Mitt Romney’s tax returns were released Tuesday, January 24, 2011, and one feature of them deserves a little more explanation: the $4.1 million he and his wife, Ann, have contributed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the past two years. Romney and his wife, along with other members of The Church of Jesus Christ (often called “Mormons”) pay 10% of their income in tithing to the Church each year. Other contributions, largely to humanitarian causes, are made through donations to the Church as well.
What Is Tithing?
Tithing, which literally means “tenth,” is an ancient practice. Tithing was paid by Abraham and other Old Testament figures. The Old Testament prophet Malachi blasted the people of his time for neglecting their tithes and offerings:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, …saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:8, 10)
The payment of tithing and other offerings is common in many Christian faiths throughout the world today. Faithful Mormons pay tithing regularly as a voluntary expression of gratitude to God for His blessings. Tithing contributions are confidential. Faithful Mormons who desire to attend and make higher covenants in Mormon temples must be full tithe-payers, but that is determined by their own declaration to their bishop (pastor).
How Is Tithing Used?
Unlike most other Christian religions, all leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ are lay volunteers who do not receive any financial support from the tithes of church members, aside from travel expenses on church business. Tithing funds go to support individual congregations, building funds, missionary work, administrative departments, publications, educational institutions, and humanitarian efforts. (See Mormonwiki.com – LDS Church Finances.)
Other contributions made by Mitt Romney and his wife to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints include “fast offerings.” At least once a month, faithful Mormons fast by skipping meals for 24 hours and donating the cost of those meals to their local leader, called a Bishop, who uses the money to help support members of the local congregation who are struggling to meet basic needs. Often, members who are well-off will contribute much more than the actual cost of the meals missed. Surplus fast offering funds are passed on to other local and regional leaders so they can be distributed where they are needed. Excess funds eventually find their way to the Bishop’s Storehouse, a type of food bank where the needy are given food, clothing, and household goods, while they are helped and encouraged to become self-reliant again as soon as possible.
Tithing, fast offerings, support for The Church of Jesus Christ’s humanitarian efforts, funds for missionary work, and education for the poor are all part of the contributions listed on Mitt Romney’s tax returns. Mormons take Christ’s injunction to “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15) seriously, both literally and figuratively. The contributions made by Romney and his fellow Mormons go a long way toward helping fulfill that injunction.
“LDS Church Finances,” from mormonwiki.com
“Mitt Romney’s Mormon Donations,” from mittromneymormon.net
“The Finances of the Church,” from The Encyclopedia of Mormonism