During a recent world tour the prophet of the Mormon church Russell M Nelson spoke to a group of African members in Kenya. Among many teachings, he told those gathered the following:
“We preach tithing to the poor people of the world because the poor people of the world have had cycles of poverty, generation after generation, that same poverty continues from one generation to another, until people pay their tithing.” (President Russell M Nelson)
There is a lot of meaning behind those words. Those words from a prophet of God explicitly mean, your poverty cycle will break if you pay tithing. Implicitly, this teaching tells us those that have broken the bonds of poverty are those that have paid tithing. It even stretches as far as to mean those that are wealthy are wealthy because they paid their tithing. In the end, this teaching could be the following: If you want to get rich pay your tithing.
The quote induced some deep thought. In what way will a true believing member of the Mormon church take this as truth? In my believing days I suppose I would say something like, “those that pay tithing are more than likely being more intentional and thoughtful with their money, which could help people get a better handle on where their money is going and direct it in a more beneficial way.” Or, “the simple act of paying tithing unleashes promised temporal and spiritual blessings that will help adherents overcome poverty through obtaining better employment or education, which would propel followers out of poverty.” Though this could lead some to rationalize their cognitive dissonance, I would take it step further. What about the countless, millions upon millions of people, that have broken the chains of poverty without paying tithing? What about them? I thought poverty would continue “from one generation to another, until people pay their tithing.”
This belief leads to immoral behaviors. What if you have to chose between paying tithing and eating?
What kind of evidence do we have that points to the idea that tithing breaks the tithing cycle?
The data viz below points to a difference outcome. As religiosity decreases, average income per capita increases or said the other way, as income increases, religiosity decreases. Admittedly correlation is not causation, but I would be hard pressed to believe that the more tithing you give the richer you will become using data like this.
(click on the photo to open an interactive version of the dashboard)
This tithing discussion brings up another important point that was taught in the same meeting by Russell M Nelson, that is the idea that tithing is a requirement to enter the temple. He taught the people of Kenya needed to make it a priority to attend the temple. A recent article by Peggy Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune points out the unfortunate truth of getting to the highest heaven in Mormon doctrine requires you to pay money (tithing) to get there. “Giving is not just an act of self-sacrifice”, she writes, “but also a kind of heavenly quid pro quo. Money may be the root of all evil, but, for Mormons, it also provides a pathway to the highest heaven. No payment? No entrance.”
Personally, I do not believe a commandment like this would have Jesus’ blessing.
He taught in Luke 21:1-4:
And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
Entrance to temples, and subsequent rituals that seal you to your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, etc. should be based more on the content of your character and soul and not the contents of your bank account. When the decision is food for your child, heat for your child, or paying your rent, after you paying tithing, this teaching is not Christlike. There is no data to suggest, on average, your house will magically be heated, or food will appear on your doorstep, or that rich dude in your neighborhood will slip a check into your mailbox to cover your mortgage. This ideology is dangerous and increases suffering throughout the world.
Remember, no payment, no heaven with your family.