Feeling comfortable about tithing
March 05, 2014In February 1991, when Robert Brom was in his rookie year as Bishop of San Diego, he was asked how Catholic families can reconcile a de-emphasis on material wealth with the need to fund Catholic school tuition for their children. Bishop Brom's reply was that the average Catholic family donated 1.2 percent of its income to the church and that if that figure was raised to 3.0 percent Catholic schools wouldn't have to charge tuition.
Both the actual donation figure and the school threshold are below the Biblical tithe amount of ten percent. While some churches still call for a full ten percent tithe to the church itself, donations are often made in other forms. Nowadays some income tax payments are used to help the poor; prior to that application of taxes the poor were served mostly by churches and other charitable organizations. Private donations to non-church charities may or may not be considered part of an individual's tithe, depending on the church's view.
Church donations also exist in addition to the collection envelope. In addition to parochial school tuition, churchgoers may contribute to bake sales, silent auctions, fundraising dinners or other church fundraisers which don't register in collection envelopes.
So unless the church specifically stipulates giving ten percent of one's income in church collection or pledge envelopes, the decision of what constitutes a tithe - more specifically, how much to donate to the church - is often up to the individual. Essentially this means an amount the individual feels comfortable contributing.
A prerequisite for determining the appropriate level of tithing is to determine the reason for tithing. If tithing is an obligation rather than a free-will decision, this could lead to spiritual trauma as going to church could also be considered an obligation rather than a desire.
Bishop Brom's other actions in the early 1990s included restructuring the Diocese's office of youth and young adult ministries. During the era of the Young Adult Advisory Council, an interesting correlation was noted. Church collections are done in one of two ways: the collection basket can be passed through the pew or an usher can hold a basket with a handle and send the basket along the pew. The basket with a handle likely puts more pressure on the parishioner to donate, and the council noted that parishes with strong young adult groups tended to have baskets passed by parishioners while parishes which utilized handles had weaker young adult groups. The theory was that a middle-aged family making $50,000 annually could spare $5,000 in donations and that a child whose parents pay for all needs could spare five cents from a 50-cent weekly allowance but that a young adult making $20,000 a year and having to pay all living expenses from that had trouble donating $2,000 and was deterred from attending churches with the handle baskets.
It has been subsequently noted that young adults eventually become older adults. Churches which appeal to established couples who can provide larger donations risk their future, so an obligation mentality is not a good idea.
Inflation has raised what was once a standard $1 donation. The problem with that is that the next move up from $1 is $2, which is also the minimum bet at a horse racing track. This leads to the mentality that a donation is more of a bet or an investment. While some consider religions to be an investment in the long-term future of their soul, thinking of a church as a brokerage rather than a house of worship isn't the best theological idea.
That same concept applies to the idea of a church donation being used as a bribe. A higher donation may or may not bring favors from the Lord, but to treat the Lord like a politician or a Mexican policeman isn't doing your spiritual life any favors.
On the other hand, those who go out for brunch after church often tip the waitress after the meal, which is essentially a donation beyond the actual meal cost in exchange for good service. Thinking of a church donation as a tip to the Lord eliminates any burden of obligation or any disappointment from results of a previous donation. This also allows for week-to-week flexibility, eliminating the obligation of a specific amount. Treating a church donation as a tip provides the ability to donate at a comfortable level while also allowing for the flexibility of a larger donation contingent upon better circumstances.
While some prayer is for petition and a church's function includes bringing together fellow Christians, a major role of going to church is to thank the Lord. Donations based on thanking the Lord for what he has done provide the best satisfaction for the Christian donors.