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Mormonism and church finances/Tithing/Paying tithing versus feeding your children or paying your rent
Paying tithing versus feeding your children or paying your rentSummary: One critic of the church states, "Would a loving, kind, empathic God really place parents in the horrible position of having to choose whether to feed their children or pay what little they have to a multi-billion megamall owning Church that receives an estimated $8,000,000,000 in annual tithing receipts?"
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- Question: Should we pay tithing before paying for food or rent?
- Question: Why should the poor and destitute pay tithing?
- Lynn G. Robbins, "Tithing—a Commandment Even for the Destitute"
Question: Should we pay tithing before paying for food or rent?
The Quote: "If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing"
One critic of the Church states,
I find the following quote in the December 2012 Ensign very disturbing:
If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you.
Would a loving, kind, empathic God really place parents in the horrible position of having to choose whether to feed their children or pay what little they have to a multi-billion megamall owning Church that receives an estimated $8,000,000,000 in annual tithing receipts?" 
The quote used is part of a story about a family in San Salvador that had joined the Church and was experiencing a great change in their lives. We will provide a bit more of the context:
The Vigils’ bishop, César Orellana, also saw changes in their lives. Soon after their baptism, Amado approached Bishop Orellana and said, “We want to pay tithing, but we don’t know how.”
Bishop Orellana explained that tithing was 10 percent of their increase. Amado was somewhat concerned. At the time, Evelyn had a job, but he did not. “We always come up short,” Amado explained to his bishop, “but we want to pay tithing.”
Bishop Orellana responded, “Brother, the Lord has made many promises.” Together they read scriptures about the blessings that come from faithfully paying tithing, including the Lord’s words through the prophet Malachi: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, … and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).
After reading these scriptures together, Bishop Orellana looked at the new convert and said, “If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you.”
The next Sunday, Amado approached Bishop Orellana again. This time he didn’t ask any questions. He simply handed his bishop an envelope and said, “Bishop, here is our tithing.”
Reflecting on this experience, Bishop Orellana says, “Ever since then, they have been faithful tithe payers.” The family received some commodities from the bishops’ storehouse during their financial difficulties. Beyond that, the Lord blessed them to be able to care for themselves. Evelyn received a promotion, and Amado found a good job. Evelyn later lost her job, but they continued to pay tithing and to receive spiritual and temporal blessings for their faithfulness. Once Bishop Orellana asked Amado how the family was doing financially. Amado responded, “We’re doing all right. Sometimes we don’t have much to eat, but we have enough. And more than anything, we trust in the Lord.” 
Choosing between tithing and food or rent
If someone is in the situation where they have to choose between tithing and food, it is of benefit to sit down and talk with the bishop as they have access to better training and employment opportunities as well as may be helpful in establishing a better budget so that such a conflict won't arise in the future.
With regard to self sufficiency, we are taught as well that we need to be part of our faith community and that requires at us time to allow others to serve us. It is a kindness to give others such opportunities, even when we don't necessarily need such help. There are blessings that come from being a charitable receiver as well as a charitable giver.
Question: Why should the poor and destitute pay tithing?
Biblical precedent for the idea that even those that are destitute will be blessed by the Lord if they pay their tithing
Critics of the Church often portray it as a business or corporation, with tithing being the method by which income is generated. If this were true, however, why would the Church be interested in the "widow's mite?" Critics often act as if the Church simply takes money from the poor and leaves them to fend for themselves. The reality is that the Church will not only support the destitute, but it will assist them in finding employment or means to create better circumstances in their lives. The Church does not force anyone to choose to pay tithing or to feed their children. The choice presented by the critics is a caricature which completely ignores the function of the Church Welfare program.
Paying tithing is a matter of faith. From a believer's perspective, a more accurate description than "pay what little they have to a multi-billion megamall owning Church" would be to "donate one-tenth of what little they have to the Lord."
There is a Biblical precedent for the idea that even those that are destitute will be blessed by the Lord if they pay their tithing. :
The Lord says to Elijah, “Arise, get thee to Zarephath … : behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee” (1 Kgs. 17:9). It is interesting that Elijah is not told to go to Zarephath until the widow and her son are at the point of death. It is at this extreme moment—facing starvation—that her faith will be tested.
As he comes into the city he sees her gathering sticks.
“And he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.
“And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.
“And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (1 Kgs. 17:10–12).
A handful of meal would be very little indeed, perhaps just enough for one serving, which makes Elijah’s response intriguing. Listen: “And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first” (1 Kgs. 17:13; emphasis added).
Now doesn’t that sound selfish, asking not just for the first piece, but possibly the only piece? Didn't our parents teach us to let other people go first and especially for a gentleman to let a lady go first, let alone a starving widow? Her choice—does she eat, or does she sacrifice her last meal and hasten death? Perhaps she will sacrifice her own food, but could she sacrifice the food meant for her starving son?
Elijah understood the doctrine that blessings come after the trial of our faith (see Ether 12:6; D&C 132:5). He wasn't being selfish. As the Lord’s servant, Elijah was there to give, not to take. Continuing from the narrative:
“But make me thereof a little cake first [the firstlings], and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
“For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.
“And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.
“And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah” (1 Kgs. 17:13–16; emphasis added).
Mark 12:41–44 gives us the story of the widows mite:
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
Among those who do not sacrifice there are two extremes: one is the rich, gluttonous man who won’t and the other is the poor, destitute man who believes he can’t. But how can you ask someone who is starving to eat less? Is there a level of poverty so low that sacrifice should not be expected or a family so destitute that paying tithing should cease to be required? Faith isn’t tested so much when the cupboard is full as when it is bare. In these defining moments, the crisis doesn’t create one’s character—it reveals it. The crisis is the test.
- Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director", 2013
- Lynn G. Robbins, "Tithing—a Commandment Even for the Destitute," Ensign, (April 2005)
- Elder Lynn G. Robbins, "Tithing—a Commandment Even for the Destitute," April 2005 General Conference off-site