New historical information reveals original meaning of LDS tithing
(KUTV) The LDS church is shedding more light on the faith's longtime practice of tithing, answering a long-standing debate about how it is referred to in the faith's scriptures and what it means today.
Tithing requires members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to pay one-tenth of their income to the church. That money is then used to fund church operations.
But while tithing has root in Mormon scripture, an LDS historian says the way it was calculated in the late 1830s was far different than what is practiced today.
Steven Harper, a former BYU professor who now works at the LDS Church History Department, said tithing was originally based on net worth - not income.
In an article published on LDS.org, Harper said the practice took shape in July 1838 when the faith's founder, Joseph Smith, said he received a revelation about it. This came as the church was looking to raise money to build a new temple, Harper said.
In the revelation as recorded in Mormon scripture, tithing was explained to mean members would give "all their surplus property" to the bishop at the time, Edward Partridge, and thereafter "pay one-tenth of all their interest annually."
Current LDS leaders say interest is typically interpreted as "income." But that's not what it has always meant.
"Bishop Partridge understood 'one tenth of all their interest' annually to mean 10 percent of what Saints would earn in interest if they invested their net worth for a year," Harper wrote. He cited an example from Partridge who was reportedly in the room when Smith received the revelation.
"If a man is worth a $1000, the interest on that would be $60, and one/10. of the interest will be of course $6. thus you see the plan," Partridge wrote in a letter just days after the revelation was received.
According to Harper, six percent was a common interest rate at the time.
"Though the Saints' original understanding of tithing need not (and, in fact, does not) control how tithing functions today, it is fascinating to see the radically different understanding our religious forebears had of tithing," wrote Sam Brunson, associate professor of law at Loyola University Chicago, in an online blog post.
Today, Mormons simply pay ten percent of their income to the church, although there is still some debate among members as to whether to pay on gross or net income, how to pay tithing on investments, and whether tithing applies to monetary gifts.
Paying tithing is considered one of the more important commandments in the church as members cannot enter LDS temples without doing it.
"As with members of many other faiths, Latter-day Saints believe that the payment of tithing shows gratitude to God and brings both spiritual and temporal blessings," according to the church's website.
Follow Daniel Woodruff on Twitter @danielmwoodruff for breaking news, updates and more.