The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

Lesson 4

Keep the Law of Tithing

The Missionaries Will Teach...

One of the best parts of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the privilege of contributing to the growth of God's kingdom by paying ten-percent of your income to the Church.  Tithing is an ancient and sacred law.

If you pay ten-percent of your income to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Lord promises that he will "open...the windows of heaven, and pour...out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3:10).  These blessings may be temporal or spiritual.  But if you obey this divine law, the blessings will come.

Tithing means ten-percent.  The scriptures mean that we are to give 10-percent of our "increase", which is interpreted to mean income. The law of tithing gives us the opportunity to help build God's kingdom.  If you pay an honest tithe, God promised to bless you abundantly.  But if you don't pay an honest tithe, you are robbing God (see Malachi 3:8).  Ten-percent of your income rightfully belongs to God, and if you don't surrender it to the Church you are keeping for yourself that which is His.  Our first obligation is to seek the kingdom of God, and paying tithing is an important way of doing that.  Furthermore, paying tithing is an expression of faith; it is a sign of our belief in God.

The funds from tithing are used to support the ongoing operations of the Church, such as building and maintaining temples and meeting houses, missionary work, temple work, and many other activities.  Local Church leaders don't receive any payment, including money from tithing.

You pay your tithing to the local Church leaders.  Every week, they send the funds directly to the Church's headquarters.  A board of top Church leaders determines specifically how the money will be used.

Some Additional Thoughts...

Good Decision Making

Many would consider it prudent to carefully consider your income and existing financial commitments before committing to pay 10% of your income to anything; even to a charity.  They might even suggest that you shouldn't make such a large, ongoing charitable donation unless you can honestly afford it.

In the Mormon Church, the doctrine is that you pay 10% first, without regard to other needs and obligations. 

Here is an interesting story that Gordon B. Hinckley recently told.  A woman in Brazil was in a very tight financial position.  She was a college student who was also working to support her family.  She was paying for college as she went and if her tuition payments weren't up to date, she would be forbidden from taking exams.  On a Thursday of the week before a major exam, she received her monthly salary and realized that she didn't have enough money to pay both her tuition bill and promptly pay her tithing.  She had a tough choice to make: either fall behind in her commitment to pay 10% of her income to the Mormon church, or not pay her tuition.  If she failed to make this tuition payment, she would lose credit for the entire year of college.

After wrestling with the situation for a couple of days, she decided to pay her tithing and gave the money to the church that Sunday.  She asked her Heavenly Father to forgive her for having agonized over this decision. 

The next day at work, her employer was walking out of the office and was telling her goodbye for the day.  He suddenly stopped and asked her, "how is your college?"  She said it was all right, and the boss nodded, and spontaneously decided that he would fully pay the full cost of her tuition and books.

Hinckley says the lady profusely thanked God for His generosity. He didn't say whether or not the lady also thanked the employer (see We Walk By Faith in the May 2002 Ensign).

Stories like these are extremely common.  As Robert D. Hales said, "Tithing develops and tests our faith. By sacrificing to the Lord what we may think we need or want for ourselves, we learn to rely on Him."

In contrast, I believe this approach is foolish.  In reality, basic food, clothing, shelter, insurance, medical care, and savings is more important than charitable donations.  Ensure that your responsibilities for the well being of your family and yourself are taken care of before you pledge a significant percentage of your income to a charitable organization.  Some might argue that it is actually God himself who wants your payments to the Mormon Church to take priority over the needs of you and your family.  If that is true, what does it say about God?

Responsible Giving

Before you make significant contributions to any charity, you should investigate specifically what will be done with the money.  This isn't just a right--it is a personal responsibility you have as the steward of your donations.  According to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability,

GOOD CHARITIES WILLINGLY ANSWER TOUGH QUESTIONS. Before you give to any charity, ask these questions. Nonprofit organizations should be willing to supply the answers.

  • Does the organization have a clear and strong commitment to a certain project area?
  • Does an independent board accept responsibility for the activities of the organization and oversee its operations?
  • Are the financial records audited annually by certified public accountants?
  • Does the charity practice full disclosure?
  • Is a copy of the audited financial statements provided to anyone who makes a request?
  • Is information provided to donors about any program that the donors have supported?
  • How does the organization avoid conflicts of interest?
  • What are the guidelines and standards for fund-raising?
  • Is there a review procedure to assure compliance with fund-raising standards and guidelines?

Before you agree to pay ten-percent of your income to the Mormon Church, obtain an audited financial statement from the Church and make sure you believe the money is being spent appropriately.

Other Links

Why We're Going Broke: Bankruptcy in Utah has Complex Causes by By Steve Oberbeck and Tony Semerad. Published in The Salt Lake Tribune on 2/25/2005. The reasons Utahns file for bankruptcy in such prodigious numbers are complex, but one thing is clear: In Utah, national economic forces and local culture combine to create a problem worse than anywhere else in the nation.  A statistical analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune of bankruptcy cases filed from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004, indicates many of the pressures individuals face prior to filing are closely linked to Utah's unique heritage.

Bankruptcy: It is Legal, But is it Ethical? By Richard P. Halverson of Meridian Magazine. For several years Utah has had the dubious distinction of leading the nation in terms of bankruptcy filings per household...To actually lead the nation in this category is as puzzling to me as if Utah led the nation in alcohol consumption. 

Mormon Inc. TIME Magazine, August 4, 1997.  TIME has been able to quantify the church's extraordinary financial vibrancy. Its current assets total a minimum of $30 billion. If it were a corporation, its estimated $5.9 billion in annual gross income would place it midway through the FORTUNE 500, a little below Union Carbide and the Paine Webber Group but bigger than Nike and the Gap....where other churches spend most of what they receive in a given year, the Latter-day Saints employ vast amounts of money in investments that TIME estimates to be at least $6 billion strong. Even more unusual, most of this money is not in bonds or stock in other peoples' companies but is invested directly in church-owned, for-profit concerns, the largest of which are in agribusiness, media, insurance, travel and real estate.

MinistryWatch is an online database with profiles on more than 400 of the largest church and parachurch ministries in the United States. It is also a place where you can learn about how to be a "responsible giver".

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If you have a question or would like to discuss these topics, I suggest that you go to a Mormon-related bulletin board (here are some recommendations). If you'd like to contact me with comments or feedback, you may send an email to