I hear a lot of similar assumptions about Mormons. Several weeks ago at the church my wife attends, someone asked me if it was true Mormons have to show ecclesiastical leaders our tax records to prove that we're paying a full tithing.
Note: A full tithing for Mormons is 10 percent of our "increase." Some argument still exists on whether the 10 percent is based on one's gross or net income.
Personal note: I'm a "net" tithe payer. I say it isn't officially an "increase" if the #%$@ government stole a bunch of it before I got it.
Tithing is paid by check or cash directly to a member of the bishopric. The person fills out a little donation slip, puts in the money and gives it away. That's all there is until the end of the year when we have something known as "tithing settlement."
At tithing settlement, we're given the opportunity to settle up and handed a printout of our contributions for the year.
The only tithing question I have ever been asked is, "Do you pay a full tithe?"
That's it. Couldn't get more boring.
I thought this tax record stuff was some bit of idle speculation about us. But then I heard the exact same query from an unrelated source a week later. Apparently it was going around.
I'll tell you what I told the first person: "Oh, hell no. Mormons don't even pay taxes."
I had her going for a minute, but then relented. Yes, Mormons pay taxes. No, we don't have to take our tax records to tithing settlement.
More accurately, it's never happened to me. It's possible that somewhere a control freak bishop or stake president demanded this information from a submissive member, but in 60 years of making voluntary contributions, it's never happened to me.
This is not to say that it's always been normal. The strangest things that have ever been said to me in anything resembling a tithing or temple recommend interview are:
"Robert, did you come in here just to drive me crazy?"
"Look, you already don't pass. Do we have to keep going?"
"No, you may not pay tithing with a pig."
That's pretty much as strange as the tithing question has ever become for me. Maybe it's gotten weird for other people. Maybe there are elements that I'm unaware of. It's happened before.
I called church headquarters and talked to the one person willing to go on the record. It may have been a janitor. I forgot his name. Here's what he said.
The church does not sue anyone for tithing. The church does not garnish anyone's wages. There is no payroll deduction process for paying tithing. Home teachers do not come to your house and muscle it out of you.
It works this way everywhere. Whether it's church, Greenpeace, the ACLU, Cats in Space or March of Dimes, the entire idea behind voluntary contributions is that they're, well, voluntary.
I can't think of a better way to get me to stop paying tithing than to try to make me pay it.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.