Kirby: Giving what you can is good enough
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Last week, I attended services at a community church in the south end of the Salt Lake valley. The topic of the sermon? How how much of my money does God want?

All of it, as it turns out. It's a Christian technicality of course. Because I belong to God, so does everything I own or ever will own.

I'd be careful where I used that. It may fly well in church but I'll bet it won't in a bankruptcy, an IRS investigation or the renegotiation of a drug debt.

Never mind. The big question Sunday was really how much of my money does God want right now? Some? Half? A tenth? Whatever?

At this particular church it was "whatever." If you can only give 10 bucks, then that's good enough. What really mattered was how it was given. Was it done freely?

I'm most familiar with the Christian idea of tithing, specifically the Mormon version: a flat 10 percent. That ought to be easier to figure out but it isn't.

Is that 10 percent on your net or gross? What about lottery and office pool winnings? If you're supposed to factor tithing based on your "increase," do you count the money the government took before you got the increase?

Like governments, churches don't run without money. So every faith/religion has some kind of idea about what its followers should freely give to support the good work.

There are three prime motivations behind religious offerings: giving freely or because you simply want to, giving out of fear that you'll be punished if you don't, and the totally bizarre promise of profit sharing.

Yeah, according to some televangelists, it's entirely possible to acquire God as a business partner. You just have to invest or buy in first.

Listening to some of these guys, you get the distinct impression that by sending them money there's a real chance you'll get hit by a huge bag of cash walking back to your house from the mailbox.

Give a televangelist money and God will give you even more money. How's that for a deal? Nice home, fancy car, fine clothes, new legs; blessings and miracles simply await your cash offering of faith.

I'm thinking not. If that were even partly true we wouldn't have televangelists. I would have been sending them money for years in exchange for the blessing of using their heads for batting practice.

Maybe it's the Mormon in me, but I'm OK with an established benchmark when it comes to tithing. Makes it easier. I flunked basic math but I can still figure 10 percent in my head.

Just to make sure, we have tithing settlement at the end of the year. We sit down with our ecclesiastical leaders and figure out if we're square with both Heavenly Father and the IRS.

Being more cynic than Mormon, I can even see the merit of fear-based cooperation. I figure human beings need it. If we didn't, we'd have "whatever" speed limits.

Guilt-based cooperation doesn't work on me. I wouldn't be writing this column if it did. And I sure as hell wouldn't be praying for a baseball bat and a spot on the "Gospel Greed Hour."

In the end, I like what the pastor said at the other church, namely that it's more about why you're giving than what you're giving.

Whatever you give — a mandated 10 percent to a church or even spare change to a guy in a park — you should do it just because you want to. Then it's your business and no one else's.

rkirby@sltrib.com