I was directed toward a review of a book, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money. The review mentions has poorly American Christians donate. Some of the numbers:
If just the “committed Christians” (defined as those who attend church at least a few times a month or profess to be “strong” or “very strong” Christians) would tithe, there would be an extra 46 billion dollars a year available for kingdom work. To make that figure more concrete, the authors suggest dozens of different things that $46 billion would fund each year: for example, 150,000 new indigenous missionaries; 50,000 additional theological students in the developing world; 5 million more micro loans to poor entrepreneurs; the food, clothing and shelter for all 6,500,000 current refugees in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East; all the money for a global campaign to prevent and treat malaria; resources to sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide. Their conclusion is surely right: “Reasonably generous financial giving of ordinary American Christians would generate staggering amounts of money that could literally change the world.”
Chapter 2 outlines the dismal reality of what American Christians actually give. Twenty percent of American Christians (19 percent of Protestants; 28 percent of Catholics) give nothing to the church. Among Protestants, 10 percent of evangelicals, 28 percent of mainline folk, 33 percent of fundamentalists, and 40 percent of liberal Protestants give nothing. The vast majority of American Christians give very little–the mean average is 2.9 percent. Only 12 percent of Protestants and 4 percent of Catholics tithe.
A small minority of American Christians give most of the total donated. Twenty percent of all Christians give 86.4 percent of the total. The most generous five percent give well over half (59.6 percent) of all contributions. But higher-income American Christians give less as a percentage of household income than poorer American Christians. In the course of the 20th century, as our personal disposable income quadrupled, the percentage donated by American Christians actually declined.
What exactly does it mean to tithe? While I haven’t read this latest book for their definition, typically, “to tithe” means to give 10% of your income. We most commonly see “tithing” in the context of the Old Testament in various forms. As Christians, we are not subject to the law strictly, but as we believe that all we have belongs to God, we are bound to contribute back toward the greater good. In some circles, 10% is considered the ideal, in others the baseline for giving back.
My wife and I decided to literally tithe, giving 10% of our pre-tax income away.
Where to give? Do give it all to the church? No. Canon 222 states that as faithful, we have two particular financial obligations: to support the Church and to support the poor. We have discerned that means roughly 5% should go to the Church and 5% should go elsewhere.
Since “the Church” is both the local parish and the local diocese (through their annual appeal), we have decided to give 4% to our parish and 1% to the diocese. The remaining 5% is split among a number of organizations including our parish’s monthly second collection for charity, Meals on Wheels, Casa Juan Diego. We deviate from the 5% for church and 5% for others as we give to a religious order and to the Peter’s Pence out of the 5% for others.
For us, 10% is a sacrifice. Before getting married, I gave what I thought was a fair amount to the parish through our parish’s monthly automatic giving program. When we sat down with a calculator and our paystubs, I was shocked how little I was actually giving. After adjusting to consider only my income, I only gave less than 1% of my income to church and a much lower amount to other charities.
Years down the road, we may be blessed with the financial capacity that 10% is no longer a sacrifice. If that day ever comes, I pray that we’ll realize our blessings and give even more back toward the greater good.
Whether or not you can donate 10% of your income isn’t the point. Are you purposeful in your giving? Do you actually pray and ask God to help guide you in your donation decisions? Do you give your first fruits (i.e. give to others when your paycheck arrives, or do you wait to see what’s left before the next payday)? If you’re married, have you had a conversation about what causes you think are important and worthy of your donations? Have you discussed why you think they’re important?
Tip of the hat to The Deacon’s Bench for bringing this book to my attention.