Mitt Romney pays tithes! Oh no!
By John D. Turner
2 Feb 2012

"Do you think it could be any kind of a political problem, the fact, given as wealthy as you are, you have given millions, millions of dollars to the Church of [Jesus Christ]-Latter Day Saints?" host Chris Wallace asked.

"Gee, I hope not," Romney replied. "If people want to discriminate against someone based upon their commitment to tithe. I'd be very surprised." -- interview with Fox News Sunday, 22 Jan 2012

So Mitt has given millions to his church. So what? He is in a position to do so. Not only that, but he made a promise to God years ago to do so. He has kept that promise. Is that so bad? Don’t we want people in office who keep their promises, even if it would be more advantageous to them to break those promises?

According to a poll, released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 80% of Mormons tithe. This as opposed to a report by Empty Tomb, a Christian research organization that shows that tithing among many faith groups is at an all-time low, less than 3%.

I think the Pew numbers are high. It would be interesting to see exactly who among Mormons they polled, where the poll was taken, and how the question was couched. Nevertheless, even assuming the number to be much lower, it is certainly larger, as a group, than most Christians as a group. Since the LDS Church makes up only around 2% of the US population, it follows that as with other things, when it comes to tithing, Mormons are perceived as a “peculiar people.”

Tithing is a very personal thing among Latter-day Saints. Unlike most churches, where a collection plate is passed, members put their money in an envelope (provided by the church), fill out a form designating what the money is for (tithes, fast offerings, Books of Mormon, Humanitarian aid, Temple construction, Perpetual education fund, general missionary fund, or other types of contributions), and give it to a member of the bishopric.

The contents of that envelope are held in confidence. The only other person in the ward who would be privy would be the ward finance clerk, who enters the data into the computer, so that a record can be kept. At the end of the year, the member meets with the Bishop, receives a print out of their tithing record, and declares whether they are a full, partial, or non-tithe payer. The bishop doesn’t ask if they tithed on the gross or the net, if they included Christmas or birthday presents, or any of the other things people may discuss amongst each other. He just asks if they are a full, partial, or non-tithe payer. The answer to that question is between the individual, the bishop, and the Lord.

That Mitt’s tithing amount (albeit not his actual church tithing record) is now being bandied about in public is therefore a bit shocking. People assume, if Mitt is a full tithe-payer (and most would assume he is, by virtue of the church callings he has held) that he pays millions in tithes, but to actually publicly air the amount simply isn’t done. Nor would Mitt have done so, had he not been very publicly forced to divulge his tax returns.

What I really object to is the tone set by some of the articles I have read. As if there is something wrong with a person who makes a lot of money giving a large chunk of that to one’s church.

Words mean things. Words paint pictures. Depending on the words we use and how we use them, completely different meanings can be built up in a reader’s mind.

An article in the Sacramento Bee starts its first paragraph by stating: “Mitt Romney’s tax returns reveal that the Republican presidential candidate does something fewer Americans do these days: He tithes.

Contrast this with the opening paragraph penned by Diane Sawyer in ABC News “The Blotter”:

“Underscoring the prominent, if little discussed role that Mitt Romney played as a Mormon leader, the private equity giant once run by the GOP presidential frontrunner carved his church a slice of several of its most lucrative business deals, securities records show, providing it with millions of dollars worth of stock in some of Bain Capital's most well-known holdings.”

Which one paints the more positive picture? Which is more accurate? Which one makes you wonder if Mitt has something to hide or is up to something nefarious? Put another way, if this were Barack Obama we were discussing and not Mitt Romney, do you think the tone of the Sawyer article would be any different?

The first paragraph attempts to tie together Bain Capital, the Mormon Church, and the fact that Mitt has served as a lay leader in the church as some sort of sinister plot to funnel money to the church. The writer states that Mitt “carved his church a slice of several of its most lucrative business deals”.

Not “tithed a portion of his increase to his church”, but rather “cut them into the deal”, much like a gangster might “cut some of his buddies” into a “piece of the action.” They do use the word tithe in paragraph two, but in quotes, as if to say that “well, they may call it a tithe, but we know what it really is.”

The paragraph also incorrectly states that the Church “requires members to ‘tithe’ (their quotes not mine), or give 10 percent of their income to the church,” and describes Romney as “a major donor”, not a tithe-payer. As if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is at best, a simple non-profit organization or at worst some sort of a front organization for organized crime instead of a legitimate church.

First off, the Church does not “require” its members to tithe. It does strongly encourage tithing. And it is true that one cannot obtain a Temple Recommend, a piece of paper that allows you to enter one of the 134 operating LDS Temples around the globe unless you are a full tithe payer. This does not mean however that you are required to tithe. The church will not excommunicate you if you do not tithe. It doesn’t post a list of all non-tithe payers. You are not shunned or disfellowshipped.

Another article mentions that “LDS church members must tithe to participate in temple rituals.” This is true. What is left unsaid here is that LDS church members must do a number of other things in order to participate in temple ordinances as well; things such as obeying the word of wisdom (specifically, abstaining from tea, coffee, alcohol, and tobacco); obeying the law of chastity; affirming faith and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost; sustaining the leaders of the church, being honest in your dealings with your fellowmen, and others. In all there are 15 questions a member must be able to answer in the affirmative to both his or her bishop and stake president before a temple recommend can be obtained. Tithing is just one of these.

The purpose is to determine worthiness to enter one of the holiest edifices the church has, to perform vicarious ordinances for those who have passed on. Having been through the process a number of times myself, I find nothing therein to be sinister, bad, or contrary to anything I have read in the scriptures.

Whether you are a full tithe-payer or not is something that is known only to you, your bishop, potentially a member of the stake presidency, and the Lord. Even your bishop may not really know. You declare yourself a full tithe-payer when you go in for your temple recommend interview. You could lie, I suppose. They don’t ask for your income tax forms, like everyone seems to want to see if you are a serious candidate for the presidency. The only ones who really know are you and the Lord.

The article makes the point that because he “has never before released his personal tax returns, the full extent of his giving has never been public.” Sawyer seems to have a problem with this.

The article goes into great detail, describing names and numbers of shares of various stocks Mitt donated to the Church. Furthermore, it mentions others at Bain who also gave shares of stock. From reading it, one gets the idea that Sawyer is trying to make the case that Bain is simply an undercover arm of the Church, established to garner shares of big-name, highly successful publicly traded companies without having the Church’s name associated with the acquisition.

Could it be a “laundering operation” perhaps? Giving all that stock to the LDS Church; must be something shady going on there. Maybe we should take a look at their tax status. Maybe they are trying to run a business through a front operation and using their status as a church to avoid paying taxes.

The whole tone of the article is, to me, slanted to cast a negative light on both Romney and the Church as well; at the very least, to plant a seed of doubt in the mind of the readership.

“Romney has spoken about the 30 months he spent in France as a missionary, but his role within the church as an adult is largely unexplored,” Sawyer writes. She goes on to mention that he has held several significant posts within church leadership including bishop and “stake” president (her quotes, not mine).

What she doesn’t mention is that these are non-paid positions that require a considerable amount of personal time and effort. One doesn’t simply volunteer to be a bishop or stake president. One is called to the position by higher church authorities; it is then up to you to accept or not accept the calling. You fit the time you spend around the rest of your life; your job, your family, and whatever time you have left for personal recreation. In other denominations, these positions or their equivalent, would be paid, full time positions.

I for one think it would be a great idea for Mitt to discuss his role in the church as a bishop and stake president. One of the criticisms Newt keeps putting forward is that Mitt, as a “rich guy” is out of touch with the “common folk.” (As if Newt hangs out in the ‘hood either.) However, as bishop and stake president, unless he lives in an area where everyone makes $20 million or so a year (unlikely considering the area encompassed by either of those two callings), then he has had a wealth of opportunity to meet “common people”, particularly as bishop, and interact with them on a very personal level.

On the other hand, I can understand why Mitt doesn’t too. With the knee-jerk reaction some have toward the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, witness the Sawyer article, the less said about the church and his connection to it the better. Besides, there are limits to what he can discuss; limits shared by preachers, priests, and ecclesiastical leaders of all denominations. Sawyer should know that.

As far as the money amounts are concerned, is it at all surprising that a man, committed to tithing 10% of his increase to his church, would have tithed millions of dollars to said church, when his income (increase) for 2009 and 2010 totaled around $43 million?

In the olden days, before salaries, people made “in kind” tithes on their increase. In the early days of the LDS church, tithes were accepted in grain, cattle, chickens, what-have-you. Why then should it be a shock if today someone were to tithe property, or shares of stock? If I had an increase of 100 shares of Apple, for example, should I be required to sell that and pay 10% of the proceeds, or should I be able to instead just donate 10 shares of Apple? People do donate stock to their church or favorite charity; the tax code has provisions for it. I don’t see what is so mystifying, titillating, or potentially sinister here. To me this simply is not a story.

How far as a nation have we fallen, when tithing, something that used to be well understood (if not necessarily practiced) in a nation where 85% of the population claims to be Christian, is now something to be suspicious of and a potential disqualifier for someone aspiring to become President?

Fundamental change you can believe in?