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.