Heaven & Taxes: Mitt Romney’s Mormon Riddle

The Mormon faith follows a system of tithing that is nearly identical to our country’s tax system.


MITT ROMNEY is quick to condemn taxes. So committed is his campaign to the misguided idea that tax imposition harms our economic recovery, that he is willing to disintegrate our nation’s social safety net in the name of principle.

In Romney’s fictional universe, taxes paid to fund social programs, community services, and to support infrastructure, breeds a near majority of ungrateful citizen-dependents who mooch off the government and our nation’s upper-class members. Instead of a fair-balanced tax system that asks more from those who can pay more, Romney instead advocates for the previously failed option of cutting taxes for the rich to stimulate economic growth.

And yet it has gone largely unmentioned that Romney, in fact, willingly and proudly acknowledges the benefit a fair tax system provides, just in a different context.

Mormon scripture mandates tithing. According to Mormonism, on July 8, 1938, in Missouri, the religion’s founder Joseph Smith was told by God that all faithful members must pay one-tenth of their surplus money to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Section 119 of the LDS Church’s Doctrine and Covenants states this: LDS Church members “shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.” Mormons, as do many other Christian faiths, also rely on the Old Testament, specifically Malachi 3:10, to support their tithing practice.

Receiving this money, according to the LDS Church, “is how the Lord funds His Church.” The money goes toward “Constructing temples, chapels, and other buildings,” “Providing operating funds for the Church,” “Education,” (Brigham Young University alone has campuses in Utah, Idaho and Hawaii) and is “used for the benefit of the entire membership of the Church.” This money “also helps support members of the church who are going through difficult times to provide for their families.” (All this can be read on www.mormon.org.)

In addition to tithing, Mormons also make “fast offerings.”  Mormons are expected to fast monthly. There is an expectation that funds members would otherwise have spent on food during those fasts is given to the LDS Church.  The money received from fast offerings is typically earmarked specifically to provide rental assistance, food, and medical bills for those members living within a congregation’s local community, rather than the LDS Church at-large.

So, here it is in a nutshell: according to Mormonism – Romney’s professed religion – God mandates that a defined percentage of members’ pre-tax income be paid to the LDS Church to cover the cost of social welfare programs (to support members “going through difficult times”), for infrastructure (buildings, temples, chapels), and for community services (such as education). (In a related context, the LDS Church even has its own form of a stimulus package: the LDS Church is currently developing a shopping mall across from its Salt Lake City headquarters, which the LDS Church deems “an attempt to help revitalize the city rather than to make money.”) This, to me, sounds a lot like…a tax system.

And in fact it is: the secular form of tithing is taxes. Taxes are used by our government to provide the same type of social programs, infrastructure, and essential services that the LDS Church obtains with its tithing. And yet Romney abhors taxes, but willing pays his tithing. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Romney, in 2010 and 2011 alone, “paid about $4.1 million to the LDS Church. That’s in addition to about $4.8 million his Tyler Charitable Foundation donated to the faith.”

Certainly, there are differences between LDS tithing and taxes. Though tithing is a religious commandment, it is still (sort of) voluntary, whereas state-imposed taxes are not.  Tithing is only “sort of” voluntary in this sense: a member who fails to tithe is denied entrance to the Mormon Temple and is refused other additional blessings, such as getting married for eternity and not just "until death do you part." So, while a member can elect to not tithe, doing so results in the member being denied the faith’s full benefits.

Plus, the motivations for why someone might pay a tithing and for why someone might pay taxes are different: according to Mormon faith, God promises that he will “bless those who were willing to pay an honest tithe,” whereas paying taxes is mandated by earthly law. Also, one might argue that a church is the better forum in which to provide services such as rental assistance, whereas the government’s role is more limited.

But this lack of apples-to-apples comparison does not change my point.  Under both systems – tithing and taxes – the means accomplish the same intended end, which is to pool risk across a wide spectrum of people in order to advance the common good of the whole religious community and of the entire state. 

Romney is hypocritical to so vehemently sneer in the face of the concept that so many people hold, which is that the proper role for government is to accomplish those things that we cannot accomplish as individuals alone.  Just as Mormons feel it is their faith-based duty to pay tithing to benefit the larger LDS Church, we likewise have a moral and practical obligation, as citizens, to pay our fair share for those things that we cannot pay for individually. 


Trent Latta is an attorney who can be contacted at TrentLatta@gmail.com. He thanks his devoted Mormon friend S. for verifying the factual statements made in this piece regarding Mormonism. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jon H October 22, 2012 at 05:16 AM
Let's not confuse charity with government. Charity is a personal decision given freely. If I don't pay my due to the government, it will demand payment at the threat of loss of freedom. If you don't believe me, give it a try... 16 Trillion in debt is a very scary proposition. GW Bush screwed up and Obama doubled down on every failure that GW did and added his own as icing on the mess. This will get paid off by inflation, taxes and reductions in spending. The entire discussion of tax rate percentages and which group pays is missing the point. The question should be how do we grow the economy so that the economic pie is bigger, not implementing anti-growth policies that shrink economic activity. The biggest moral tragedy is that the 'social safety net' of Medicare and Social Security represents the largest budget items and they are fiscally unsound. All of the crying about these programs being cut misses the real issue. People should not be told that the government is going to provide for their retirement. My generation (under 40) is going to get screwed by the current one as their hippy butts live high on their pensions and government checks while I am planing to get nickled and dimed for the rest of my life and have no expectation of the 'golden watch' at 65. Romney isn't my first choice, but I doubt the country could take much more change than what he proposes. It will take years to fix this mess.
Jon H October 22, 2012 at 05:52 AM
Also, in response to some comments earlier that made incorrect or ill-informed statements about tax rates. Top Marginal Rates: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=213 http://seekingalpha.com/article/189189-u-s-dividend-cap-gains-tax-rate-history-possible-relevance-to-future-taxation Probably most interesting: http://taxfoundation.org/blog/top-20-percent-households-pay-94-percent-income-taxes Just about any change to tax rates will result in a cut to the top and increase to others since the top already pays most of the bill in the first place. I can tell you that I personally am not choosing to receive any more income due to the punitive treatment I experienced last year with the AMT. The fact that I am choosing not to expose myself to any additional taxation is going to drop revenue by that amount no matter the tax rate. This plays out at a macro scale and is one of the reasons why increasing tax rates doesn't work. Look at it this way: If Monday your work is taxed at 10%, Tuesday 20%, Wednesday 30%, Thursday 40% and Friday at 50%, do you show up on Friday?
Edwin October 22, 2012 at 05:14 PM
This article implies Romney should be for more taxes to give to the poor. The person above states it just right. When you are in need in the Mormon Church people come to your aid and you are expected to pull your weight. What about all those unemployemnt and welfare recipeints? Are they working for their benifits? Most tithes in Christiain Churches are 10%. What is the Gov't tithe in terms of total tax rate? Much higher is the obvious answer. And who is a better Mormon? Harry Reid or Mitt Romney? How much has Obama and Biden given of themselves and net worth to charity compared to Romney who gave his inheritiance. The left demonizes Romney who earned his money yet say nothing about the rich Kennedey's who inheritied their money from a bootlegger. And John Kerry who married money. I'll take the first guy any day What do most economist say? 4 cuts to one tax increase. This was Simpson Bowles too. Once again Trent cannot provide any intellgent argument as to why anyone should vote for Obama. Maybe it is to promote more viable grren energy companies and coddle up to the Muslim Brotherhood Vote Gary Johnson the only one to address the tax system in general. But if you are in a swing State vote Romney or we will have more of the same painful 4 years of tax the rich and let our enemies and trading partners trample us worldwide.
Dave Beedon October 23, 2012 at 06:26 AM
Employee, I wasn't offended, just annoyed. The article had an interesting premise and that is what I was hoping to learn more about. Name-calling doesn't add anything to the discussion, it merely gets in the way. Besides, what good does it do anyone?
Gail October 24, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Since when are taxes and tithing the same? As some have clearly explained, they are not the same. A simple example: When was the last time that tithing money was used to build an aircraft carrier? To those with a smarter mind, all it takes is one example to disprove a statement. Even Trent clearly explained the difference and then denies it in his fictional universe - thank God for his Mormon friend for that one. Thank the Devil for Trent's confusing and incorrect interpretation. Here it is again - it's simple: "Plus, the motivations for why someone might pay a tithing and for why someone might pay taxes are different: according to Mormon faith, God promises that he will “bless those who were willing to pay an honest tithe,” whereas paying taxes is mandated by earthly law. Also, one might argue that a church is the better forum in which to provide services such as rental assistance, whereas the government’s role is more limited."


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