Cleansing Fire

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Disputing Fr. Z on Tithing

July 4th, 2018, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Tithing is not the same as Supporting the Church

On controversial issues, I have found Fr. Z’s blog to be quite helpful. While I haven’t always agreed with the good Father, there is certainly value in seeing other opinions on matters of prudential judgment. But when the matter is about specific Church Teaching, differences become more of concern.  And so it was, recently, with a third party’s letter to Fr. Z, asking whether or not a Catholic is “… obliged to give money for Peter’s Pence.”

The answer from Fr. Z was clear enough: You are not obliged to provide donations to Peter’s Pence…. One of the Commandments or Precepts of the Church is that we must provide for the needs of the Church.  How we do that is not spelled out by a specific means.  In general, it means financial support.”

Would Mandatory Tithing be an Interference in Free Will?

But some of the remaining part of Fr. Z’s answer makes me “beg to differ,” enough to make it worthwhile to examine the differences and let others make their own prudential judgments.  It is not so much argument regarding canonical guidelines (which I’ll leave untouched for now) as it is comparing to Sacred Scripture, which is a bit difficult to do, as Father Z does not actually cite the biblical verses on which he seems to draw.

Fr. Z writes: “Frankly, Catholics should give heavy consideration to tithing, dedicating 10% of their income or worth to God through the Church.  That was the Old Testament duty which God imposed on the people.”  Clearly, that Old Testament requirement under The Law does not make it a New Testament commandment. There are commandments like “Thou shalt not kill” which are embraced in the New Testament, including extension to opposition to contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and even potentially to the too-early harvesting of body parts!

Did St. Peter make a mistake leaving out tithing from his directive from the Council of Jerusalem? No, tithing per se just was not explicitly commanded:   ‘The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cili’cia, greeting. Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas [not the Iscariot] and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.’” (ACTS 15:23)   P.S. “Tithing?” … nope, not there!

Consider also in ACTS the confrontation between St. Peter and Ananias and Sapphira over their donation to the community. It was not for lack of giving that the couple died, but for lying to the Holy Spirit. Peter even indicates no obligation to tithe when he says to Ananias:  “While it [the land] remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” (ACTS 5:4a).

Attitude Toward Tithing in the New Testament

What we do see in the New Testament is a sometimes demeaning referral to the tithing associated with Old Testament compliance. For example, Luke 11:42 (and similarly Matthew 23:23) state: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”  Another example would be the Pharisee who bragged of his tithing: “I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:12) vs. the tax collector who “beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13-14) and who went home more justified than the Pharisee. It is difficult to find a New Testament directive for tithing beyond the general instruction in commissioning of the Apostolic leadership:  “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”, with similar text in Matthew 18:18. The answer to that argument I think would be in Matthew 23:4 regarding the Pharisees: “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.”  (Note: many of the quotes in this post are from the RSV-CE, using the Gospel of Matthew, since it was written to people (Jews) who well knew the tithing practice of their time.)

Onerous Tithing by Definition

The tithing proposed by Fr. Z seems to be particularly onerous. Take a look one more time at Fr. Z’s words about tithing: Frankly, Catholics should give heavy consideration to tithing, dedicating 10% of their income or worth to God through the Church.”  And this time notice the word “worth” which we can assume is “net worth” since not netting debt would be incredibly more onerous!  Such tithing means, for example, 10% of the value of your house, car, stocks, bonds, clothing and furniture, and even insurance benefits received!  (Net would be the foregoing minus the mortgage and other debt, like school loans, and presumably taxes owed and insurance costs.)  And since tithing on net worth would be seen as an annual obligation, it would repeat, year after year! Really, Father Z?  10% of net worth? That would likely bring people to poverty (a socialistic leveling?) pretty fast!

Is tithing before or after paying taxes?

What about the taxes owed? Is tithing on income before or after tax? The only thing that makes sense to me is to refer to Christ’s words in Matthew 22:21 (and similar words in Mark 12:17 and Luke 20:25):  ” … then He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Notice that the Lord did not say: “Render to God the things that are God’s and (then) to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. Surely, the Lord knew well what He was saying in putting the obligations to government first, and not as matters of choice. Does this not at least imply that tithes are after Caesar takes his taxes?  In the ’70’s in England, there were people whose taxes added to more than 100%! Government often does not act with a voluntary restriction of ethics, self-control, or fairness. Jesus warned His Apostles (and hence His Church) not to be like that: “But Jesus called them to Him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His Life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28).  See also Mark: 10:42. Surely, onerous taxing by the Church as mandatory tithing deserves consideration under this warning.

Misquoting Christ?

Father Z further writes: “Our Lord, of course, said that we should give up ‘everything’ and follow Him.”  Actually, I don’t believe that is a proper translation of the encounter with the rich young man, if that is the reference. And if it is not, then the reference (which unfortunately is not cited by Fr. Z) at least militates against his proposed interpretation.  The subject text is the following (Matthew 19:16-19): “And behold, one came up to Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘Why do you ask Me about what is good? One there is Who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to Him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

ScreenShot619STOP RIGHT THERE!

Jesus has answered the question. He said: “Keep the commandments.”  It is the young man who presses further, and Jesus offers him a vocation, which includes poverty: The young man said to Him, ‘All these I have observed; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'” (Matthew 19:20-21.) See also Mark 10:21, and those words how Jesus “loved him.” Jesus is the One who calls to a vocation, the One who chooses! The vow of poverty is a gift! (Just as celibacy is a gift!) This passage should not be twisted to press Old Testament tithing in any case.

Fr. Z’s opinion

In summary, Fr. Z offers his opinion:  “I don’t have the figures, but I’d bet that the average Catholic gives no where [sic] near 10% to support the Church, in any form.” Well, since he doesn’t have the data, I won’t argue the point. Besides, I don’t know how to price good parenting of the future generation including home schooling or tuition, offering up of redemptive suffering, or the pain of seeing a church torn apart by pedophilia and homosexual implications at the highest levels. What should also be included in what the laity contributes, even if not voluntarily, are the taxes deducted from individual Catholics  and redirected to the poor.  Fr. Z’s one sentence conclusion against what the laity actually contributes not only lacks the data, but would seem to minimize and denigrate the efforts which are funded, voluntarily or not.

What I will say is that one only has to search right on this Cleansing Fire site for CCHD (Catholic Campaign for Human Development) and CRS (Catholic Relief Service) to find some things good stewards of God’s gifts don’t want to (and shouldn’t) support, such as providing contraceptives to third world health care providers.

Closed schools and churches should be saving the laity a financial burden, but generally such closures were not strategies initiated by or supported by the laity. And some parishes seem to find new ways to spend the funds anyway.

I’d also note that what the USCCB supports as its own prudential opinion, is not binding on the laity. Sometimes the USCCB does not even disclose in its communications that it has a vested interest in receiving funds from the government on such matters; e.g. helping with resettling or teaching illegal immigrants. People are not stupid; they are alienated unnecessarily by left wing prudential judgments with deep political tones.

I can only offer to Fr. Z, and to readers who treat his call to tithing as something to consider, the words of St. Paul in Galatians to the converts to Christianity: “For all those who rely on works of the law are under a curse; …Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us ….” (Chapter 3 of Galatians is worth reading in its entirety.) 

Post Script

Fr. Z writes:  “This is probably a good moment to suggest a donation to the TMSM!”  Actually, Father, I don’t think it is!  He further writes about his blog post: “Please share!” That is what I just did with this post. See also the responses by others to his post: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2018/07/ask-father-im-i-obliged-to-give-money-for-peters-pence/  Fr. Z’s blog on this subject was posted July 2, 2018 by Father John Zuhlsdorf. Thank you to a pilgrim friend who suggested the topic.

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3 Responses to “Disputing Fr. Z on Tithing”

  1. avatar christian says:

    I have been making an effort to tithe for some time now. It is not specified that all of the 10% go to one church. It can be broken up as to one or more Charities in addition to church collection. It is supposed to be between God and you. In some cases, it may not seem like a person is making that big of a donation compared to another person, but the person who has seemingly donated less, in fact, may have donated more in comparison with their income. While one person has seemingly donated more, he in fact, may have donated less in comparison with his income.

    I think the main thing is to donate from the heart, and from there, try to be generous. Money is not the only thing a person can donate to a church or charity. You can also donate your time and talent. We are all stewards of the gifts we are given; time, talent, and treasure, and we should pray to the Holy Spirit that He will help us to choose wisely how to be good stewards of our gifts to build the Kingdom of God.

  2. avatar Mary-Kathleen says:

    Excellently put, christian!

  3. avatar christian says:

    Thank you Mary-Kathleen!

    Currently, there are parishes within the Diocese of Rochester who want parishioners to sign up for automatic withdrawal from their checking account on a monthly basis rather than to give in the collection basket on Sundays.

    There are also parishes who are asking parishioners to tithe and sign a pledge card as a commitment to the amount they will be giving on a regular basis, somewhat like a contract.

    Additionally, there are parishes that have an online method available to make a weekly or monthly donation.

    I do not personally have a problem with having an online method of donation to a parish, but I think that method should be on a voluntary basis.

    I am not in agreement with the first two methods of giving: 1. signing up for a monthly automatic withdrawal from your checking account to your parish, and 2. having to make and sign a pledge as an obligation for future payments to a parish.

    I can understand why a parish would like some idea of how much money they could count on with regard to budget planning purposes, but people’s situations can change. There could be an unexpected loss or change in jobs resulting in a change in income, an unexpected illness or injury resulting in increased medical and other healthcare expenses, or a loss of a family member resulting in burial and funeral expenses (in additional to grieving).

    With regard to the situational changes that can happen in life, being locked into a pledge or into an automatic withdrawal of your checking account could have detrimental effects.

    It’s no wonder parishioners aren’t asked to supply a copy of their current Income Tax Statements so the parish can decide how much they should give in monthly payments.

    My father told me that it has become an increasing trend for people not to become members of a particular church parish, but just come to worship on Sundays. In that way, they will not be asked to commit to a financial pledge or contacted for a donation. There are some people who worship at a variety of different churches in addition to not becoming members of a church parish.

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