By Mike Rabus
What blessings should a member of the LDS Church expect to receive from tithing?
In the March 2022 issue of the Liahona magazine, a short article was written about Relief Society President Toshiko Yanagida from Nagoya, Japan in 1950. The article is an excerpt from volume 3 of Saints, which is the third of a series of four volumes providing the stories of men and women who dedicated their lives to building the LDS Church across the globe.
The article began with describing the declining attendance at Latter-day Saint meetings in post-war Japan. Toshiko Yanagida and her husband, Tokichi, were new members of the LDS church and they “struggled with aspects of being Latter-day Saints.” Which topic did they struggle with the most? Of course, tithing.
Tokichi did not make much money, and sometimes they wondered if they had enough to pay for their son’s school lunch. They were also hoping to buy a house.
After one Church meeting, Toshiko asked a missionary about tithing. “Japanese people are very poor now after the war,” she said. “Tithing is so hard for us. Must we pay?”
The elder replied that God commanded everyone to pay tithing, and he spoke of the blessings of obeying the principle. Toshiko was skeptical—and a little angry. “This is American thinking,” she told herself.
Paying a tithe is a commandment that needs to be followed in the LDS Church if the member wants the best that Mormonism has to offer. Exaltation in the celestial kingdom is the ultimate goal, which must begin with a temple recommend. Since paying a ten percent tithe to the church is required to gain entrance into the temple, only faithful Mormons who are faithful in this commandment have any chance at celestial glory.
It sounds like the top tier of Mormonism is a “pay-to-play” proposition. If you want the privilege of “playing” in the celestial kingdom, you’ve got to “pay” the correct amount of money to God. How is this situation any different than the construction company that gives gifts to decision makers in order to be considered for the next big construction job? Or the defense contractor that makes a contribution to a politician to be considered in the next government contract? If those companies don’t make these payments, then they don’t get future considerations. In the same way, those who don’t pay their tithes won’t get picked for the very best position offered in this religion, which includes eternal life with one’s family unit.
Maybe this was one of the reasons “Toshiko was skeptical” with the commandment to pay tithing. Paying to play is not generally viewed as a fair way of doing business. Or maybe Toshiko was skeptical because she knew that giving ten percent of her annual income to a church is not a topic covered in the New Testament. Although the topic of tithing is briefly covered in the Old Testament (especially in the Book of Malachi), specifically giving ten percent of your annual monetary income to the church is never commanded.
The Japanese elder in this article “spoke of the blessings of obeying the principle” of tithing. But is qualifying for the celestial kingdom the only blessing that comes from tithing? Lorenzo Snow, the fifth LDS president, talked a lot about the spiritual and temporal blessings of tithing:
President Snow had repeatedly assured the Saints that they would be blessed individually, both temporally and spiritually, as they obeyed the law of tithing. That promise was partially fulfilled in August 1899, when the people of St. George enjoyed temporary relief from their drought; their faith was rewarded with 2.93 inches of rain, more than they had received in the previous 13 months combined. President Snow had also promised that obedience to the law of tithing would bring blessings to the Church as a whole (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 2012, 159).
He also said,
The law of tithing is one of the most important ever revealed to man. . . . Through obeying this law the blessings of prosperity and success will be given unto the Saints. If we will keep that law . . . the land will be sanctified, and we shall be counted worthy to receive the blessings of the Lord and to be sustained and supported in our financial affairs and in everything we do, temporal as well as spiritual (Ibid., 162).
Poverty exists among the Latter-day Saints, and always will exist until we at least obey the law of tithing (Ibid., 163).
Bruce R. McConkie, a previous member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote:
Both temporal and spiritual blessings are poured out upon the honest tithepayer as a result of his obedience to that law. By such obedience he gains the spirit of inspiration in temporal and spiritual pursuits so that in the end he is ahead financially and temporally, to say nothing of the spiritual growth that always attends such a course (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 557).
The concept is also emphasized in official LDS church manuals:
Our Father in Heaven is happy when we pay our tithing. He has promised to bless us if we pay it. He has said that He will give us so many blessings we will not know what to do with all of them. He has also said we will not be destroyed with the wicked if we pay our tithing willingly (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, 155).
The blessings we have been promised are both material and spiritual. If we give willingly, Heavenly Father will help us provide for our daily needs of food, clothes, and shelter (Gospel Principles, 2009, 188).
It sounds like tithing to this religious organization will bring about some sort of financial success or prosperity, and possibly even rain during a time of drought! In the case of Toshiko, the only blessing that was potentially offered was the possibility of owning a home.
Other missionaries encouraged her to have faith. One sister missionary promised Toshiko that paying tithing could help her family reach their goal of owning their own house. Wanting to be obedient, Toshiko and Tokichi decided to pay their tithing and trust that blessings would come.
What was the motivation for this family to start tithing? Was it obedience to God? Or was the main motivation to bring physical blessings?
If you read through the rest of the article, there is no mention of tithing for the purpose of being obedient to God or obtaining celestial glory. In fact, the rest of the article only deals with tithing to receive future earthly blessings, which in this case was the prospect of owning a future house and having a strict inspector sign off on their building plans.
She and Tokichi also began to see blessings come from paying tithing. They purchased an affordable lot in the city and drew up blueprints for a house. They then applied for a home loan through a new government program, and once they received approval to build, they started work on a foundation.
Toshiko and Tokichi ran into a problem with a local building inspector because their lot was inaccessible to firefighters. After fasting and praying for the next two days, though, another inspector reassessed their lot and provided a solution that allowed them to build their house.
“I guess you two must have done something exceptionally good in the past,” the inspector told them. “In all my years I have never been so accommodating.”
Toshiko and Tokichi were overjoyed. They had fasted and prayed and paid their tithing. And just as the sister missionary had promised, they would have a home of their own.
The inspector even commented on something “exceptionally good” that Toshiko and Tokichi must have done in the past. According to this article, it must have been tithing that created favor in the inspector’s sight! Thus, if LDS members pay the ten percent tithe, God will provide them with financial blessings. In this case, missionaries promised Toshiko and Tokichi that they could own their own home if only they started tithing to the church.
What about those who tithe because they want to advance the gospel? Or the person who tithes to help pay the utility bills for the church building? Or what about tithing because it shows God that all our money really belongs to Him? Not one of these reasons is given. All we read about is a reluctant family who tithed to gain the blessing of owning a home. What a deceptive way to get people to give their money!
What a simple and straightforward command: Pay your tithe and receive the blessings!
I’m sure there will be Latter-day Saints who read this story and view it as proof that blessings come from tithing. But could there be other reasons that explain the financial blessings for this family? Maybe reasons that just happened to coincide with tithe paying? In this article, I skipped over a paragraph that might give us a clue. Shortly after Toshiko and Tokichi agreed to start tithing, the sister missionaries began informal Relief Society meetings.
They shared gospel messages, discussed practical ways to care for their homes, and learned to cook inexpensive foods. Like Relief Societies in other parts of the world, they held bazaars, where they sold chocolate and other goods to raise money for their activities.
The missionaries taught the women how to cook inexpensive foods and they raised money by selling their goods in bazaars. Instead of God working in this case, it sounds like they learned how to be good stewards of their hard-earned money. If someone asked me how to start saving money for a house, I would recommend two very simple strategies: 1) Increase your income, or 2) Spend less. It doesn’t take a blessing of God to understand those simple ideas. So did the blessings in this case really come as a result from tithing? Or did they just come from learning how to budget and save money?
I don’t have any problems with a church requesting its members to give part of their financial blessings to help pay for advancing the true gospel, or even paying for the church building, utilities, and salaries. But I do have a problem with a church that requires an exact amount of money that must be given in order to merit eternal life. In this case, Mormonism’s leaders require the members to pay a tithe of exactly 10 percent of their annual income. Anything less does not meet the minimum requirement, meaning there is no hope of obtaining a temple recommend necessary to even have a chance at the celestial kingdom.
I do believe the Bible teaches that God will provide for the basic needs of each true believer, but I don’t believe this necessarily means that each Christian will therefore own a home. God will provide shelter, but that can come in many different ways. Home ownership is just one of many possibilties. So when the missionaries promised Toshiko and Tokichi that they would have a home of their own if only they started tithing, I believe they were misguided. Their motivation for tithing wasn’t obedience to God but merely a work necessary for receiving future blessings.
As I asked before, how would outsiders understand this article? How are they to understand the true motivation for tithing? Would they feel encouraged to give their hard-earned money to the church because they wanted to be obedient to God? Or are they just learning about the potential financial blessings that will come with tithing?
This article is a perfect picture of the Mormon gospel: your motivation for following the commandments is to obtain eternal life and future blessings. Contrast this with the true New Testament gospel, which says that because of the work of Jesus Christ, God blesses believers with eternal life, which then motivates true believers to follow the teachings of the Bible.
Which one sounds like good news to you?