On March 4th 2013 the U.S. Tax Court ruled that Mormon plaintiff George Thompson would not be allowed to consider his church tithe a “necessary expense” in regards to paying back taxes owed to the government. Mr. Thompson owes $883,000 in back taxes, which he intends to pay, over time. In deciding how much Mr. Thompson could pay per month toward this debt, the IRS looked at his income and expenses, determining that he could afford $8389 – if he did not pay his tithing. Mr. Thompson argued that his $2110 monthly tithe was a “necessary expense” and should therefore lower the amount of his monthly debt payment. But he didn’t convince the court, so his request was denied. (Find a pdf document of the court’s decision here.)
In the course of the case, Mr. Thompson cited the “necessary expense” rule — with a twist. The rule states that a necessary expense must either provide for the taxpayer’s health and welfare or the production of income. Mr. Thompson argued that paying tithing was necessary for his spiritual health and welfare.
How so? asked the court.
Mr. Thompson is a temple shift coordinator and stake scouting coordinator in the Mormon Church. He told the IRS that if he didn’t pay his tithing he would no longer be allowed to hold these callings, citing a letter from his bishop that informed him that if he didn’t pay his tithing he’d have to resign his Church positions. The court had little sympathy for this, saying callings are regulated by the Church and revocation of callings is solely a Church decision, unrelated to the interests of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. (See here and here for more background on Mr. Thompson’s case.)
Mr. Thompson provided very little evidence to support his claim that paying tithing was necessary for his spiritual health and welfare, and the Tax Court seems justified in rejecting his claim. But that doesn’t change Mr. Thompson’s conviction that paying tithing to the Mormon Church is necessary for his spiritual well-being. What does he believe will happen to him, spiritually speaking, if he doesn’t pay his tithing?
Though the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions (2010) says members should expect nothing other than “the Lord’s blessings” from tithing (Handbook 1, p. 128), Mormon Scripture is rather more pointed:
“Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming. For after today cometh the burning—this is speaking after the manner of the Lord—for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.” (D&C 64:23, 24)
This sounds serious, as does this statement from past LDS President Joseph F. Smith:
“He [God] has said that those who will not observe it [tithing] are not worthy of an inheritance in Zion.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 277).
In Mormonism, paying tithing is an important part of living a “celestial law.” And living the whole celestial law is necessary for spending eternity in God’s presence, in the celestial kingdom. Bill McKeever wrote of this,
“Another important aspect of celestial law is participation in the temple endowment ceremony. But herein lies the catch. In order to enter an LDS temple, it is necessary to obtain a temple recommend. A recommend is granted only when the Mormon has been found faithful in numerous categories, including tithe-paying. If a Mormon does not pay his tithes, he cannot get a recommend. If he cannot get a recommend, he cannot go to the temple. If he cannot go to the temple, he cannot go to the celestial kingdom; hence he receives damnation in the next life.”
Joseph Fielding Smith, another past Mormon President, quoted yet another past Mormon President to explain that anything less than a full 10% tithe was the same as no tithe at all.
“He has said that the man who fails to pay his tithing shall have no place among the people of God. Yet here are these Temples erected by the sacrifice of the poor, and to give recommends to parties who pay little or no tithing, how can you feel to take this responsibility? I could not. Part of a tithing is not tithing at all in the eyes of the law that the Lord has revealed.” (Joseph Fielding Smith quoting Lorenzo Snow, Conference Reports, April 1940, 97).
In June 2011 Henry Eyring of the Mormon Church’s First Presidency wrote,
“To receive the gift of living with Him forever in families in the celestial kingdom, we must be able to live the laws of that kingdom (see D&C 88:22). He has given us commandments in this life to develop that capacity. The law of tithing is one of those preparatory commandments.” (“The Blessings of Tithing,” Ensign, June 2011, 4-5)
To sum up, Mr. Thompson’s church says (or implies) that one who fails to pay a full 10% tithe to the Mormon Church will be:
- Burned at Christ’s coming
- Deemed unworthy of an inheritance in Zion
- Unable to hold a temple recommend
- Designated a breaker of God’s law
- Without a place among the people of God
- Denied the eternal gift of living with God and family forever
According to past LDS Authority Bruce McConkie, this all amounts to “damnation” (Mormon Doctrine, 177).
If Mr. Thompson had told the court that neglecting his tithing would result in his eternal damnation the IRS might have had sympathy for his plight and agreed that, for a Mormon, tithing is indeed a necessary expense.
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart,
not reluctantly or under compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.”
(2 Corinthians 9:7)