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January 24th, 2012
04:50 PM ET

Romney tax returns shine light on Mormon tithing

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – Although many Americans may have wondered just how much money Mitt Romney makes and how much he pays in taxes in the lead-up to the release Tuesday of his tax documents, there was little suspense around how much he gives to his church.

That's because all Mormons in good standing with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are required to give 10% of their salaries as a tithe.

"Mormon children are expected to begin tithing from their very first allowance," says Terryl Givens, an expert on Mormonism at the University of Richmond. "And there's never any variation on the 10%, whether you're on welfare or you're a millionaire."

Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, gave even more to their church last year. Tax documents released Tuesday show they gave $2.6 million, more than 12% of the roughly $21 million they earned. The Romneys also gave $1.4 million last year in cash and stock to their family foundation, which heavily supports the LDS Church.

In 2010, the other year for which the Romneys released a federal tax return, they gave $1.5 million to the LDS church, 7% of their earnings, plus $900,000 to their family foundation, called the Tyler Foundation.

The Tyler Foundation gave $145,000 to the LDS church in 2010, so the Romneys' church donations average out to 10% over the last two years.

Unlike in most Christian traditions, in which the decision about whether to tithe is made individually by each church member, giving to the LDS Church is enforced. Participation in important ceremonies at Mormon temples is contingent on being paid up.

"For Mormons, tithing is an article of faith, not an economic principal," said Givens, who is Mormon. "Some critics see it as tying worthiness to an economic contribution."

He calls it "an important differentiator between devout Mormons and nominal Mormons."

A survey of American Mormons released earlier this month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that eight in 10 say they tithe to the church.

Tithing dates back to the earliest Mormons, with the LDS Church's 19th century founder, Joseph Smith, drawing on the Bible's Old Testament as precedent for 10% church support. Smith also wrote about tithing in the Doctrine and Covenants, a Mormon holy book comprising Smith's revelations from God.

For early Mormons, tithing was as much practical as theological. As the early Mormon community journeyed from state to state across America, often on the run from persecution, tithing was an important way for the community to sustain itself.

"Early Mormons were outcasts from society and suffered extreme deprivation and they needed to take care of themselves and take care of the church on a day-to-day basis," Givens said. "To this day, Mormons are known for taking care of their own."

Today, tithing finances the administration of the Salt Lake City, Utah-based LDS Church, the construction of Mormon temples - which are rapidly proliferating as Mormonism grows worldwide - and the church-owned Brigham Young University.

Mormons are also encouraged to give separately to their local congregations and to a church humanitarian fund that goes to international relief projects. The church urges Mormons to fast on the first Sunday of each month and to donate the cost of the food they would typically eat to the humanitarian fund.

An informal 2011 survey by the National Association of Evangelicals found that most evangelical leaders on its 100-person board of directors don't believe the Bible requires tithing. Just 42% of the board members said that is true.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Mitt Romney • Money & Faith • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (1,579 Responses)
  1. Limousine Service San Francisco

    I am really impressed with your writing skills and also with the format to your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it your self? Anyway stay up the nice quality writing, it's rare to peer a great blog like this one today..

    April 22, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  2. Twitter Expert

    naturally like your website however you need to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very troublesome to inform the truth however I'll definitely come back again.

    April 13, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  3. Iqbal khan

    Watch all three parts.... and U be the judge....

    February 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  4. Lorraine

    Bill and Nic, yes we are all suppose to give and help others but when its done there is indifference, and greed done only the chaff trickels down, not the wheat i.

    February 10, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Lorraine

      Nice and James, religion was designed to rule over many as prophesied it would in Daniel 11v39 of strange gods of the 4th kingdom the end times in Daniel 2v40. Aland j.Smith is a fraud of vanities prophesied in JEREMIAH 10, that it would be, the way of the heathen, and not of YHWH, He is spiritual, and of righteousness to all Np matter the skin. We are under the ones in dominion, man (Satan) controlling the

      Masses, cursed from leaving YHWH the only savior and redeemer in Isaiah 49v26 and Isaiah 60v16.

      February 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  5. Lorraine

    Cheesecake, first you say all religions are manmade, for which this I do agree. All religions are idolatry prophesied in Deut. 32v17, by Moses, from the Heavenly Creator. But, to let you know the word Amen is pagan and idolatry it was the Egyptian praise for their sun gods, amen rah, and amen sirapus. Christianity uses it from its offshoot of Judaism of the 3rd kingdom. The proper praise of our Creator YHWH is Selah, its used in Psalms as to raise and lift up. Look it up.

    February 10, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  6. DenverJ

    I have mormon friends and mormon co-workers. They have a great social "safety net" for their poorest members and for those other mormons in need. However, as a rule the LDS, unlike many other christian organizations, do not seek to offer general aid to those outside of their organization.

    February 7, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • StephanieJ

      The LDS Church Welfare system is available only to members. It is temporary help until members get back on their financial feet. In return, those who receive help are encouraged to volunteer at the Church canneries, farms, and other facilities. However, before you say that the Church does not offer aid to those outside of their organization, I would suggest that you review http://mormon.org/humanitarian-aid/

      February 8, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Matt

      This is the first, respectable, and polite comment on CNN today. Congrats. Both of you are not total trolls!! You have restored my 'faith' in humanity.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  7. LDSareChristian

    test

    February 6, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  8. Jo

    "And there's never any variation on the 10%, whether you're on welfare or you're a millionaire."

    So in other words, many of our taxpayer dollars that are supposed to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the poor are, in fact, going into the Mormon church coffers. Nice.

    February 6, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • Greg

      I am pretty sure that the Mormon Church donates a ton of money to the poor, sick, etc. My family, who is not Mormon, received plenty of assistance during hurricane Katrina. I tried to look it up, but the church did not even publicize their assistance. They like to help others on the down low, for one reason or another.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • Justin

      I'd rather pay 10% to my church than to the government. At least I know for sure that the money is being put to good use and isn't wasted on useless government programs.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Bill

      We are “to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or in any other, or in no church at all…” Joseph Smith, “Times and Seasons,” March 15, 1842. If you are interested in the humanitarian aid that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints provides, to to http://mormon.org/humanitarian-aid?gclid=CKf46ampja4CFUFN4AodxCYegQ and find out for yourself.

      February 7, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Tim

      Could you clarify? What do you mean taxpayer's money is going to Mormon coffers. Your comment seems like a dig at the church however doesn't make any sense.

      February 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Josh

      We should also note that he over paid the church by 2% but he did not over pay the government. He only payed 13% in capital gains tax which is 2% lower then the standard capital gains tax. Is it possible that he is hiding income from the government and not his church which has a strict 10% code. 21 million claimed as income. 2.6 million given to church. hmmmm

      February 13, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  9. Alex

    I think its respectable that a uber-successful businessman like Romney is willing to give 10% to his church because of his beliefs.

    February 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  10. Bill Fitzgerald

    Nic, Where does all good and right come from? God thats who. And where does all bad and evil come from? Satin and his followers thats who. It really is that simple.

    February 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • JJ

      Yes, that Satin is a silky smooth devil of a guy.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Christina

      Could you learn to spell and use proper punctuation? It's really difficult to take you seriously when you can't even spell Satan properly.

      February 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  11. James

    Joseph smith didn't found the Church.
    mormon.org

    February 6, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  12. Nic

    Religion was developed to keep the ignorant ignorant and the rich rich. It's so sad to see how many people live their lives according to what a book has to say about the way they should live. Lead a good life and be a good person. You don't need a religion to tell you how to do that.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • sean

      Do you even know human history? Heard of the Greeks or the Romans? These cultures were immersed in pagan practices, and before you wag your judgmental finger, grouping all so-called religions into a box you must consider that people like Oprah and ellen who start their own cults are all the Benjamin's too, but you would never consider "gurus" in business attire to cult/ religious standing because you like what they have to say. Other groups that could fall under a religion category: atheism, sports, republicans and democrats. Don't stick it to God's people who live the Bible and are peaceful, and throw them into the fire with charlatans, crooks and thieves and say they are all the same because they are not.

      February 6, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Greg

      Mormon leaders are not paid, from what I have read. It's all volunteer work on top of their careers. I think their missionaries are an exception, but I believe they pay their own way.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:23 am |
    • Will

      @ Greg – Clergy, including missionaries, are not paid. Most missionaries in fact pay their own way at a cost of $425 a month for 18 to 24 months. Other missionaries who's families or themselves are less capable of paying their own way are sent into the mission field from donations by members.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Tim

      Sean, I think I might have clicked "report abuse" when I was trying to comment on what you said. What I wanted to say was that your comment was well put and rational.....something that I can't say for others that love to post their hateful blurbs. I love how people are so quick to point out the "injustices" caused by religion but don't stop to think of the wonderful, loving, kind, and charitable things people have done in the name of religion. These postives probably outweight the negative examples 1000 to 1 or more.

      February 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  13. How much?

    Lots of comments about 10%. Just curious, what do you think the 'going rate' should be for this type of charitable contribution? What would you consider reasonable and customary?

    February 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.