Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Is a Tithe Charity?

[Disclaimer: I know that the OT does not link a 10% tithe to charity. It is intended for the use of the temple, whatever that entails. ]

Tithing and charity are inexorably tied in our culture. In praising evangelicals for their generosity, Nicholas Kristof obliquely uses tithing to prove his point:
Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. [emphasis added]
My wife and I have endeavored through the years to target as close to 10% of our income to charity as we can manage. We often fall short but we persevere. In keeping with my in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound policy I have agreed to make a significant portion of that a church donation. But how much of my "tithe" is actually charity?

No one says the word "charity" and means that they expect something back for their investment. At least they hope that no one thinks they mean that! But as far as I can tell, most of what individuals give to the church goes to services that directed back to it’s members in the form of facilities, activities and programs. Our church spends more than half of it’s budget on staff which invest only a small fraction of their efforts outside the membership of the church. I have struggled to determine how much of my contribution actually goes to “charitable” purposes, weighing ministry to the needs of the congregation and outreach to the community against stained glass windows and gymnasiums.

I have not been deep into the budget of our local church but I did find this quote interesting:
I was a deacon (before I was an atheist) in a respected conservative Christian church. Our budget was about $850,000. Most of it went for staff salaries, maintenance and expansion of church property, church programs like youth groups, missionaries, denomination dues, Christian school assistance and other internal needs. I remember about $35,000 going to community organizations which I would call charities...

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