To Tithe or not to Tithe: The Moral Question
The use of the words “tithe” or “tithing” in modern society have their origin long before Jesus Christ was born. A tithe today means typically giving 10% of your gross annual income to your church. The Mormon faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is perhaps the best known of the churches where tithing is mandatory. An investigation by Reuters found that the Mormon Church (1.5% of the U.S. population) has an estimated worth of about $40 billion, collecting $8 billion annually in tithes. The Church acknowledges that most of its revenue stream comes from tithing. However, Bloomberg BusinessWeek in 2012 found that Mormons have invested in everything from building mega shopping malls to theme parks to media and insurance.
Many Protestant and evangelical churches also strongly urge or expect their members to contribute 10 percent or more of their family income annually. Freewill offerings, whether regular or periodical, are in addition to a family’s tithe.
Your correspondent, confirmed in the United Church of Canada back around 1970 but a longtime non-practitioner, was surprised to learn that tithing is also pushed by this church. Of interest is that the Catholic Church (your correspondent is married to a Catholic) doesn’t push tithing as it did in the past. However, during the Middle Ages the Catholic church in Europe collected a tax of its own, which was separate from the taxes imposed by the king; in other words, a tithe.
Some commentators on the topic of tithing have suggested that because of its traditionally large congregations, the Catholic Church didn’t need to levy a tithe. Instead, passing the collection plate at Mass is typical form, along with appeals for donations to, for example, building funds for maintenance and improvements. However, this is not the same as tithing. Take a moment to read this CNN piece on the Sunday Stickup.
So when, where and how did tithing first start?
When looking back in history the concept of what is a tithe is open to interpretation. However, the word tithe is noted specifically in the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In Hebrew and Greek a tithe means one tenth. Definitions and practices vary. Under Mosaic Law, it’s said that there were in effect three tithes for the Israelites: a) a levitical tithe of crops and livestock given to the Levites at various times of the year; b) an annual festival tithe; and c) a tithe paid to the poor once every three years.
The practice of giv