on tithing

July 19, 2005

[This was written by Donna Schaper, a UCC minister.]

I practice the biblical tithe out of greed for a different kind of wealth than the kind I have. I don't want the poor to continue to embarrass me with their generosity. I also tithe because otherwise I can't figure out how to properly focus my money. Without ten percent off the top, I am condemned to round-the-clock payments for car insurance, regular mammograms, and videos. With my tithe, every now and then, I can send a water buffalo to the Philippines through the Heifer project. My bills are less dull because of tithing.

Someone accused the Mexican writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, of being rich. He countered that he was not rich but rather “a poor man with money. There is a difference.” My family tithes because we want the possibility of being rich.

I personally hate the idea of being poor so much that I have made myself quite comfortable in material terms. Tithing gives me permission to promote wealth: the more I make, the more I can give. Tithing is an excellent moral compromise.

Fat things, like my income, are treasured in the Bible. I can't imagine that God wants everybody living on rice and beans in a world where artichokes were also created.

Tithing can be done with or without money – we can surely give away our money and choose, additionally or instead, a quarterly discipline of cleaning out our closets and shelves and getting rid of what we don't need. Similarly, a decluttering of out calendar which eliminates enough obligation to make an afternoon's volunteering possible, can be a form of giving without money.

Encouraging someone who has the money you don't can also result in an enormous lift to your favorite charity. Or having a dinner party to celebrate Susan B. Anthony's birthday and asking for a contribution instead of a bottle of wine can go a long way to help the local women's shelter or cause of your choice.

And finally a “no gifts Christmas” or memorial service (you have chosen your memorial service (you have chosen your memorial donation, haven't you?) or birthday can free up resources: people can be encouraged to give to others the flowers they might have given to you.

The absolutely predictable generosity of the poor confirms my compromise. People in housing projects take what they don't have down the hall whenever another mother loses another son to a gang fight. Poor old people “pay the church first” before the pharmacist and spread their pills over five hours instead of the recommended four. Poor congregations continue to pay ministers who are HIV positive, even after the ministers are unable to work. They find a way when there is no way.

I want to be as rich as these people are – with always enough to give something away.