Episcopalians and the Tithe

by

THE MAGAZINE

by Timothy Dombek

 

Recently, a parishioner in one of our churches asked me an honest question. “Why don’t many Episcopalians tithe?” Good question. He went on: “In the church I grew up in, we learned to give 10% of our allowance to God in the offering at church on Sunday. But I don’t see that kind of teaching going on in many Episcopal churches. Why is that? Why don’t Episcopalians tithe?” One could tell by the look in his eyes that this person was serious. He wanted an honest answer to what seemed so basic, so logical to him.

Like many congregations, his church was struggling to raise adequate financial resources. Yet, if more people gave generously, like he learned as a child, the church would have enough money and then some. What’s up with Episcopalians and the tithe?

I understand where this question is coming from. I grew up in a similar church. Whenever I tell my journey to tithing story, I share that I was fortunate to have parents who “tithed out loud.” They didn’t necessarily tell me to tithe — especially after I was a teen or older. They just talked a lot about the fact that they tithed and had tithed for years.

My parents had five sons. I guess they wanted us to know who got top billing with the family finances: the church where we belonged. We lived on the balance after what they gave to God through the ministry of their church. Every month; no questions asked. By the way: We never lacked for anything we ever needed.

 

“Resolved: We Believe in Tithing”

In answer to my friend’s question, I said “Well, the Episcopal Church does believe in tithing. Many General Conventions have passed resolutions affirming tithing as the minimum standard of giving. By ‘tithing’ we mean ten percent is the level at which we begin to give back to God. But few Episcopalians know that, or get taught that.”

While we Episcopalians may believe in tithing, not many practice it. Not many, indeed.

Most clergy would not know where to begin in teaching the tithe to their people. Nor would they know why to do so. Clergy do know that tithing is giving 10% of one’s total household income to God through the church. Few clergy might even say we give to God out of gratitude for all that God has given–and continues to give–to us. Actually, I added that last phrase about gratitude to soften the blow. Most clergy would not say that at the same time as ‘tithing is giving ten percent of your total income.’ Few, if any, clergy learned about stewardship in seminary. A tragic oversight, don’t you think?

Some people quibble over giving “ten percent net income or ten percent gross income.” If that’s a serious concern, then whoever is asking doesn’t ‘get’ tithing–not yet, anyway. Others might nit pick and say that the ten percent doesn’t all have to go to our church. We can give a part of our money to any charitable cause and have it count as a tithe to God. Again, such “deals” miss the real deal about tithing.

 

Money Speaks Louder Than Words

In our Western, free market, capitalist culture, money speaks with a clear loud voice. We, the people of this culture, use our money to say what matters to us, what is important to us. With money, we build things: hospitals, schools and universities. We construct residences, homes, vacation getaways and other structures for our pleasure. Communities erect sports arenas, theaters for film and the arts, casinos and dance halls. We ‘invest’ in electronic playthings that pass the time, keep us in touch, and endlessly inform or entertain us, day in, day out.

Often we invest money in and build things that outlast us. We invest in our children and their education; our legacies; our reputations. Most of the time though, we consume our money by acquiring things. We most often spend money on ourselves. Money is ultra-powerful, and how we invest it, spend it, or give it speaks volumes about what we value. It shows the world what we believe and where we think we belong in the order of the universe. Without fail.

So, too, the money we give to church. Our giving to church also speaks volumes about how we view money in our lives, how we think of it. Our generous giving also reveals what we think God thinks about it–if God thinks of money at all.

It strikes me as ironic that since the nineteenth century our money in the U.S. has said, “In God We Trust” on it. I often wonder: is this a confession or a reminder? Does putting “In God We Trust” on our money help keep the creator God in front of us? Does it remind us of God’s true reign over the world and all that is within it, including us and our money? Or are we admitting that money (currency) is “the god in whom we trust”? Money can become a god in people’s lives.

What does your relationship with money say to you? Say about you? Say to the world about you? Whether you like it or not, the way you use money speaks about you. Without words it tells the world what you value, what you believe in and wish to invest in, what you hold dear.

 

Tithing Heals Like Nothing Else Can

Nothing heals one’s relationship with the world and money like generous giving to God. Nothing rewards in life like tithing to your church. Nothing compares to making an estimate (pledge) and giving the money as promised. We human beings love to make and keep our promises, especially big promises. Sometimes we even deceive ourselves to keep our promises. Think of the “diet bargaining” we use to rationalize an indulgence. “One bite won’t hurt/kill me/spoil my appetite/add too many calories.” Whatever you say.

Jesus never mentions tithing, except how religious leaders abuse it to avoid spiritual wholeness. Jesus and his disciples knew that the holy men and women in the Hebrew scriptures tithed. It’s what faithful people did. So Jesus’ not mentioning the tithe, per se, does not excuse us from practicing it. Tithing is good for the soul. Here’s how.

Tithing reminds us of the true source of all that we have. Recall what Jesus said to his disciples,

“Do not ask anxiously, ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink What shall we wear?’ These are the things that occupy the minds of the heathen, and your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your mind on God’s kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well.” (Matt. 6:31-33, REB)

Think of it. God gives us everything we need. Our lives, our bodies, our families, our innate talents, skills, abilities, and our work. God gave us that. I know homeless people who live with great courage, because they know God will provide. Do I have faith like that? Not sure. I hope so.

When we practice generous giving, growing into giving a tithe, it does our souls and bodies good. How? In returning a tiny portion of all God gives us for our use and pleasure, we acknowledge God’s provision. It lifts our souls. We find release from money worries. And it’s plain fun!

 

“Let’s Spend Someone Else’s Money!”

Put it this way. We already are spending someone else’s resources, someone else’s capital: God’s resources, God’s capital. It’s fun to spend someone else’s money! God simply asks, “Use the first ten percent to further the work of the Kingdom. You can make an offering above that, too, if you’d like. The rest, live on as you choose. But choose wisely. Don’t worship it, or serve it, over me.” Remember: Money can become a god in people’s lives.

In fact, people discover that tithing in a sense “forces” them to use their money more wisely. Generous givers make better decisions with finances and spending, saving, acquiring debt–all of it. So, when you tithe you tend to become a better money manager for yourself. Now you have better finances, and you gave more money to your church to achieve its mission. Well done! Thank you for furthering the work of God’s kingdom through your generosity.

Now just imagine. Imagine if more people practiced the tithe. Imagine our churches having all the money they needed. And imagine they had to deal with the issue of having thousands of dollars extra to give away. Imagine the lives they could transform in their local community. Imagine the hungry people they could feed. Imagine providing shelter and clothing for those who cannot provide for themselves or their family. Imagine giving help and hope to the needy and homeless. What a reputation THAT church would have—“The church that gave away all its extra money!”

Guess what? If more Episcopalians practiced tithing, that’s a headline that could come true. Now wouldn’t THAT be news?

 

 

 

The Rev. Canon Timothy Dombek is Canon for Stewardship and Planned Giving for the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, and is the creator and presenter of the acclaimed Stewardship University™ program. This article was originally published July 25, 2015, at stewardshipuniversity.wordpress.com.

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12 Responses to "Episcopalians and the Tithe"
  1. It's a good article. But I would like to see what the responsibilities of parish leadership are. It's possible to give money to lots of great causes that are just as Godly, if not more Godly, than a parish church. For 9 years we pledged faithfully, responded to every fiscal call, and frequently rolled up our sleeves to offer time and elbow grease to one event or another. At some point, a stewardship campaign mentioned working up to a tithe, like 1 percent per year, and we took it seriously. Then we got a vestry that felt no obligation to listen to the concerns of parishioners, and recklessly disrespected the faithful work and contributions of parishioners. Recklessly. Now I pretty much feel sick when I hear the stewardship announcements, which is the only time anyone ever says anything about appreciating our generosity of time, talent, and treasure.

    Perhaps it's for another article, but vestries are volunteers too and it's easy for them to screw up decades of generosity and good will. So hopefully, somewhere, there's an article or resource out there for new vestry members - especially those who've never sat on a nonprofit board. I'm sure there are differences between nonprofit boards and vestries, but nonprofits definitely have "best practices" that include listening to its constituencies and appreciating volunteers (even if you're a volunteer too).

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    • Cynthia, I think you hit the nail on the head. Leadership of our congregations, lay and ordained, in their ministries, are called to be generous and called to create communities of transformation.

      What I would suggest to you, however, is that the tithe isn't about our wants or expectations, but rather our giving back. And if you don't feel like tithing to your congregation, maybe its time to find a new congregation where you can.

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      • That's an excellent point, J.R., and I've thought about it. I will be in discernment. I love my community. The vestry leadership issues are a matter of core values, whether or not and how we are called to respond to the Baptismal Covenant. But there are term limits. I'm convinced that the vestry's retreat on social justice was out of step with the larger parish and it will be resolved in one or two more elections. The question is what do I do in the meantime?

        The topic here is tithing. I get the theological reasons and I'm inspired by the creative possibilities that would offer to live into the Baptismal Covenant, collectively. It seems to me that when asking for a tithe there should be a corollary in the responsibilities of church leadership. A lot of us work for nonprofits and there's a standard of best practices that must be followed, or funding forfeit. It's hard to imagine why a vestry can't function to those standards much of the time. Or simply say "we're sorry" if and when there's a screw up.

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  2. Cynthia points out above that there's a lot of God's work that goes on outside of the church. I'd second that. I attend a great church which has a lot of folks doing outreach. Still, most of the half a million dollar budget goes to staff. Not the most effective way of supporting the poor, the planet, those affected by disaster and war.

    Still, if one's goal is to give away 10%, reserving 10% of that for the local church seems a pretty small ask.

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  3. One of the difficulties writing about the tithe is that one can too easily come across as a braggart and/or a scold, especially in a forum like this in which anonymity is discouraged. However, this is a subject I feel strongly about. Tithing is required by the religious community to which I belong (the Brotherhood of St. Gregory) and I have been tithing for over 25 years. More recently I've been double-tithing, giving 10% of my income to my religious community and 10% to my parish church. I should add that like Canon Dombek, I came from a tithing family, in my case Episcopalian, and my parents provided a wonderful example to my siblings and me.

    Speaking personally, tithing has given me a tremendous sense of freedom and release. I have learned that I do not need a lot of money in order to live a rich and fulfilling life. I make very little money by my own choice, and I provide for many of my needs by bartering goods and services. I also do not pay for my own housing but I live and work in a group home setting with men who have so little that I the resources of a millionaire compared to them. This is one of the ways tithing has changed my priorities and my lifestyle. I no longer work in order to make money. I work in order to fulfill what I believe God is calling me to do, and I order my finances and my lifestyle in line with that calling, rather than trying to squeeze that calling into the spare time allowed to me by being a “wage slave.” This is tremendously liberating.

    I have also served on the vestries of several different parishes over the years, and I have learned what nearly every parish treasurer knows: Often the least well-off members of a congregation give more money to the parish than the most well-off members. This is true, of course, in the proportion of their income that most poor members give, but it is also often true in terms of the absolute amount of money that poorer members give. Many wealthy church members are extremely generous not only to their parish churches but to outreach and mission programs, so I don’t want to overgeneralize. Nevertheless, there is often a very stark contrast in the relative priorities of these folks.

    It is also easy to see that many poorer members tithe. Their checks, instead of being in amounts with nice round numbers, are made out with numbers to the right of the decimal. To determine their tithe they just move the decimal point of their paycheck amount to the left.

    It seems to me that tithing is first and foremost a way for us to acknowledge that all that we are and all that we have comes from God, and the tithe is a constant reminder of this. It reshapes priorities; it changes the way we spend money and the way we think about money. If you tithe, be prepared to have your life changed in radical ways. In the words of the old hymn, “We give thee but thine own, whate'er the gift may be; all that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.”

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  4. Tithing is a faith issue. Do you trust God with your finances or not?
    I serve on the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of Dallas and I ask every one I interview if they tithe or not. If they don't why don't they? If you are going to lead the people of God, then you should lead by example in all things - prayer, sacrifice, tithing, ministry, study, etc.

    The question becomes "Is money your master or is money your servant."

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  5. If one tithes, but then wants the vestry to listen to one's wishes about how to use this money, are we really giving it to God to do with as He sees fit? It sounds like that is a tithe with strings attached? I see tithing as giving to the church and trusting that God will use it! Everyone should be thanked and appreciated by their vestry, but if we expect that and don't receive it, are we really GIVING? Tithing is all about trust...trusting God and trusting your elected leadership! If we disagree with what the elected leadership has done, we can voice our concerns, but in the end the money we gave is for their use and decisions. Prayer and God is the only mediator. Keep giving your money to God, praying to God and he will bless it and us to His use!

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    • I used to agree with you, Martha. But the article says this "Imagine the lives they could transform in their local community. Imagine the hungry people they could feed..."

      Indeed, for years my parish talked about tithing 10 percent of our budget to outreach. We were at 3 and 1/2 percent as of the time I stopped being chair of the outreach committee, but we talked about upping that percentage by 1 percent, or even half a percent per year, to work towards the 10 percent. That mirrored the requests of our stewardship committee, for people who didn't tithe to increase our giving by a percentage point towards tithing. It all seemed so reasonable and a great way for us to work communally and individually on building up the Body of Christ.

      Sadly, in one year, a particular vestry reversed years of thinking and work. In one day and in secret, tithing to the Gospel call to follow Jesus and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. was gutted. No one knows, no announcement was made that tithing isn't on the table anymore. We just stopped talking about it. Last year outreach/social justice got one perfunctory mention in the two month long stewardship campaign. It's impossible to raise the issue without being "divisive" because "unity" is valued over justice.

      This reversal is out-of-step with good theology, the call of the church to mission, and our own history as well as current parish surveys that say outreach is a primary interest of our parish.

      So my problem is how to Witness to the Gospel in my parish until they come around, or we get a new leadership? Until then, I want my limited funds to go to social justice.

      I'm inspired by the stories of "trusting God," and especially inspired by stories like Brother Christopher's. Please keep them coming.

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  6. Vestries do not always do "God's will." Neither do other organizations.

    I used to donate to a certain church-related organization. (I was even president of that organization, twice, and served on its Board for many years.)

    No more. Present leadership of that organization is moribund, doesn't update its website and apparently does little more than have Board meetings two or three times a year.

    So, I'll just send in the minimum to maintain my membership, and nothing more.

    I hope this situation will change.

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  7. I think there is a balance that needs to be made between "Give to God and let the (recipient) determine the best use" and "Give Responsibly."

    My tithe goes to my congregation. 10% of my regular gross income goes to two congregations my wife and I attend/serve (5% each). I do not direct (or try to direct) how that money is spent.) On top of that, if there is other income or there is a special need, I will tithe on that income or donate to that need, but I will try to direct the use of those funds. For example, I may give money to the Diocese for use in Church Planting (but not to a specific plant). Or I may give to purchase water/sports drinks for firefighters supported by my congregation.

    Another example is giving to help individuals. I very rarely give cash to individuals, but I will fill up their car with gas or purchase a meal for them. One of my friends in Dallas was Harry Dailey - he was one of the directors of the Austin Street Centre in Dallas. He told me to NEVER give cash to a homeless person, but to direct them to a shelter or purchase direct aid for them (such as food, clothing, etc.).

    How do you determine between giving because God requires us to give and we should simply give that money and giving responsibly so that your tithes and offerings are put to good use?

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  8. I have, what seems to be, an innate aversion to the notion of tithing, but not to the act of tithing--if you so chose. Somewhere in my bones, I pick-up flashes of "exacting tithes" as some form of Christian taxation. Although those times are long past in a formal way, I harbor expectations (my guilt?) of what others think is enough.

    In my parish, I've never heard the term "tithe" mentioned once and I believe that's because each of us "gives what we can willingly and generously" and that's because there's a profound sense of personal and spiritual generosity there. I have no doubt that some of the parish members give in excess 10% of their income over the course of the year---in ways in addition to pledging--- without bringing a lot of attention to themselves.

    In contrast, I've been in parishes that were stodgy, cold and stingy--- with themselves and towards others. In these parishes, every dollar I gave was an effort. These were also the parishes that touted tithing.

    The parishes that emphasize the tithe, tacitly set up a two-tier system of the tithers and the NON-tithers. This is unsettling for me because no one likes feeling like a second-tier Christian. When giving---what we give and how much we give---becomes a status station, we have missed the purpose of giving.

    Many years ago, a wise man summed up for me what a sane and compassionate (Christian) community looks like: "From each, according to (their) ability. To each, according to (their) need."

    Parish leaders must recognize that stewardship begins with creating an environment where parishioners "give willingly and generously" because they have been nurtured spiritually.
    Parishes that put less emphasis on"church business", and more emphasis on the business of ministering to our pain and brokenness, will have an easier time of stewardship.

    As anyone who has waited tables (and I have) knows that the more TLC served up, and the better the comfort food is for an empty, hungry diner, the more generous the tip. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that our church community is any different.

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  9. Dear Rev. Dombeck: Sir, as for imagining a Church whose members tithe 10% of their gross, and which therefore has sufficient for its own needs and ample surplus for charitable action-- and gives liberally-- you need imagine no further. Just look at your Mormon neighbors all over Arizona. As for your pitch, "What a reputation THAT church would have—'The church that gave away all its extra money!'"-- yes, well, unfortunately mainstream Christians have seldom held Mormonism in very high repute, even though they themselves do not tithe according to the Biblical injunction and promise of Malachi 3:10.

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