Tithing Settlement

December 13, 2004 | 35 comments
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Last year at this time I posted on the topic of “Tithing Settlement.” Although I strive to avoid repetitive posting, I trust that most of our current readers were not around at the time, and I never received an answer to my question. So I am trying again. This was my post from last year:

It’s that time of year when the signup list for tithing settlement goes up on the Bishop’s door. My wife and I always try to get the first appointment, mainly because we usually live some distance from the chapel and we don’t want to make the trek back once we are home. So we had our session right after church today. Every year, as we go through this ritual, I wonder: what is the purpose of tithing settlement?

I don’t think it is for the benefit of the bishop (information gathering) because he has the records and asks during the temple recommend interview whether we pay a full tithe. I guess I have always assumed that this is a mechanism for applying pressure to pay tithing. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think it makes good sense to establish structures that encourage the keeping of commandments.

If this is true, however, then why do we single out this commandment for special treatment? Why not have “member missionary settlement”? Or “food storage settlement”? We do, of course, have the temple recommend interview that covers certain commandments, but that does not tell us anything about the motivation for tithing settlement.

Here’s my hunch: tithing settlement probably started in an earlier day, when compliance with this commandment was low. If true, this suggests to me that the primary purpose of tithing settlement has more to do with the needs of the Church than with the needs of the individual members.

Anticipating the counterpoint: I admit the possibility that the Church is trying to make special efforts to encourage compliance with this commandment because tithing has special relevance to our eternal salvation. While I believe that this is true of tithing, I do not believe that this explains tithing settlement. Lots of commandments that do not merit a special session with the bishop have special relevance to our eternal salvation.

In the end, I will confess that I like tithing settlement. It’s a short meeting, and I enjoy talking to my Bishop. Also, now that I have children, I view it is a great opportunity to reinforce our teachings about tithing. Our Bishop today made a special point of speaking to each of my five children about tithing, and I appreciated that. So, if we are taking a vote, count me in favor.

I could have written the same post yesterday. We were first through the door again this year. And again the Bishop spoke to each of my children. And I still like tithing settlement. But I still don’t know why we have it.

35 Responses to Tithing Settlement

  1. […] by Gordon Smith

    People have been talking a lot about stinginess lately. With tithing settlement still fresh in my mind, I have been pondering the issue of Mormon generosit […]

  2. tyler durden on December 13, 2004 at 2:19 am

    tithing settlement makes it possible for wealthy and semi-wealthy mormons to get official transcripts of their charitable donations so that they can know how much they might able to deduct from their taxes.

    the poor are included so that they don’t feel like they are being left out and oppressed

  3. Gordon Smith on December 13, 2004 at 2:22 am

    TIC? If not, I don’t find it convincing. The “official” record is always sent to me after the end of the year and includes all of my tithing for the year, not just the tithing paid as of the tithing settlement. Indeed, I walked out today with no record at all because the correct forms were not printed.

  4. Karl Butcher on December 13, 2004 at 2:25 am

    Given that tithing settlement is not mandatory, I believe it is an opportunity to review your year’s tithing records, and give you a few weeks to catch up if you’re behind, or relax if you’re ahead. (I was ahead in 2002. no more tithing for the year, wohoo!)

    A secondary benefit is to give the bishop a chance to meet with ward members in his office that may not have been in for a visit in several months.

    I always get my final tithing statement from my bishop sometime in early January anyhow, so I really don’t think the meeting is for strictly financial purposes.

  5. tyler durden on December 13, 2004 at 2:37 am

    perhaps if sexual morality, the word of wisdom, lying, and such were more easily measurable and corrected we’d have settlements for those as well.

    bishop: here is your sexual history for the year, does that look right?
    billy: oh whoops! i thought i was living chaste in august. i must have forgotten to live the law of chastity. let me get that taken care of right now. (hands bishop a chastity check)
    bishop: we all forget every now and then. this is why we have chastity settlements (accepts the check and marks ‘full-law of chastity abider’)
    billy: i’ll try to make sure i don’t forget. thanks!
    bishop: blah blah blah….

  6. nic on December 13, 2004 at 3:16 am

    From an accounting control perspective, it’s an opportunity for the member to verify that the records are in line with what they believe they have paid. Other accounting controls are also in place, such as requiring two people (two bishopric members or a bishopric member and a clerk) to be present when tithing envelopes are opened, donation amounts are checked against the enclosed receipts and the deposit is taken to the bank or instructing members to give their tithing only to a bishopric member. But the tithing settlement is really the only control that protects against a bishopric member pocketing tithing from those who habitually pay in cash.

    Although the records are sent out in January to satisfy tax requirements, most members probably won’t examine them carefully unless they are wealthy enough to get the tax deduction. At tithing settlement you are forced to sit down, really look carefully at the numbers, and think about whether they seem right.

  7. anon on December 13, 2004 at 4:06 am

    Nic has it exactly right –as a missionary I remember that a few investigators were impressed by the concept of tithing settlement (said one, “Finally! A church that is open with its finances!”)

  8. Graham on December 13, 2004 at 9:08 am

    It seems like everyone who pays tithing has a “tithing story”. You know… those experiences where you had no money for food or bills, but you paid your tithing anyway and then the next day you got an unexpected cheque or someone invited you over for dinner. _Everyone_ has one of those. I certainly do. I think that paying tithing truly opens the “Windows of Heaven” and that is a major reason why we have Tithing Settlement. The members need the blessings that come from paying tithing. Keeping other commandments always brings blessings, but who has a “chastity story” (I didn’t have premarital sex last night, and the next day I found my eternal companion)? Who has a “food storage story” (I wasn’t going to buy that extra tin of tuna, but once I did, the price doubled. I’m glad I bought it when I did)? These are obviously important things, but I’ve been blessed countless times for paying my tithing, in ways that are real and tangible, and I would think a Bishop would want to meet with everyone, especially non-tithe payers, to help them understand the great blessings in store for them.

  9. Ivan Wolfe on December 13, 2004 at 9:49 am

    Graham –

    on titihing stories: What’s funny is I used to wonder why I didn’t have one of those cool “tithing stories” – until this last year, when I suddenly had three in a short amount of time.

    Everyone will have one at some point, if they haven’t had one yet. I’m sure of that now.

  10. tyler durden on December 13, 2004 at 9:54 am

    “Everyone will have one at some point, if they haven’t had one yet. I’m sure of that now.”

    then do ‘thing stories’ become a testimony of tithing… or a testimony that over enough time, two random events will likely coincide?

  11. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 9:58 am

    Tyler,

    Depends on how unlikely the events are to occur together. But since when do we base testimonies on signs, anyway?

  12. Jed Woodworth on December 13, 2004 at 10:07 am

    Tithing settlement emerged in the transition from labor tithing to cash in the 1910s. After Heber J. Grant made tithing a requirement for temple attendance, a settlement became a logical way of determining worthiness. The other purpose for the settlement, now outmoded, was the building fund allocation. Without access to salary figures, bishops had to rely on tithing receipts to determine who would pay what into the building fund. That decision was best made near the end of the year in an interview where the contributions were figured and requested.

    My wife and I followed Gordon’s family into the bishop’s office in yesterday’s settlement. After the Smiths came through, it was all downhill from there. Our bishop was relaxed and loose. I like the settlement as an opportunity to visit with the bishop, my spiritual leader. I probably wouldn’t otherwise make an appointment to see him.

  13. John Scherer on December 13, 2004 at 10:31 am

    It is great for children to be able to meet with their bishop and discuss tithing. It gives them a sense of accomplishment. Our bishop told my six year old last year that her tithing would buy a fancy doorknob for a temple. Later in the year when we toured the Manhattan temple, she spent the day trying to decide which doorknob was the one she helped the church buy. If it serves no benefit other than this, it is worth it.

  14. a random John on December 13, 2004 at 10:38 am

    Tithing is different from other commandments, as has been previously noted, in that a settlement is possible. For the procrastinators out there it provides an opportunity to catch up. You can’t procrastinate the Word of Wisdom as far as I can tell.

    Also back in the day when the ward budget didn’t come from tithing it allowed the bishop to tell you what your share of the budget was. I can remember how happy certain family members were when the budget was done away with. At the time it was considered revolutionary, though nobody thinks twice about it now.

  15. MDS on December 13, 2004 at 11:08 am

    Last week we were in Las Vegas for the close of our home there and loading up the moving truck. Because we hadn’t bought a home in our new location, we had our records still in our Las Vegas ward. When we called to give the ward clerk our new address, he asked that we come in for tithing settlement while in town. We had been saving the tithing from the money earned in our new location, and felt this would be a good opportunity to hand the check off, so agreed to go. So, in the middle of patching holes in the walls left by picture nails, and scouring the insides of our cabinents so the buyer has a clean place to live, we threw on shirt and tie and dress and left for the church. The bishop wasn’t there. After about fifteen minutes, his son came dashing around the corner with a cell phone and handed it to me. The bishop apologized and told us that he was very ill. I could hear that in his voice. He proceeded to conduct tithing settlement over the phone, and asked us to drop off the check at his house before leaving town the next day.. I found that unique, but practical. I have often heard bishops and clerks lament how much work tithing settlement can be in the midst of an already-busy holiday season. To the extent that we can lighten the loads of our bishops I think we should do so. Maybe this is one area where that could be done without a radical spiritual detriment to the ward?

  16. Gordon Smith on December 13, 2004 at 11:10 am

    Thanks for the background, Jed. Very interesting.

    You say that the “other purpose” for tithing settlement (building fund) is now outmoded, but isn’t the first purpose also outmoded? I mean, we have a temple recommend interview, right?

  17. Charles on December 13, 2004 at 11:20 am

    I believe the main purpose is to help us. We know that blessings are predicated on the laws we keep to obtain them. Tithing is one such great law that we must keep and it is in our best interest to be accurate. I never go to settlement because whenever I write my checks I round up. I know I’m probably ahead but I don’t see the need to discuss my tithe. I know its at least 10% as it should be. Not everyone may feel that confident.

    Everything else is a byproduct. We can catch up or relax depending on our circumstances. If we have children this is a great opprotunity to discuss with them. Tithing reciepts for taxes are available. These are all great results but the key result is that we are able to provide a full tithe and knowingly say that yes I am doing all I a can to meet this law.

  18. Keith on December 13, 2004 at 11:32 am

    Don’t know all the reasons. Just a comment on some things said previously, plus some other possibilities.

    Temple recommend interviews are now once every two years. And, even on the old once a year system, people can fall out of the practice of paying tithing. The accounting for wat one has done seems to be a good thing.

    Though not necessarily a reason, one of the positive things may be that this is often is the only time a Bishop will have the whole family in his office at one time. I can still remember pointedly the times when I was there as a boy with everyone in the family. There was a sense of accountability as well as a sense of being blessed through the year. And there was a bishop who cared for us.

    There may be other practical ecclesiastical reasons: Isn’t a ward’s budget still given in part based on the number of full tithe payers and so on?

    Additionally, the once a year finalizing of things, makes the Bishoprics and the Clerks assure that they’ve been keeping the books right. There’s a yearly audit separate from this, but the settlement makes sure the individual member has been taken care of right.

  19. Ryan Bell on December 13, 2004 at 11:47 am

    Has anyone ever gone to tithing settlement who did not believe they were full tithe payers?

    Sure, we may end up looking over records and finding that there’s a shortfall. But It’s hard to imagine going in knowing that you only paid tithing a few times over the year, or never did.

    This leads me to believe that tithing is not meant as a comprehensive assessment of the ward’s tithe-paying rate, nor as an encouragement to non tithers. The fact that the settlement is wholly optional allows too many people to just forget about it if they want. It’s a meeting that people will most likely only sign up for if they know they’re going to pass the test.

  20. greenfrog on December 13, 2004 at 11:51 am

    nic’s explanation sounds right, to me.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Church’s auditor didn’t prescribe settlement as a basic accounting control. There are many occasions in the business world in which a person is expected to specifically and individually attest to the accuracy of financial information, and those information inquiries can extend beyond persons within the organization being audited.

    IIRC, the Church annually reports that its books have been audited. It seems entirely plausible to me that one of the accounting controls identified in the auditors’ manual includes tithing settlement as a verification of accuracy and a deterrence control for potential fraud.

  21. Keith on December 13, 2004 at 11:54 am

    “Has anyone ever gone to tithing settlement who did not believe they were full tithe payers?”

    Yes. I know a number who have. Granted, the majority of those who don’t go are not full tithe payers.

    I’m not sure how optional it is–at least on the bishop’s part. He must declare at the end the tithing status of each member. So one isn’t forced to go, but some kind of declaration is made.

  22. Stephen Hardy on December 13, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    A few comments: Yes, there are a number of members who attend tithing settlement who aren’t full tithe payers. They may be working on it, and if the bishop is a good bishop, he will help them participate freely.

    I think that one major reason for tithing settlement is for IRS purposes. Every few years the tax-deduction status of tithing payments are scrutinized by the IRS. It seems that the IRS has tried to make the case that tithing is not a fully charitable contribution, but represents a “dues paying” for full membership (Temple attendance, and other activities might be tied to it.) If tithing payments are more of a club membership fee, for which we get a benefit, then they may not be tax deductable (sp?) I think that the church wants to be very careful that members don’t take undue advantage of this tax break, lest the IRS start looking even harder. Thus we take care to make sure that we have a clear-cut piece of paper with our actual donations included.

    Now, this could be accomplished without tithing settlement. It could just automatically mailed to us. So, I agree that this may be a hold-over from an era when the church was more vulerable financially speaking. I am sure that the church recieves more tithing because of the yearly meeting.

  23. Stephen Hardy on December 13, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    A few comments: Yes, there are a number of members who attend tithing settlement who aren’t full tithe payers. They may be working on it, and if the bishop is a good bishop, he will help them participate freely.

    I think that one major reason for tithing settlement is for IRS purposes. Every few years the tax-deduction status of tithing payments are scrutinized by the IRS. It seems that the IRS has tried to make the case that tithing is not a fully charitable contribution, but represents a “dues paying” for full membership (Temple attendance, and other activities might be tied to it.) If tithing payments are more of a club membership fee, for which we get a benefit, then they may not be tax deductable (sp?) I think that the church wants to be very careful that members don’t take undue advantage of this tax break, lest the IRS start looking even harder. Thus we take care to make sure that we have a clear-cut piece of paper with our actual donations included.

    Now, this could be accomplished without tithing settlement. It could just automatically mailed to us. So, I agree that this may be a hold-over from an era when the church was more vulerable financially speaking. I am sure that the church recieves more tithing because of the yearly meeting.

  24. Mark B on December 13, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    For all you “salarymen” out there, accounting for tithing is no more of a challenge than grabbing your last paystub, moving the decimal one space to the left, and seeing if the aggregate tithing matches. (OK, I know some of you may have to get your last statement from your banker or stockbroker and find the YTD income line. By the way, want to show real faith–pay tithing on the unrealized gains in your stock portfolio. Maybe if enough of you had done that, WorldCom wouldn’t have gone in the tank!)

    For the owner of a small business, however, it’s a bit more complicated. (Particularly if your accounting year ends December 31, and you don’t know what revenues/expenses will show up between tithing settlement and the 31st.) Despite the timing problem, tithing settlement is a good incentive to clean up the books and find where you are.

  25. a random John on December 13, 2004 at 12:52 pm

    Charles says:I know its at least 10% as it should be.

    Ummm, tithing is not “at least 10%”. Tithing is 10%. Any more or less isn’t tithing. If you feel the need to give more there are plenty of other boxes.

  26. gaymormonchef (Rick LaPointe) on December 13, 2004 at 4:07 pm

    “…as a missionary I remember that a few investigators were impressed by the concept of tithing settlement (said one, “Finally! A church that is open with its finances!”)”

    Ha. Sorry anon, this statement is hysterical. If there is a Church that is more obtuse with its tremendous finances, I would be surprised. If tithing, like all commandments, is a covenant we are entering into with God and the Church, and a covenant is a two way street, then the Church should provide a full and (here comes the word) transparent accounting of where tithing monies go. All investments, operating expenses, salaries, charitable and political contributions should be reported honestly. The Church, my blogging brothers and sisters, needs to step up to the tithing settlement plate.

  27. Walt Nicholes on December 15, 2004 at 5:45 pm

    I think back to the United Order. Somewhere in the back of my mind I recall that when a member of the church entered that order he consecrated everything he owned ot the church and was then given a “stewardship” to work for the year. At the end of the year he returned to the Bishop and reviewed the stewardship, giving his “increase” to the church, and receiving an adjusted stewardship.

    I wonder if the tithing settlement is the residual (or forerunner, in a different sense) of this practice?

  28. Larry on December 15, 2004 at 8:01 pm

    This is an interesting post. Let me share the dilemma of someone I am familiar with. He is a divorced father of six or seven children. His wife divorced him and then forced him into bankruptcy. This cost him his job.( I believe he was at least 45) At this late stage in his life he found it difficult to find a new job. He eventually found a job in one of those hardware stores making about 30% of his previous income. (I should mention the depression he went through as a result of the divorce).
    Because of his commitment to his children, he faithfully made sure that he made his payments and lived off the balance.
    The high cost of living here meant he had no money left after his rent, food and utilities were paid. Consequently he could not pay tithing.
    What is his status?
    I have tried to find an answer for him but I could never be satisfied with it myself. Perhaps you could help me on this one.

  29. Walt Nicholes on December 16, 2004 at 3:03 pm

    My understanding is that he needs not pay tithing on money that goes out in Child support, alimony, etc. That is his wife’s responsibility.

    At the same time I have never heard sanctioned that tithing is paid on what is left over after paying bills. (Were it not so I am sure that any of us could increase our bills to preclude the paying of tithing.) If, after paying his tithing on his gross income (after alimony, etc.) he is unable to pay for food and housing and so forth, he can get assistance from the Bishop. It is not a contradiction to pay tithing AND get assistance. In fact, it is relatively common.

  30. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 3:37 pm

    Walt

    That is an excellent point with one exception. We had a High Councilman come around a couple of months ago and talk about tithing and the need to take care of one’s own and not go on the dole. When he heard that talk he wasn’t very consoled with going on Church welfare.
    By the way, his expenses are not made up of bills. His expenses are food, rent and utilities. Other than that he has a car he has to maintain(10 years old) in order to see his children. He barely meets his expenses. After having been a faithful tithepayer for many years how does he reconcile the blessings that come from tithepaying and the literal hell he has to go through now.
    I should point out I’ve since discovered other fathers thru him that are going through the same experience. I’ve heard that the inactive rate among divorced Mormon fathers can run as high as 75%. Could this be part of the problem?

  31. Walt Nicholes on December 17, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    Where to start? Ok, I don’t know your High Counselor, but I know many, and I believe about half when it comes to doctrines. Sure, they are supposedly the Lord’s best in any given area, and when they act as a quorum I will buy it every time. But individually, they, like I, tend to drift off of the line.
    Next, There was extraordinary discussion about being on government welfare during the McKay and Joseph Fielding Smith administrations. Since that time I have heard it preached that (as we have paid for it anyway) we should look to ALL sources of income before coming to the church. In a few cases that has even been specific – check into food stamps, WIC and so forth. Years ago there was a comment about this in the guidelines in the back of the General Handbook of Instruction. I can’t find anything on the matter in the latest one.
    As for the state of things for your friend, my feelings are out for him and all who share his condition. I am not wise enough to second judge the courts: Surely his children are entitled to his support (that IS in the GHI), yet surely he should be entitled to his subsistence. My mind recalls Job and his difficulties. But this doesn’t rewrite the Law of Tithing for me. The commandment says “increase” and most wise bishops leave the definitions to the members. But I would feel really funny to consider practicing as the “Reorganites” do – that they pay all of their bills, buy their food, pay their rent and conduct reasonable family activities, and then if there is anything left, they tithe it. (Heck I even have trouble, for myself, considering skipping tithing on money that I would save, and could tithe it later when I actually USE it.)
    I don’t know the percentages of LDS divorced fathers relating to activity. I don’t even know how to accurately MEASURE “activity.” But I am confident that if that man (or any man in the church) will keep the commandments, pay his tithing and maintain general temple worthiness, the Lord will give bounty in His own way and time.
    Give that man my best – he has a hard row to hoe and I feel for him.

  32. Larry on December 17, 2004 at 5:31 pm

    The problem is that everyone feels for him and no one can give him definitive answers. He was a full tithe payer before his wife divorced him. So the cliches don’t work. He is as faithful as a man can be but everyone digs his hole a little deeper.
    He had to surrender his temple recommend when his wife divorced him – she didn’t. She was the one who created the economic mess not him. He tried everything he could to get his family back together – she teased him but ultimately went after another man and married him.
    Having said all that, we have talked about tithing but when does his survival mean anything to anyone, or do we just refer to Job and say “that’s life”. Surely his suffering and the intents of his heart have to count for something, without denying him his daily bread and his membership and temple recommend.

  33. Walt Nicholes on December 20, 2004 at 6:43 pm

    It is clearly a desperate situation, and I am not qualified to be his judge. My impression is, however, that the intents of the heart factor significantly in the judgement.

    If one is looking for a hard and fast declaration on the subject, then “the law of tithing”, as it is spelled out, is about as good as anyone can authoritatively declare.

    With respect to his membership and temple recommend, that is a matter for the Bishop and Stake President. Tithing may be a factor, but I know of no declaration that a recommend MUST be withheld if one is not a full tithepayer. It usually is, but I know of exceptions. (I know of exceptions regarding the strict observance of the Word of Wisdom as well.) And I am certain that membership is not automatically forfeit if one is not a full tithepayer. If there is a membership issue, then it is probably related to something besides tithing. I would be astounded if it were otherwise.

    You seem to know this man pretty well. (He must be grateful for your support.) But if he is under any official church sanction and it doesn’t make sense to you, then I’m guessing that he has not shared the whole story.

  34. Larry on December 20, 2004 at 7:09 pm

    Walt,

    Thanks for your sharing. Yes I am close to this man and no he has no issues with regard to the standards of the Church. I guess it’s more of a cultural issue than doctrinal, as you have so eloquently put it. Sometimes our leaders are so dogmatic that they don’t realize the problems they are creating in the lives of others.
    We really need to get to a point where the principles are understood but people are more important than dogma ( if that is an appropriate way to phrase it).
    In the final analysis, the points I have been iterating with him are that faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost are the saving principles of the Gospel, and they are the ones that will get him into the Celestial Kingdom, which I believe, he and all Latter-day Saints already inherit because that is the promise in the covenants we make. If he were never to make it to the temple again he already has all he needs to become like God.(In other words, there is real power in the covenants we make, because of the atonement)
    It’s the putting up with the idiosyncracies of unthinking, or overzealous leaders that often dampens the spirit in him.

  35. Patrick on December 20, 2004 at 8:09 pm

    I believe 100% in paying a full tithing. Because there is a blessing promised in it. I and believed that if I am part tithe payer I only get part of the blessing. I attend tithing settlement with my bishop and go over what I paid during the long 12 month period. I want to make sure that I paid a 100%. if not I will make out the difference and declare myself full tithe payer. It is also a good opportunity to go over my records, that all information are recorded and are accurate. What is recorded on earth is recorded in heaven.I want the windows and doors in heaven to open and pour out allllll the blessings that I need in preparation for Happiness in the life hereafter. I answer to the call of my church leaders to attend tithing settlment, so I obey.