Question: Why should the poor and destitute pay tithing?

FairMormon Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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. [1]:

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.


  1. Elder Lynn G. Robbins, "Tithing—a Commandment Even for the Destitute," April 2005 General Conference off-site