Recently our Bishop (Pastor) got up in church and said there were many in the congregation who were suffering financially due to a loss of a job or other circumstances.  He asked us to pray for them and also to give extra money in our fast offerings that upcoming Sunday to help some of them pay for their housing expenses.

I will outline the principle of paying tithing and fast offerings for those not familiar with the LDS faith.  Members of the LDS congregations are asked to pay both tithing and fast offerings. 

The most direct definition I’ve found on what tithing is comes from a statement from the First Presidency (the LDS prophet and his counselors) which states:

The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this. (First Presidency letter, 19 March 1970.)

Other LDS apostles, such as  Robert D Hales have stated that paying tithing is “part of a celestial law which we must live if we are to attain eternal life and exaltation in the celestial kingdom.”

Clearly, paying tithing is something taken seriously by the LDS church and ultimately the Lord as outlined in the scriptures.  From what I understand, the money given to the church in the form of tithing goes to building up churches and temples and keeping the church operational throughout the world.  It is important to note that the LDS church operates with a lay ministery and therefore, there are no paid clergy.

In addition to paying tithing, LDS members are also asked to fast from two meals once a month on the first Sunday of the month.  This is called Fast Sunday.  The funds given to through fast offerings are the ones that are given to help the poor and needy within the congregation.  The description of this and definition according to the LDS Handbook of Instructions is as follows:

The Lord has established the law of the fast and fast offerings to bless His people and to provide a way for them to serve those in need (see Isaiah 58:6–12; Malachi 3:8–12). When members fast, they are asked to give to the Church a fast offering at least equal to the value of the food they would have eaten. If possible, they should be generous and give more. Blessings associated with the law of the fast include closeness to the Lord, increased spiritual strength, temporal well-being, greater compassion, and a stronger desire to serve.

Understanding the definitions of both tithing and fast offerings, I mentioned to my wife that perhaps this month we could put all of the money we would normally pay for tithing towards the fast offering fund in order to help more people, rather than sending it to the general tithing fund, which is used to build churches, etc.  I figured that since the Bishop got up and requested more funds that it would be o.k. for that month. 

She didn’t like that idea and also when I asked my home teachers what they thought about doing that, one of them told me I was on a “slippery slope” if I did that.  We went ahead and paid both tithing and then more than we normally would for the fast offerings.

A week or so later, I was talking with a close family member who had a similar situation happen in their congregation.  He had opted to not pay tithing for that month.

It got me curious, so I did some more research and came across an interesting story, which I’ll share below. 

President George Albert Smith taught a very important lesson on the disposition of tithes. He told of inviting a boyhood friend, whom he had not seen for some time, to accompany him to a stake conference. This friend had achieved success in the financial world. As they were driving home from the conference, he told President Smith about his method of paying tithing. He said that if he made ten thousand dollars, he would put one thousand dollars in the bank for tithing. Then, he said, when someone needed money for a worthwhile cause, he would write them a check. “Little by little I exhaust the thousand dollars,” he said, “and every dollar of it has gone where I know it has done good.” Then he asked President Smith what he thought of that plan.

President Smith replied: “I think you are a very generous man with someone else’s property. You have not paid any tithing. You have told me what you have done with the Lord’s money, but you have not told me that you have given anyone a penny of your own. He is the best partner you have in the world. He gives you everything you have, even the air you breathe. He has said you should take one-tenth of what comes to you and give it to the Church as directed by the Lord. You haven’t done that; you have taken your best partner’s money, and have given it away.”

About a month later, the two men met on the street, and President Smith was happy to learn that his friend was paying his tithing as the Lord has directed. (See Improvement Era, June 1947, p. 357.)

After reading this, I can understand why people including my hometeachers and wife were emphatic about paying tithing over fast offerings.  It is a commandment to pay that money and it isn’t up to us to decide how to use the Lord’s money.  I can also understand why someone would still decide to do whay I had proposed since tithing (according to the aforementioned definition) is “annual” income and not monthly income.

What are your thoughts?