Monday, November 22, 2010

A Couple More Thoughts on Giving: IMHO

A few folks from church have asked about the math when it comes to giving. While Christians are somewhat all over the map, here's where I tend to come down on things: While Christian obedience to Torah runs through a Jesus grid, the tithe of 10% remains a good guideline ("All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the LORD’S; they are holy to the LORD." Lev 27:30). That said, I'd also argue that the tithe applies after taxes and after debts, inasmuch as the money you owe to Caesar and to Visa is not your money to give. Furthermore, I'd also assert that tithing is unto the Lord, not specifically unto the church, such that your tithe can include both what you give as a member of your church community as well as what you give to other good works. One member told me she'd never heard of a minister who ever said don't give all of your tithe to the church! Finance committees aren't crazy about it either. But the fact is that if Christians simply tithed, we'd all be all set with plenty to spare. Your thoughts?


Clayton Webb said...

I question how you define what is "ours to give."

Although we usually think of debt as credit cards and mortgages, debt is any financial obligation. You didn't limit your definition of debt to just credit cards and mortgages but I'm curious how expansive your definition of debt is as you think about tithing.

For instance, my children's private school education is a debt. As is my monthly heating bill and my cable TV. Limiting the definition of debt to credit cards and mortgages seems arbitrary, for I could just as easily pay for all the above with my credit card. Why would I only have debt because of the way I chose to meet my primary financial obligation?

Moreover, I'm curious how personal financial responsibility enters into the notion of "what's ours to give." Just because I chose to purchase a new game system on credit card, does that mean I have less to give to God? If I'd purchased it with cash then would I still have less to give?

Having said all that, I don't completely disagree with the notion but I do think a definition of appropriate debt needs to be created. It is beyond how someone paid for something (credit or cash). Maybe it's based on needs versus wants.

Trisha and Jim said...

Jim and I just had that debate about two weeks ago. Decided that our 10% could include church and the people on crusade that we help support. It's all supporting the same mission, just in different ways.

Anonymous said...

I once asked people running a small charity operation how they chose their suggested donation amount. They said that they suggested the amount they thought would maximize donations, which I found an interesting choice for a non-profit we'd think wouldn't be concerned with maximizing profits. You suggest rather differently; that seems right to me, the church being rather different from the typical charity in practice and in spirit. If the church has what it needs, it's not necessary to ask for more. (And of course we are human, and the church on earth is made of fallen humans, so excess gifts might well corrupt. Give to others who need it more desperately and will do similar good, I'd say.)

I don't understand the debt exclusion idea. You certainly can't mean to suggest people tithe on the amount left after buying big-screen TVs for themselves, I'd think, yet that feels like the most proper reading to me (particularly given that I really don't owe Visa anything -- it's just a debt middleman to the merchants I really owe in the global view). You say "debt", but it seems any attempt to consider debt must differentiate based on what the debt concerns, to be legitimate. Could you clarify?

One other exemption that makes sense to me: tithe on total income minus retirement saving. When you reach retirement, you'll draw on those savings for your "income", and you'll tithe on it then. If you tithed on it as you earned it first, then as you withdrew it, that would be "double tithing" (not inherently bad, but harder to analyze and know exactly what you gave so you're aware of what it actually cost you -- whether you're giving your best sheep or second-raters). You could also tithe on it as you earned it, then not at all as you withdrew, but then after retirement you'd be enjoying the services of your church without "paying" for them at that time. (The modern-day Levites preaching at your church receive their salaries from current giving, not from past giving, so giving only before retirement strikes me as financially disruptive to the church.)

Regarding tithing before or after taxes, I found this debate instructive when reading up on the matter awhile back. I haven't concluded either argument is obviously, always correct -- although it's important to point out the debate is beside the real point of giving to the church.

So what do I do now? I'm able to tithe on total income with ease; I figure I keep my heart in the right place by not quibbling the details, instead tithing (around 10% maybe slightly rounded up) on the whole income, with more beyond that as I feel led to do so. When I start a family, I may start exempting retirement saving, as I know I will be tithing on my "income" in retirement (even already-tithed savings, whatever amount they end up being). Then, I will no longer be able to justify a double-tithe as merely my own gift freely given, because my finances will no longer be just my concern where I can afford to budget more simply (i.e. without thought to potential adverse consequences to my family).