Tithing: A Necessary Expense?

The following was originally printed in the March/April 2015 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here

On March 4, 2013, the U.S. Tax Court ruled that Mormon plaintiff George Thompson would not be allowed to consider his church tithe a “necessary expense” as he negotiated paying back taxes owed to the government. The IRS looked at his income and expenses, determining that he could afford $8389 per month – if he did not pay his tithing. Mr. Thompson argued that his $2110 monthly tithe was a “necessary expense” and should therefore lower the amount of his monthly debt payment.

Thompson cited the IRS’s “necessary expense” rule — with a twist. The rule states that a necessary expense must either provide for the taxpayer’s health and welfare or the production of income. Thompson argued that paying tithing was necessary for his spiritual health and welfare. How so? asked the court. Thompson was a temple shift coordinator and stake scouting coordinator in the Mormon Church. He told the IRS that if he didn’t pay his tithing, he would no longer be allowed to hold these callings, citing a letter from his bishop that informed him that if he didn’t pay his tithing, he’d have to resign his Church positions.

The court had little sympathy for this, saying callings are regulated by the LDS Church and revocation of callings is solely a church decision, unrelated to the interests of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. As such, his request was denied.

In the context of Mormonism, paying tithing to the Mormon Church is necessary for a member’s spiritual well-being. Spiritually speaking, what happens to member who don’t pay their tithing?

According to D&C 64:23, 24:

Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming. For after today cometh the burning—this is speaking after the manner of the Lord—for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.

Sixth LDS President Joseph F. Smith said,

“He [God] has said that those who will not observe it [tithing] are not worthy of an inheritance in Zion.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 277).

Citing fifth President Lorenzo Snow, Joseph Fielding Smith (10th Mormon President) said a partial tithe doesn’t count:

“Part of a tithing is not tithing at all in the eyes of the law that the Lord has revealed.” (Conference Reports, April 1940, p. 97).

In June 2011 Henry Eyring of the Mormon Church’s First Presidency wrote,

“To receive the gift of living with Him forever in families in the celestial kingdom, we must be able to live the laws of that kingdom (see D&C 88:22). He has given us commandments in this life to develop that capacity. The law of tithing is one of those preparatory commandments.” (“The Blessings of Tithing,” Ensign, June 2011, pp. 4-5).

To sum up, Mr. Thompson’s church says that those who fail to pay a full 10% tithe to the Mormon Church will certainly forfeit their eternal exaltation and the accompanying benefits. Gone is the hope of exaltation and being with their families forever. Gone is the hope of becoming gods. Failing to pay their full due will result in an eternity placed in a lower kingdom where such benefits are not to be found.

According to LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie, this all amounts to “damnation” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 177). I don’t know if it would have helped, but if Mr. Thompson had told the court that neglecting his tithing would result in his eternal damnation, I wonder if the IRS might have had sympathy for his plight and agreed that, for a Mormon, tithing is indeed a “necessary expense.”


For other articles on tithing, see:

Listen to Tithing and Forgiveness, a Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast that originally aired on June 11, 2012.