For: TEN MORE WHO TITHE
by A. T. Mollegen, Jr.
I had heard tithing talked about for many years
before I thought seriously about whether it could have something to do with
me. My passing reaction during those years was that the idea was archaic,
extremist, legalistic, impractical, and just not the sort of thing that
Episcopalians take seriously.
However, one day, about eight years ago, I found
myself in a position such that tithing was something that I needed to make
a deliberate decision about. (I was in charge of my parish's Every Member
Canvass, and in preparation for that, I was reading some of the Church's
literature on stewardship.) When I suddenly met the question head-on, I was
quite noticeably disturbed. I was afraid that I would lose ten percent of
what I had. I wasn't in a complete panic, but I certainly felt distinctly
threatened. There was a tightness in the pit of my stomach and I had a sense
of an impending very serious loss. In my mind's eye I could almost see a
group of black-suited workmen hauling away part of our house!
After a while (thank goodness!) these feelings
got under control, and my mind got back to work on how to deal with the question
of tithing. I started to think about some things which I had heard in the
past, but which I hadn't before paid much attention to.
First, I remembered someone's telling me that we
don't really need to give ten percent in these modern times, because nowadays
our taxes pay for the government's doing many of the things that used to
be paid for by people's tithing.
"Cute rationalization," I thought to myself, "but
what about the fact that my standard of living is incredibly richer than
that of anyone -- even kings --back in biblical times when the concept of
the tithe was originated? Wouldn't my relative richness morally require a
higher level of giving?"
"Well," I thought, "what about the issue of before
or after taxes? (Maybe there's an out here!) But wait a minute... since
contributions are tax deductible, maybe I should give more than ten percent
of my pre-tax income because if I didn't make the gift, I wouldn't be able
to keep the full amount anyway. Maybe I should give enough so that the amount
that I will have left, after the gift and the taxes, will be 90- percent
of what I would have had before."
"And what about my fringe benefits? ('This is getting
to be a drag!' another part of my brain protested.) The IRS doesn't consider
them part of my taxable income, but wouldn't someone from biblical times
consider them to be part of my actual income?"
Oh woe! A quick mental approximation to any of
the above calculations led me to the conclusion that the resulting amounts
were very large, no matter which way I might rationalize myself into calculating
them. And it didn't seem really right just to choose the method which led
to the smallest amount.
After a long time, I finally decided that using 10 percent of my gross tangible income would be my approach. (I would tithe from my pension when I got the payments.) I wasn't sure that this way was any more right than the others, but tithing on the basis of gross tangible income was simple, and it may even have been the way they did it in biblical times.
I then turned to the issue of how to give such a scary amount.
First, I started trying to think of things that
the family was spending money on, that could so easily be done without, that
we would never miss them.
At first, there did seem to be some such things,
but I soon realized that they were mostly things that my wife and/or kids
were interested in, but that I myself had little or no interest in. Both
my sense of fairness and my sense that my wife and kids would notice the
same thing about my list that I had, led me to keep on thinking.
Finally I concluded that this avenue led nowhere:
there just wasn't that much that we would never miss if suddenly it were
no longer there. Drat!
For a while I began to be afraid that I would never
find a painless way to get to ten percent.
But surprise! I did find a way, and it works.
Like many people in the late 70s, I had a reasonable
expectation of getting a raise each year. "Well," I thought, "if for instance
I get a six percent raise, I can use two or three percent to increase my
giving, and keep the rest for our regular use. Thus, each year I will get
two or three percent closer to the standard of ten percent. We probably
won't even notice any loss if our standard of living goes up two or three
percent less per year than it otherwise would have."
By and large, this prediction has worked out to
be true. In addition, once we put the plan into practice, two very interesting
unexpected things happened.
First, we found that it was really exciting to
have a tangible, feelable amount of money to use to do some good with. It
was now possible in some cases to give enough so that we could cause some
visible, tangible result. For instance, we financed the purchase of a (very)
used car for a refugee family that a local church was sponsoring. Wow!
We suddenly felt a sense of commonality with history's great philanthropists.
(A quantitatively-oriented accountant might not have noticed this commonality
quite as quickly as we did!)
Second, we found that once we had started down
the path of significant giving, we really didn't want to stop at ten percent.
At the time that I had first started thinking about the tithe, I would never
have believed that a modern, logical, enlightened, scientifically-oriented
twentieth-century person such as myself could ever be happily giving away
over ten percent of my income, much less continuing to increase the percentage
every year, even after passing the ten percent benchmark. Maybe this is what
General Convention meant when they said that the tithe is the minimum
There is one little problem though. It has all
been so easy that the nagging voice of conscience suggests that I have not
guess I'll have to start thinking seriously about that...
* * * * *
author's note: I have tried to convey some of the
humor and the joy of my own tithing journey. Working out my relationship
to what are, after all, God's possessions has been a very important and rewarding
part of my spiritual journey. Responding to God through action has
certainly made me feel much better about the job I have been doing of being
a Christian. My father used to say "If you want to know about the state
of your soul, take a look at the stubs in your checkbook." To this,
I would add: "If you want to feel better about the state of your soul, respond
to God by putting something on the stubs of your checkbook to feel better
Ted Mollegen is a layman who lives in Willimantic, Ct.,
where his wife Glenis is rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Ted
is chairman of his Diocese's stewardship committee, and a member of
the national Church's Standing Commission on Stewardship