other side, some people don’t want HTs once a month, so they are hard to visit. Disgruntled home teachers who feel like they are failing through no fault of their own.)

    Standard: Make sure your families are cared for. (People starting counting telephone calls, letters, greetings after sacrament meeting.)

    Back to the rule. And so forth in a never-ending cycle.

  7. Matt Evans on June 16, 2004 at 9:06 pm

    Welcome to Times & Seasons, Dan, and thanks for exposing the canard about tithing being the commandment that’s easy to live with exactness.

    When mom sends me home with a bunch of groceries, should I tithe on that increase? When she pays my telephone bill? When she gives me money to pay my telephone bill? When she gives me money for my birthday? When she gives me money for mowing her lawn?

    I think most people forget that at one time tithing was paid on the increase of our flocks, or our production of butter, and not on the conversion of that increase into cash.

    Incidentally, I don’t see why you think the analogy for paying on gross income is nonsensical. Why should I tithe on my gasoline and sales taxes but not those taxes that are withheld? Alternatively, if you’re saying it doesn’t make sense to pay tithing on any taxes, why should I tithe on the money I use to buy tires and security alarms, but not the money used to buy roads and police protection?

  8. Bob Caswell on June 16, 2004 at 9:30 pm

    Dan, you’ve combined two of my favorite topics into one. I have my own blog where many have asked these same questions. If you have a minute, check out Tithing: How Much Should We Pay? and Principles vs. Rules and the Word of Wisdom.

    I’d love to hear more of what you think.

  9. Kevin Barney on June 16, 2004 at 10:28 pm

    I hate when the gross v. net debate comes up, because to me that’s way too simplistic to characterize the actual problems of identifying titheable income. The problems are actually legion, as you briefly demonstrate (most people don’t even stop to think about them, but I can assure you a tax attorney or accountant does!). I think the Church is well served by its current practice of ambiguity and self-definition. Otherwise, we would end up with a Church Tithing Code, then regulations to interpret the Code, published and private letter rulings issued by the Office of the Presiding Bishopric, and tithing lawyers to help us figure it all out!

  10. Dan Burk on June 16, 2004 at 10:40 pm

    I now see where Gordon was going with his home teaching example, and do think it is exactly the oscillation phenomenon Carol Rose described in her famous article, although she uses mortgages and liens as her examples, rather than “watching over the Church.”

    The oscillation phenomenon, together with the discussions pointed out by Bob Craswell, tends to confirm some of my concerns about the Gospel as a discrete set of expectations. Those of us with legal training are frequently approached by lay friends and relatives who pelt us with questions about what “The Law” says on some particular subject. The majority of people seem to believe that there is some “brooding omnipresence” called “The Law” that gives discrete answers to particular questions. (Steve Smith at University of San Diego has written about this). Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth, and we always answer to their great frustration “It depends.” Because it does.

    Similarly, there are people who think that there is some Platonic form of behavior called “the Gospel.” But I suspect that “The Gospel” as a discrete set of rules is as illusory as “The Law.”

    As to the inquiry about considering witholding taxes as a “bill” — there are some good examples regarding this problem on the threads Bob Caswell points out. In general, consumption of tires and security alarms is a budgetary item under my control — I can buy less if I decide to. The same is true to some extent of consumption taxes like sales and gasoline tax. But there is very little I can do about income tax (except, say, try to make less money, or have more children to get more deductions). The witholding is not something I can directly control, nor can I typically control consumption of the public goods paid for in this fashion — my direct consumption of police services this year was pretty much zero, but in a year where I need police services, it will probably not be anything I could budget for in advance (“Honey, I think I’ll get mugged this year — put an extra $500 aside to pay the police department.”).

    So if witholding taxes are payment of a “bill,” it’s a very unusual bill. It’s not clear to me why the money that the government seizes to pay the “bill” constitutes an increase for tithing purposes. If I choose, I can buy less tires and security alarms and give the money saved to the Lord instead. I can’t do that with my income tax “bill” (at least, not without going to jail).

    And I certainly don’t favor the creation of a Church Tax Code, either, but what that means is that my metric of “perfection” in paying tithing is no more certain than my metric of “perfection” in, say, “magnifying my calling.”

  11. Dan Richards on June 17, 2004 at 1:05 am

    I don’t think anybody has yet broached the topic of imputed income. Let’s say I want to get my lawn mowed. I can mow it by myself in one hour, or I can pay the neighbor kid $20 to mow it in one hour. If I earn $25 an hour at my job, I should work an extra hour there, pay the neighbor, and come out $5 ahead. But if I’m in a tax bracket higher than 20%, I’ll get less than $20 for my hour at work, so I might as well mow the lawn myself. Now we have deadweight loss. The solution is clear–I should be taxed for mowing my own lawn. After all, (assuming I’m paying taxes at exactly 20%) I get the same benefit in the end, at a cost of one hour’s labor either way. Taxing imputed income is virtually impossible, but could we pay a tithe on imputed income? After all, I don’t deduct rent from my income before I pay tithing–why shouldn’t I include the rental value of my home in income once I buy a house?

  12. Matt Evans on June 17, 2004 at 9:44 am

    Hi Dan,

    I’m not sure that your defense of paying tithing on net income works. By the explanation you offered, it appears that if government provided all needs in a cashless society, none of us would experience an increase.

    Similarly, the need to pay for police protection is the same as every form of insurance: you pay for it whether you use it or not. By your argument, it doesn’t make sense for me to tithe on the money I used to pay my homeowner’s insurance because I haven’t needed it this year, or on the money used to buy an extended warranty on my car. (The other oversight is that you definitely *did* use the police services you paid for last year — the police presence deterred muggers, and they kept a couple million criminals locked away from you and your family.)

    Further, many people *could* zero out their income tax payments because the IRS treats tithing as a tax-deductible charitable donation. I don’t konw what the limits are on deductions, but I know that in some years my tithing deductions took my adjusted income below the 0% tax thresehold.

    Finally, I do agree that progressive-taxation means that our ‘increase’ from government doesn’t track our payment to government. But if we’re going to go down that road, we’d need to account for price discrimination in other contexts, where some people people subsidize others.

  13. Frank McIntyre on June 17, 2004 at 10:13 am

    I think Dan’s argument is that he lacks control over the money and perhaps he has the standard “an increase” relates ro money he actually controls.

    Another way of thinking about taxation is as a mixture of robbery and payment of services :) Do I deduct the value of things robbed from my tithing payments? Some would, some wouldn’t. Some pay on net, some pay on gross.

  14. Dan Burk on June 17, 2004 at 10:20 am

    Hi Matt –

    Thanks for your amplification on my comment. Notice that I addressed “direct” consumption police services, because of the indirect consumption point that you raise.

    But I still don’t think that you can sensibly treat consumption of public goods the way that you do consumption of private goods for these purposes. Note that governmental services are not like insurance or extended warranties — I could choose to forgo insurance, and either take a chance that nothing will happen or assume the risk of full payment myself. That’s not an option open to me for governmental services. And to the extent that I “consumed” police protection, the level of that consumption was dictated by others — the criminals, and the police.

    I don’t know that I’d necessarily adopt Frank McIntyre’s characterization of taxes as “robbery,” but I think his point is correct overall.

    If you’ve managed to zero out your federal tax via charitable deductions, that tells me some interesting things about your income (or that you better double-check your Schedule A). :) I haven’t managed to do that since I’ve had an income.

    And yes, if the government provided all our needs in a cashless society, we probably wouldn’t be paying tithing — not just becuase we’d have no increase, but because we’d have nothing to pay it with (Labor? In kind?).

  15. Matt Evans on June 17, 2004 at 11:01 am

    Hi Dan,

    I think your last sentence distinguishes our perspectives — and may account for all our difference. My view is that in a cashless society, our tithing would be in-kind, as it was in barter economies. We’d again be paying our tithing in wheat and butter, or perhaps Cheerios and neckties.

    This is perhaps why we view differently the fact that because we have collectively decided to have government take our money to pay for roads and schools, whether our ‘free’ schools and ‘free’ roads are an increase to us.

    Because tithing was historically paid on the increase of flocks and grains and so on, which look far more ‘free’ than public education does — flocks increase without our help, grains grow with free water and light — that the fact that we’ve elected to pay for education at a community level doesn’t suggest to me that it’s not an increase. If we decide that health care is so important that no one can elect not to have it, and will therefore pay for it collectively, I don’t believe it would be correct to no longer consider health care as part of our increase.

  16. Kaimi on June 17, 2004 at 11:17 am

    Matt,

    But isn’t the correct amount of tithing the value of the increase, not the value of the tax paid?

    For example, posit a society where there are only two people. One earns $10 and one earns $1000. Each are taxed at 20%. The resulting $202 is used to build a school for the education of their families. (To keep it nice and easy, let’s also assume that the school is perfectly efficient and the education is worth that $202, etc.)

    It seems clear that the $10 earner has received a benefit, in the form of the school, worth $101, and NOT worth only the $2 he paid in taxes. Thus, if he is paying tithing on his government benefit as an increase, he should pay tithing on his wage of $10, minus the cost of the increase ($2), plus the benefit gained ($101), for a total tithable amount of $109.

    The same applies here. If I’m earning $6000 a year, paying tithing on gross rather than net, an extra few hundred dollars, won’t even come close to approximating the benefit I receive from others’ taxes. Similarly, do we really think that Bill Gates, et al, get back government services worth $5 billion or whatever they pay in tax?

    So, while you may be on to something, suggesting that we should pay tithing on our government benefits received, I think that that is not properly implemented by tithing gross income. The only way to implement that would be to calculate government benefit per person, and send everyone a bill.

  17. Nate Oman on June 17, 2004 at 11:32 am

    What about paying tithing on the tax benefit of paying tithing?

  18. Bob Caswell on June 17, 2004 at 11:33 am

    Matt, not to gang up, but when you say, “we’ve elected to pay for education at a community level” or “If we decide that health care is so important that no one can elect not to have it”… who is the “we” you speak of? It surely can’t be everyone, for not everyone elects to have the government do what it does in every instance. Using your health care example, what if I hated the idea (this is hypothetical)? Could I figure out what percentage of government resources is used on health care and somehow deduct that same percentage from the gross on which I pay tithing? All I’m saying is that “we” don’t always “elect” for government decisions. How do you account for that?

  19. Dan Burk on June 17, 2004 at 12:11 pm

    Hi Matt — I’m sorry that I may have misunderstood your hypo; by a cashless society of government provision, I thought you were positing a sort of Marxist Workers’ Paradise where everyhing is owned by, and provided by, the state.

    If it’s simply a barter economy, I’m not sure that makes much difference to my argument — presumably then you would be paying taxes in grain and livestock and other goods, just as was done in most pre-industrial societies, and as tithing in kind was paid.

    BTW, if you ever want to freak a Bishop out, pay tithing in kind. My daughter had a small garden when she was four, which produced about ten tomatoes and 70 green beans. So to teach the principle, we had her dutifully present the bishop with a tomato and 7 beans. Watching him try to help her fill out the donation slip was priceless. I still don’t know what he did with the vegetables. Sent them to SLC, I hope.

  20. Matt Evans on June 17, 2004 at 1:11 pm

    Hi Kaimi,

    In an earlier comment I mentioned the problems created by progressive taxation, and noted that if we’re going to take that road, then we would have to also look for other forms of subsidies. The only reason the airline can afford to sell me a roundtrip ticket for $134 — just over their marginal cost — is because other customers are subsidizing the fixed and marketing costs. Ford sedans are sold several thousand dollars below their natural price because they are subsidized by SUVs, which are sold thousands of dollars above natural price. Etc. Paying on gross is admittedly imperfect, I just think it’s better than paying on net and pretending that we’re not purchasing services and benefits with our tax dollars.

    Hi Bob,

    If you’ve read T&S very long, you probably know my distaste for paternalistic and redistributive tax polices. Nevertheless, I don’t see why the collective decision (majoritarian) to purchase benefits at a different level classifies the purchased benefit as no longer an ‘increase’.

    Hi Dan,

    Even in a Marxist state, members of the church would still be obligated to tithe on our increase. I mentioned barter economies because you appeared to assume that our only ‘increase’ was money over which we exercize direct control. As I’ve pointed out, I don’t think money is necessary, and nor is direct control. We can’t duck the commandment to tithe by putting our assets into irrevocable blind trusts, or purchasing our benefits collectively.

    Hi Everyone,

    Does anyone know how tithing was handled under the United Order? Did people pay at the individual level, the group level, or was tithing abolished altogether because their was no increase?

  21. Kaimi on June 17, 2004 at 1:15 pm

    My dad likes to pay tithing in kind. When we would go duck hunting, he would dutifully give one tenth of the ducks to the bishop.

    I assume they were then sent to the local bishop’s storehouse. I’m not quite sure.

  22. Frank McIntyre on June 17, 2004 at 1:31 pm

    Matt, you talk about natural price but I’m not sure what that means. Perhaps you mean some sort of competitive price reflecting cost?

    This problem extends to a more fundamental issue with the way this thread has people trying to price out benefits. Nothing has a natural price. Prices are determined by some social institution like exchange or government fiat. Prices have no particular reltaionship to value. So there is no particular link between prices paid and benefits received, if by benefits we mean happiness gained. Unless we pay tithes on everything that makes us happy (and can convert that happiness back into dollars to give the bishop) down this road lies madness…

    I found an interesting talk on tithing and giving in the Church archives. The author speaks of how David was commanded to make an offering at a certain place. He went to the place and asked to buy it for his sacrifice. The owner said it was freely David’s as a gift. David’s response was that it would be wrong to offer a sacrifice with gifted resources.

    I wonder if this can be applied to tithing. Perhaps tithing should be paid on what we get from our own production and resources. This is our increase in that we caused the increase by our production. This moves the definition away from consumption and towards production, which still has problematic but is sometimes better defined.

    In such a view, health insurance paid by the employer and taxes are both results of one’s production and so tithed. Retirement funds also come from our production and should be tithed also, but require more bookkeeping. Gifts are not tithed, nor would welfare payments or lottery payments. Stocks are tithed as one’smone is being used to produce something (Perhaps there should be an exemption for dot-com stocks:). The mowed lawn is a hard call…

    Dan, I could not find a Spencer Kimball quote reflecting your paraphrase at the top of the post. Do you know where one is?

  23. Julie in Austin on June 17, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    Seriously, does the Church still accept tithing in kind? I would imagine this comes up in predominately agricultural societies. How is it handled?

    Julie

  24. Frank McIntyre on June 17, 2004 at 2:02 pm

    Stocks all go through SLC directly, not the Bishop. There are rules about it but I don’t recall everything. Preferably, you sell the item and then just pay the cash.

  25. Dan Burk on June 17, 2004 at 2:03 pm

    Frank — I’m relying on MIA and Seminary lessons of 25 years ago for my first exposure to the Kimball “perfection” algorithm, but will see what I can find.

    Matt — Under the United Order, everyone gave a tenth to the Bishop’s storehouse when joining, then consecrated the rest to the community. They recieved back by deed a stewardship purportedly equal to thier needs. Then on a yearly basis, they would contribute one tenth of thier increase to the Bishop’s storehouse, and settle up with the Bishop regarding the rest of their increase — retaining that which was needed, donating the surplus to the creation of new stewardships, or receiving additional stewardship properties if they were in arrears. This was the antecedent to today’s tithing settlement.

    In an actual Worker’s Paradise, I think you would have the same problem I had with my graduate stipend — the state would want to know where that tenth went, and if you weren’t using it except to promote the Opiate of the Masses, would re-allocate it elswhere. You’d presumably have to skim part of your allocation in such a way that the state didn’t notice, and then you have a 12th Article of Faith problem (cue Monson’s interminable retelling of the story about Bruder Schnicklegruber, or whatever his name was, who hid his tithing for 30 years in a jar beneath the floorboards in East Germany).

    Julie — My understanding of agricultural tithing in kind is that it is supposed to go directly to the Bishop’s storehouse (especially if perishable). I know of some situations where the biship arranged for sale (of grain, for example) and remitted the money to SLC. For other in kind donations, it depends — my dad once paid tithing in kind by donating a piano to the branch where we lived; it got used in the chapel. Mostly tithing in kind is discouraged nowadays because it’s a pain to dispose of and account for.

  26. lyle on June 17, 2004 at 2:19 pm

    nate: what about paying tithing on the tax benefits of all deductions? or was that just a throw-away line promoting gross v. net in order to avoid this type of question in the first place?

  27. Greg Call on June 17, 2004 at 3:08 pm

    The case of paying tithing in stock makes things interesting.

    Assume that Joseph makes $100,000 in salary and is a “gross” tithing payer. He invests in 100 shares of stock at $50 per share. The stock then doubles. If he sells the stock, his taxable increase for the year, assuming he doesn’t pay tithing on the cost basis of the stock, would be $105,000 (95,000+10,000) and his tithing would be $10,500. Joseph’s income net of tithing: 94,500. He is taxed on his salary plus the appreciation realized ($105,000), and assuming a 20% effective tax rate, he pays 21,000 in taxes, and nets $73,500.

    Joseph’s co-worker, Brigham, makes the same income and bought the same stock for the same price at the same time. But instead of selling the stock, he donates the 100 shares of appreciated stock directly to the church (which is a common practice). He is credited for $10,000 in tithing and is square with the Lord for the year. Brigham’s income net of tithing: 95,000. But the $10,000 in kind donation also reduces Brigham’s taxable income from $100,000 to $90,000. Assuming a 20% effective tax rate, the Brigham then pays $18,000 in taxes. Net income: $77,000.

    From the Church’s perspective, they received $10,500 from the Joseph, and $10,000 from Brigham. Joseph’s ultimate “increase” was $73,500 and Brigham’s ultimate “increase” was $77,000.

    I don’t know how these things could be solved without a “tithing code.” That is why I do belief that tithing ultimately *is* a simple and clear-cut commandment: Pay ten percent of your increase, whatever you understand that to mean.

  28. Greg Call on June 17, 2004 at 3:15 pm

    I just realized I didn’t deduct Joseph’s tithing from his taxable income. That makes up a bit of the difference between his net and Brigham’s, but not all of it.

  29. lyle on June 17, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    in the end, God “knows” what the commandment means & what each one of us “thinks” & “understands” of the commandment. Hence, while constructive to talk about, so that we can inform ourselves, per Greg’s comment…the individual is the best tithing judge around; and his decision can be challenged on appeal to God. :)

  30. Matt Jacobsen on June 17, 2004 at 3:42 pm

    The only thing I learn from these conversations about tithing are all the different ways in which I am not paying a full tithe.

    I have these internal debates about where to draw the line, and the two sides are often labeled ‘generous’ and ‘greedy’. At that point the debate is over. If I could only learn to use labels like ‘frivolous’ and ‘practical’ instead, I’d be a richer man.

    Regarding Greg’s last sentence, sounds like tithing is a pretty easy rule, it’s the definition of ‘increase’ that is fuzzy.

  31. Bob Caswell on June 17, 2004 at 4:04 pm

    Hi Matt,

    When you say, “I don’t see why the collective decision (majoritarian) to purchase benefits at a different level classifies the purchased benefit as no longer an ‘increase’.” What if, to use my previous example, I just didn’t use the government health care given to me because I preferred going to a doctor, which I had to pay for myself. Would this make it so I wouldn’t have to pay tithing on the portion of taxes I pay, which goes towards health care since I’m effectively “opting out” by finding my own health care? Or should I pay tithing on both sets of money? The money I use to pay the health care I don’t use and the money I use to pay the health I do use. I’m not sure how the health care I don’t use would still be considered an “increase”. BTW- I’m not married to what I’m saying. I’m just having fun here…

  32. Dan Burk on June 17, 2004 at 4:18 pm

    “That is why I do belief that tithing ultimately *is* a simple and clear-cut commandment: Pay ten percent of your increase, whatever you understand that to mean.”

    Oh, standards are frequently deceptively simple — the Sherman anti-trust act is only a few words long: just don’t monopolize, attempt to monopolize, or conspire to restrain trade. Nothing to it. Out of that we get hundreds of volumes of judicial, administrative, and academic interpretation trying to determine what that means you can or can’t do.

    It’s when you try to specify a rule with precision — as we do in the tax code, or as the civil law attempts in the Napoleonic Code, or as the Rabbis tried to do, that the text starts to *look* complicated. It’s always going to be very complex in the end, the question is mostly whether you want to specify the parameters ex ante, or do leave someone to figure the application out ex post.

  33. mardell on June 17, 2004 at 5:03 pm

    I have no idea why tithing is always so complicated. I always thought that if you are sure you will be able to stand in front of the Lord on judgement day a say I paid an honest tithe, then who cares what every one else’s opinion is.

  34. Jason on June 17, 2004 at 9:59 pm

    I always bristle just a little when people pull out the “Law of Moses vs. Higher Law” argument, especially in the context of crystalline rules vs. muddy principles. I wrote a summary of the Law for an EQ lesson a while back, although nothing can really substitute for a careful reading of the scripture itself (which actually isn’t that long if you’re just studying the law itself):

    http://www.lunkwill.org/pubwiki/wiki.cgi/SummaryOfTheLawOfMoses

    There are several dozen rules which comprise the law, but this is a remarkably /small/ number when you consider that this was the basis for an entire society’s system of government, both spiritual and secular.

    Also remember that when Jesus gave the greatest commandment and the second which was like unto it, he was quoting directly from the Law.

    The Law of Moses is one of the most beautiful and remarkable documents I’ve ever read, full of common-sense principles and a tremendous emphasis on taking care of one another. My favorite quote is here:

    Deut 15:7-10. “7. If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: 8. But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. 9. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee. 10. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.”

    So if you were asked to loan somebody money which he would never have to repay, *you’re* the one with a wicked heart if you hesitate. The law has *tons* of provisions for taking care of the poor and keeping wealth from being accumulated by a wealthy few, and they have very little to do with eye-for-an-eye.

    Frequently, people seem to confuse “the law” with the monstrosity that the scribes turned it into. That’s where the “number of steps on the sabbath” and “no spitting on sunday” rules came from, and it’s a powerful warning to us.

    I highly recommend going back over Jesus’ teachings as well as the original law with as open a mind as you can muster. Rule vs. principle is one feature you /may/ notice, although recently I’ve noticed that the OT and NT *both* focus a great deal on principle. But while the OT has a beautiful expression of pure principle, the NT keeps bringing up all the contradictions people face, even with general principles, and how they need to be resolved in terms of one’s relationship with God. *That’s* been the big lesson of the higher law for me – when the picnic cloth comes down with the unclean foods, I need to consider the source of the meal, not just its blatant contradiction of a principle I always assumed was inviolable.

  35. C. Nunley on December 13, 2004 at 10:44 am

    Really a question.—The rule on paying tithing on Social Security, and Pensions ,after retirement.. No body seems to come up with a clear answer,,,including the bishop.

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