A clever bumper sticker speaks wisely: “Tithe if you love Jesus. Anyone can honk.” If that nugget of wisdom holds true, we have to ask, “Do Mormons love Jesus more than other Christians?”
An impressive 79 percent of Mormons tithe their income — giving 10 percent to their church, according to a recent article in Religion News Service. The most famous Mormon today, Mitt Romney, made headlines when his tax returns showed he tithed $4.1 million to his church over the last two years. (Don’t you wish he belonged to your congregation?)
A 79 percent tithing rate translates into a mighty torrent of giving! Even if the other 21 percent of Mormons gave absolutely NOTHING, that would still equal 7.9 percent giving of total income for Mormons as a whole.
By contrast, Protestant Christians give an average of 2.38 percent of their income, according to RNS, citing Empty Tomb, an organization that tracks church giving. Moreover, RNS reports that only a third of Catholics, a half of Mainline Protestants and two thirds of Conservative Protestants even reach a 5 percent giving level. While 79 percent of Mormons tithe.
So, do Mormons love Jesus more than Catholics and Protestants do?
Quoting from the Jewish “Shema” prayer of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Jesus identifies the greatest commandment as loving the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength (Mark 12:29-30). Jesus says nothing about loving God with “all your income,” or even 10 percent, but many Old Testament passages establish a tithe as a giving standard.
Some Christians argue that they are free from the Old Testament’s legalistic notion of giving 10 percent of their income, and that may certainly be the case. But if so, why would they use it as an excuse for giving much less than 10 percent, rather than an opportunity to give much more?
In this week’s lectionary readings, Acts 4:32 shows how the early Christians had a very different idea of personal property — surrendering all they had for the common purse. A radical response? Perhaps, but that kind of giving makes 10 percent seems pretty tame.
It’s true that many Christians simply cannot afford anything approaching a tithe. The unemployed, the underemployed and the working poor can be counted among these Christians, but many middle- and upper-income Christians impoverish themselves by choice — buying gigantic houses, fancy cars, extravagant vacations and other high-end goodies that encumber their money even before it’s earned and tighten their family budget with no “give” at all.
Tithing requires planning and a real commitment to be generous, and it’s something many Catholics and Protestants are unwilling to do, despite how much they claim to love Jesus. Anyone can honk.
Do Mormons love Jesus more than Protestant Christians do? Maybe, maybe not. But they sure do give more.
Copyright (c) 2012 Robert Blezard
Photo by S. Reacher, used by Creative Commons License. Thank you!