And so my class goes on. This meeting will be lesson 4, which is one-third of the way through the course. It’s still really weird to me to go to church to learn how to make and use money. In my last class, we learned a 4-step process for managing money:
- Work hard and smart to earn money.
- Pay the Lord first (tithes and offerings).
- Pay ourselves second.
- Then, live on less than we earn and avoid debt.
Because the whole church-money issue still unsettles me, I’m able to see the steps with both cynicism and faith.
The Cynic’s View: Tithing
As a cynic, I would first get hung up on step 2, where we are told to pay the Lord first. I would be inclined to believe that my church leaders are teaching the principle of “work hard and pay tithing” because they have found some way to glut themselves on the proceeds. I would be suspicious and see graft and greed at the root of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Truth: Tithing
I had known for years that the top leaders of our church receive a salary that is termed by the church to be a living allowance. I prayed about it and felt that the church’s claim that it really is enough to offset expenses and not much more was good enough for me. Then, sometime within the past year, I learned that the money paid to church leaders isn’t even coming from the offerings given by church members! The church has a small number of business interests that it needs to continue to move the gospel forward and provide for the poor. Our leaders are paid out of that money, and every penny that I give is used strictly for church operations, spreading the gospel, or caring for the poor.
The other truth about tithing is that it has been commanded since the creation of Adam and Eve. The Lord uses tithing not only to build his kingdom but also to build our faith. We know that Malachi teaches that bringing tithes to the Lord’s storehouse will open the windows of heaven to shower down blessings on us. We also know that tithing is one of the basic standards of righteousness that will determine if we are able to stand with the Savior when he comes.
Tithing really is a commandment from God, and keeping that commandment will unlock the Lord’s blessings. The only “catch” to the “deal” is that the Lord chooses the blessings we need.
The Cynic’s View: the Gospel of Wealth
This could be a breaking point for my faith, where I feel like everything that I thought I knew about the church was crumbling as a new self-reliance initiative is teaching us all how to get rich. I could begin to feel like the people around me are judging me as unrighteous because I have chosen to live a financially simple life. I could wonder if I had secret sins in my heart that I didn’t realize needed repentance because my house isn’t as big and my car isn’t as nice as others with whom I go to church. I could wonder if the Lord loved me as much. I could even sink back into the days when I felt like the “red-headed step-child” in the Lord’s kingdom.
Or I could flip things on their head: I could imagine that everyone who is wealthier than I is actually eviler than I am, that they are greedy and missing the mark when it comes to truly living the gospel. I could believe that I have the right to judge them because they are judging me for my lack of wealth. I could be smug in my assessment that I had chosen the better part.
The Truth: the Gospel of Wealth
The truth is that there is no gospel of wealth. The Lord needs his people to be the salt of the earth, to be the leaven (or yeast) that goes throughout all of the dough and lifts and softens it. the Lord needs men and women of all sorts of wealth in his kingdom.
However, there is a big problem with living in debt and living in dependence on others. Debt is a cruel taskmaster, as it quietly increases the true price of anything that we purchase because we are paying interest. As long as we have debts, we are not truly free: we cannot just leave to follow the promptings of the Spirit without leaving the impression that Latter-day Saints are thieves and vagabonds. We have to give what is due, and it can pull us away from our eyes being single to the glory of the Lord.
Also, it is impossible to give what you don’t have. If there is no food in my house, I cannot feed the hungry. If all of my money is tied up in debt and just barely getting by in life, then I cannot give from my abundance — I don’t have any! In fact, I can’t even give from my time, because my time must be used to pay back the debt I owe.
So, in the end, I do believe that being wise with money is a part of my religion. I still don’t believe that “God wants us all to be rich,” but I believe he wants us to be able to go where he wants us to go, do what he wants us to do, and be what he wants us to be. It’s just that money is one of the mediums we have to learn to use to accomplish the Lord’s purposes.