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. Jon

    Givens no doubt said "principle".

    January 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  2. Aaron

    We think the rich are getting subsidized by the government, wait until Romney pushes through a ton of W Bush-like legislation to subsidize the already super-rich Mormon Church. They'll feel like they fallen into a bottomless honey hole.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  3. Tim

    Why is the fact that he is a Mormon?? He gave a great deal of money to a religious charity, period. Which religion he gave it to his his business.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  4. Jason D


    January 24, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Abinadi

      No, we let other people into our church, Jason. I'll be happy to come out there and baptize you myself.

      January 24, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  5. Jason D

    And romney gives no money to any charity other then mormon...that says a lot obout his so called understanding americans..even christian donors tend to give to other none christian charities...but romney doesnt associate with that mentality but says hes one of the people..apparently only one of the mormon people and doesnt give a damn about anyone not mormon...like 99% of the people but considering hes one of the 1%, it appears he loves only 1% of people....so lets the other 99% of us not support him

    January 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • BFin

      Did you pay any attention to His Tax return? he gave to MS and a Cancer charity, and also boys club.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Abinadi

      I donate to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because it is a 100% volunteer organization. Unlike other charities where often 90% of your money goes to pay people's salaries, I know that 100% of my money will be used as I intended.

      January 24, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  6. Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

    If God is real, why is the offering plate passed? If you read these verses in the Bible, you can see that God claims to be extremely powerful and willing to answer any prayer:

    • Matthew 7:7
    • Matthew 17:20
    • Matthew 21:21
    • Mark 11:24
    • John 14:12-14
    • Matthew 18:19
    • Mark 9:23
    • Luke 1:37

    Why don't the priests, preachers, ministers and deacons of the church gather together every Sunday morning and pray to Jesus for the money they need? Why doesn't Jesus answer their prayers? Why do churches have to beg for money from mere mortals when there is an immortal, all-powerful God who should provide anything they ask for? Here is what "God" is saying:

    Pray to me for anything and I will hear and answer your prayers. I say it in dozens of places in the Bible, but I like the way I say it in Mark 11:24 the best: "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Anything you need - money, love, happiness, you name it - I am here to provide it for you.

    Now, there is just one thing I need in return. I need your money. I need lots of your money. The Bible specifies that you ti-the ten percent of your income to me, but think of that as a starting point. Feel free to give more!

    Because even though I created the universe and everything in it, and even though I will give you everything you ask for in prayer, I can't give a cent to any church, ever. When they pass the offering plate at church, be sure to give generously!

    This, of course, is ridiculous.

    The reason why they pass the offering plate at church is because God is imaginary.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Shot the Lame Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

      As usual, you are too inebriated to understand a major point of following the Messiah's teaching: use our bounty-whatever it is–to help others in need so they are lifted. Many have a bounty of reason. . . . . you do not. . . . . . hope you choose to use some soon.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • j

      And you, as most theists do, fail to understand the point that Horse made: if God is all-powerful, why does he need mortals to give him money to accomplish his "will"?

      January 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

      You can shoot me, but I just keep standing there staring with my stupid tongue sticking out. I never even blink.

      As far as the verse, sure cherry pick so it says what you want to say. I am just reading it and it seems pretty straight ahead to me. I can read.

      January 24, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  7. Sanity

    Generally, liberals do not understand charitable donations because they do not practice it. Read the book "Who Really Cares" to get the scientific facts about conservative and liberal donation practices.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • dgkdgk

      Your post is laughable.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Shot the Lame Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

      No, dog cra(dkgdkgk), his post is accurate. Stunningly so.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

      Funny that you started off your generalization with the actual word "generally" Nicely done. Well I am a liberal and I give till it hurts every year, as any good American should do in my opinion.

      January 24, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  8. dgkdgk

    Do you think he used TurboTax or went to H&R Block?

    January 24, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  9. Abinadi

    How many people in the United States are as generous as Mr. Romney? He is not out living the high life and cheating on his wife, he is trying to make the world a better place to live. This is not only a very smart man, he is a good man – one we can trust!

    January 24, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • dgkdgk

      Gag me. And, he's a man who abused his dog, Seamus. Google it. Romney is a two-faced monster.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Chris

      Are you stupid or something? Not out living the high life? I call 42.7 million dollars living the high life. You're devoid of thought and living in a fantasy. Romney is nothing more than another stingy rich person who think's he's above everyone else, this is why he does not connect to voters. Sure he's going to give to that occult known as the LDS. I've been to school with a lot of those LDS'ers and they are loonier than Sally Field was in the movie Sybil.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Tom

      Give me a break! He is Mr 1% or .05 %. Ask yourself who is Joseph Smith? That's Mr Romney!

      January 24, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  10. Dan J

    Dollar for dollar, even if you ignore the donations to the Mormon Church, Romney donated a bigger percentage of his income than candidate Obama and candidate Gingrich combined. That should be a headline.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • risky

      If romney donated a total of 14% to charity, and is supposed to donate 10% to his church. Doesnt that mean he only did an actual donation of 4% to god knows what else?

      Obama also donated 14%. But I bet Obama donated only to the needy, not some money hording church.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • dgkdgk

      Yeah, Risky – and, think of how embarrassed the people are going to be for donating all that money to an organization designed by man that worships some invisible magical man in the sky who never really existed anyway?!!

      January 24, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  11. Why I stopped reading CNN

    I love this headline, "shine light" as if there is something dubious about a Biblical practice that many Christians adhere to. The amped-up, sensational headlines are a joke! CNN loves it though–more readers. More money. A wealthy man is running for president and people are freaking out about it yet at the same time they profess the deepest veneration for our Founding Fathers–some of whom (Washington for certain) were immensely wealthy. Many were also quite religious. Get over it.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • j

      You stopped reading CNN? You sure could have fooled me.

      January 24, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  12. Tano

    @The Phist Romney is NOT paid by the Church. There's an awesome English immersion program in Massachusetts you may find very helpful.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • The Phist

      And, uh, where did I say he was paid by the church?

      You should do some research on reading comprehension. Good going. Made an ass of yourself again. I'm pretty much going to ignore the rest of your stupid comments unless you can post something legitimate. Otherwise, you're wasting your time with your ignorance.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  13. Sanity

    Harry Reid was Mormon of the Year in 2009, so he probably gives to the same evil church. I'll bet Dirty Harry takes the deduction on his taxes.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  14. Notice some real idiots on this comment board today

    Most of you should quit drinking so early in the day. . . . . . . and push away from the keyboard. . . . . . . . you can come back again-should you EVER gain an education and a sense of reason. You need to get dressed anyway–your kid sister wants you to drive her to the abortion clinic–to take care of YOUR problem.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  15. Rob Biley

    The article makes it sound like Mormons are a Christian sect (it says unlike other Christian sects) Many religious experts and lay people would beg to differ. Mormons are not Christians and Mormonism is not an Christian sect even if they had added Jesus Christ in their name. They dont belive in any of the basic Christian principles. That does not mae them any less of a people. It is like calling Alawites of Syria, Muslims although taht's what they like to be seen by outsiders but they are not Muslims. If Mormons are Christains and Jews are Christians too.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • TownC

      Mormons believe that only through Christ is salvation possible. They also believe in trying to follow the example of Jesus Christ in their daily lives. Go to Mormon.org for the truth about what Mormons believe.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • Feris

      You're wrong. Mormons make faith in Jesus Christ as the centralizing principle of their practice. Do Jews?

      January 24, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Dan J

      Ummm, most branches of Christianity officially recognize Mormonism as a legitimate Christian denomination.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Cllgestdnt

      This might be too much history and information, but the LDS church takes on an organizational structure very similar to that in the Bible that Jesus set up. Many modern Christians of other faiths, (who are all very good people) tend to take belief of what occurred three centuries after Christ's presence in the old world. (Nicene creed). All things being said, Mormons are Christians, as well as all those who believe in and try to live after Christ's example. People of faith really need to stop trying to bring each other down.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • j

      Mormons also believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob and that every man (and only men) that worships him will be given their own planet to rule over in the "afterlife."

      Sounds crazy? Look it up.

      January 24, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  16. risky

    It is the year 2057; the United States has been under Republican Presidency since 2013. Current President: Romney Jr III.
    Unemployment has risen to 50% of the US population. The rich, now known as "The Selectors", hire personal body guards by the hundreds, and anyone else willing to throw away their dignity for money. These individuals are now known as "The Chosen", willing to take up any form of work the Selectors have available. But one absolute task every Chosen must abide; carry a firearm at all time, and protect their CEO and bosses with their lives.

    As products and services triple in price tag; the poor begin to slowly die one after another. Growing desperate by the day, the poor and unemployed take up arms. With a sense of power as they hold their guns, they rename themselves "The Exiled." With a fire in their heart and nothing to lose, they march forward.

    As civil war wages on between the Chosen and the Exiled, the Selectors retreat to the White House and cower behind Romney Jr Jr Jr. The air reeks of blood, and the floor painted crimson red. One Chosen realized he has killed an Exiled he once knew, his brother. One after another, the Chosens concluded that they were fighting for the wrong side. As more Chosens join the Exiled, victory for the unfortunate is within grasp. As swift as the wind, the newly formed alliance storms the White House and reclaimed their country.

    Deep within the White House's chambers, they find a vault with liquid nitrogen seeping out of the cracks. They open the vault and reach inside, pulling out a glass container RESERVING MITT ROMNEY'S FROZEN HEAD.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Mulehead

      HAHA!! Awesome post. They really are scary....people should wake up. It's not a church, it's a business...why do you see so many "I'm a Mormon" ads on TV. They're trying to do a PR shift to make them look legitimate. Again I'll ask the question – what happens if you're an LDS member and try to leave the church? Any takers??

      January 24, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • What

      I very much don't want this man as president, I don't like how he became so rich preying on weak companies and firing their employees. Corporations are not people, they are businesses that only care about profit no matter how they get it. In fact I only like Dr. Paul in the GOP field, the rest get under my skin but your little story here is as outrageous as the Mormon religion.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Whatever

      They let you... because they can't force you to stay? Seriously, what a stupid question.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Sanity

      Good essay. It should get Honorable Mention in your high school's contest.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Why I stopped reading CNN

      @ Mulehead–Um, if someone wants to leave the church....(dramatic pause)...they just do. end of story. my brother has and plenty of friends. what's your point? are you suggesting there is a van of Mormon goons trolling neighborhoods for them? Let me guess, you read it on the internet so it must be true?

      January 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Tano

      @risky whatever your job is, you should keep because as a fiction writer you'd be hard pressed to make a dime.
      @mulehead Nothing happens if you wanna leave the LDS Church, only in your head and @risky's something would happen to you. If you do not believe in the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, don't attend the Church. What else is going to happen according to you? We share the gospel because we want people to know of Christ and have a spiritual path in life, if you don't want that in your life, that's up to you. Please, don't make up nonsense that your ex-boyfriend told you, it doesn't become you! 😉

      January 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • John

      As someone who considers myself ex-mormon all that was required to leave was to simply stop attending. If I was anal retentive enough to care that they still list me as a member I could write a letter to the church office building on 50 N. Temple street in Salt Lake City asking to have my name removed from the roles. After a couple months I would receive a letter from the church indicating my name has been removed from the list of members. Ever so difficult, but who cares. There are a lot scarier religions out there than Mormons.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • risky

      I only did it for fun, it has nothing to do with religion really. You remember the word "fun" dont you? Something you can laugh about and enjoy? No? Oh well.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Mulehead

      @Why I stopped reading CNN
      Well that's good if your brother left and still has friends – I have several friends that lost everything, including businesses, once they made the decision to leave the church...so it's not just something i read on the internet. They prey on weakminded individuals. Period. No thinking human takes them or their beliefs seriously.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Mulehead

      @John – That's great you were able to leave without issue. So many others are not as fortunate as yourself in that regard. I would imagine it would be easier outside of Utah as well – so many posts on other forums from ex-LDS members that are tough to read, let alone imagine.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Not risky

      Hmm. . . having a problem with the math. How can unemployment rise to 50% if so many of the "Chosen" are employed as bodyguards and the poor are dying off so quickly? Seems like a pretty effective way of REDUCING unemployment to me.

      And while exchanging my dignity for money wouldn't be my first choice, I would certainly take that over giving it up for free as you have done by displaying your staggering ignorance. Perhaps you meant to share your apocalyptic trype in the chat room for whatever online game has led you to believe that becoming a level 47 Warlock is an actual accomplishment that real people care about.

      So sad to see you counted among the brainwashed liberals, who have been told that "the rich" are conspiring to keep them down to divert your attention from their core liberal philosophy - to increase their power and control through expanding government and reducing personal freedom, because they believe they are smarter than you and you are too dumb to decide what is best for you. Unfortunately, the tactic works, because there are people like you who post this garbage and demonstrate that they are incapable of rational thought.

      And while you distractedly whine about "haves" and "have nots," your champions are stealing your freedom of choice and increasing their control over you by making you more dependent on them. I pray you wake up to what's really going on before we're all hopelessly screwed.

      January 24, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  17. Lori

    While I am not a Mormon, I appreciate Romney's faith and loyalty to his church. I also appreciate his loyalty to his family. I don't care if he only paid 15% in taxes...why fault him? He didn't write the tax laws. He is paying what the tax laws require him to pay. I can't fault him for having his investments that he can write off and lower his tax rate. I am much happier supporting a man with family and church values than supporting a man who has cheated on his wives and has been proven to be a liar. Just my thoughts...

    January 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • No Ma'am

      Actually he did he write some of the tax laws that give him breaks. C'mon.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • Dan J

      Compare that giving to Obama when he was a candidate or Gingrich. You can argue tax fairness, but you can't argue genuine caring, and when it comes to giving, Romney is the only candidate that put his money where his mouth is.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  18. Thomas

    Mormon Mafia

    January 24, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  19. rinsac

    I don't think money given to churches should be counted as charitable donations.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • TownC

      Take away the tax exemption and you tear down the so called wall of separation of church and state. Religions who pay taxes can fully participate in partisan politics. If they pay they should have say in where the money goes.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Rich

      Did you know that the Mormons have some of the biggest food operations of any religions? In Houston they run a peanut butter cannery which they use to help poor people. They also own one of the biggest ranches in the country in Florida which they use to provide meat to needy people. They donate this to people in need. They also send humanitarian aid all around the world. On top of all this they help poor people pay their rent and keep their lights on. After hurricane Katrina they sent thousands of people to assist in the cleanup. So, how is this not worthy of being charitable?

      January 24, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Whatever

      No amount of good can convince anti-Mormons and atheists to take the LDS seriously. Shame, they do a lot of good.

      January 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  20. Brad Cole

    "Enforced"? Really. What, they come in my house, drag me off, infiltrate my records and drain my bank account–like the US Treasury does?? And the current Administration??

    January 24, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • JH

      LOL I almost fell out of my chair reading that! Thanks!

      January 24, 2012 at 9:02 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.