Gospel Doctrine Lesson 17

I offered to write the lesson supplement on tithing because I knew it would be a more difficult topic for me. As a kid, teenager, and even through college I loved tithing and paid generously on what little money I had. It felt simple and straightforward—I was contributing directly to building the kingdom of God, and that concept felt empowering and exciting.

As I got older and moral schisms between my personal beliefs and the church’s stance on some issues grew, I’m not proud to say that tithing became more difficult for me. For example, it felt difficult to pay when I’d seen several examples of young men/scout programs receiving higher budgets than the young women. I felt conflicted about American style churches being built in places like my mission in Uruguay. I was concerned about the idea of my, albeit still very small, contribution, going to advocate against gay marriage when I in fact support gay marriage.

One may look at this list and think, “How petty! How selfish!” and believe me, as lesson 17 points out about the ways we withhold from the Lord, I did not leave these internal discussions unscathed. For several years I was and in many ways still am quite conflicted. In part then, my contribution to this lesson supplement is less about answers we might give in a lesson, but rather, a list of questions we might pose. Questions that seem very real to me as a woman, and questions that I sincerely hope can eventually bring greater peace about the law of tithing for people who are struggling with the concept and practice.

I fully acknowledge my own weakness, and perhaps lack of faith in working through tithing, but complete honesty seems the only way through difficulty at this point in my life, and I am sincerely interested in learning to be more Christ-like through tithing, so the issue, both the beautiful and the hard, seems worth pulling apart and examining. I suppose that is precisely what Sunday school is for.

I think part of the difficulty for me in these past years is the fact that I am a stay at home mom while my husband has been working through a PhD for the past six years. As a SAHM, I often don’t feel ownership over the money in our bank account, even though my husband has never implied otherwise. I think it is a natural reaction when a paycheck is not the way your work is paid. So often, including in this particular lesson, the focus is on the monetary law of tithing and is often given as the only way one can fulfill the commandment.

How can women who are not currently working for a paycheck feel greater efficacy in contributing and participating in the law of tithing?

In my own life I’ve prayed about this concept and one thing I felt to do, which has been both empowering and has made me feel more of a partner with God and Their work is being able to contribute one tenth of the work I do. For example, I illustrated a children’s book of temples and from the beginning determined that a tenth of sales would go directly to the Temple Patron Fund. While not the same as tithing, I loved that I felt the work of my hands contributing directly to helping people get to the temple. It connected me to my Mormon foremothers who also did work directly to help establish and build the first temples.

When I did another project, a set of cards about brave women around the world, it felt important to me that the product not only get into the hands of people who could afford to purchase them, but into the hands of lower income women and children. I made a rule for myself that one out of every ten sets of cards would be donated. I’ve stuck to that rule and have been surprised at the ways in which my own personal experiment on tithing has strengthened my resolve to be generous and kind and to put money as a less important ruler than giving in my own life. During this time, my husband and I continued to pay a regular tithe on our monetary income as well, but I found greater personal peace in contributing in these more personal ways.

My questions then: Is there room in the church for this type of practice, particularly for women who don’t directly earn money? How can the law of tithing be something that puts these women in a partnership with God?

Verse 12 in Isaiah 58 says, “And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”

I love the imagery of this verse, the idea that we, in all our infinite smallness and imperfection are offered a way and a place to help do the work of God. I love that we can be builders, raisers, repairers, and restorers. I do believe in the power of the law of tithing to help us better understand how to be these things and I hope that by working through some of these questions, I can navigate my way with more grace and faith.

Related Mormon Women Project Interviews

Tina Richardson, Playing from the Heart

“Yeah, and I always had my files transferred to whatever ward I was supposed to be in. I would write the bishop a letter and say, ‘Hey look, I’m in your ward. You have my records. Do not contact me. Do not send the Relief Society after me. Do not send the missionaries after me but here’s my tithing.’ And I’d tell the bishop I was gay and in a relationship.”

Maria Lucia Batioja, My Life Changed Completely

“When we married, my husband began college to study engineering. It was a difficult time for us. I was cleaning houses to pay for rent. Since my husband was an international student, he used his free time to work to pay for school. The Lord always helped us, even though I did not earn much for cleaning houses; there was much to be gained. My husband would always say, “We will not go without if we pay tithing.” And it’s true. At the end of the month, our money was always divided for tithing, and we still had enough money to live. We were never left wanting. We never lacked money. We could always pay all of our bills. This time was a very beautiful time for us together.”

Other Related Women’s Voices

“Mary Fielding Smith, the widow of Patriarch Hyrum Smith…said to a man at the tithing office, across the street where the Hotel Utah now stands, who chided her for paying tithing: ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Would you deny me a blessing? If I did not pay my tithing, I should expect the Lord to withhold his blessings from me. I pay my tithing, not only because it is a law of God, but because I expect a blessing by doing it. By keeping this and other laws, I expect to prosper, and to be able to provide for my family.’ ” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Law of Tithing)