Damned if you tithe and damned if you don’t

Lost in the kerfuffle over Mitt Romney’s tax returns is a sorry story about how Americans’ (including good church folks) have come to think about charitable giving.

When a family of limited means is faithful in tithing a full 10 percent, we cheer. Nothing beats a good widow and her mite story for warming hearts. But if the family is tithing from a multi-million dollar income, well that’s another matter. We’re less sure of our response when it’s someone from the “rich young ruler” class who’s acting generously.

Never mind that the Gospel record includes examples of well-to-do folks whose heart and treasure were in the right place. We get the mite part, but miss the message about extreme generosity.

As blogger David Griggs writes: “Churchgoers like to think of themselves as generous and cheerful givers, but for many the flesh appears to be weak when it comes to living up to their own standards for charitable giving.” He cites one gloomy study after another, all documenting the sorry state of giving by church-goers in the U.S.

I WISH I MAY, I WISH I MITE

Despite knowing they should give more, the majority of Christ-followers don’t, but then say they do.  “In one indication of the gap between perception and reality, 10 percent of the respondents to a generosity survey reported tithing 10 percent of their income to charity although their records showed they gave $200 or less,” Griggs writes.

Fortunately, no one’s asking for our tax records. The truth of our giving could be damning.

Which brings me back to Mitt Romney and his returns. Buried in all the numbers is a record of 10 percent (or more) giving. The Romneys describe this as  a “personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.”

Keeping their tax returns to themselves is a matter of faith, they say. But some folks aren’t buying it, including the editorial team over at the Nonprofit Quarterly blog.

As they see it, “. . . if you want to be president of the United States, you have to be willing to accept a higher degree of scrutiny than your standard charitable donor. . . that the public’s need to get a clear picture of a potential president (Swiss bank accounts and all) trumps the public interest in protecting donor anonymity.”

In other words, when political rhetoric is running hot, you’re as likely to be damned for tithing as for not. Which makes these strange times for all who believe that generous matters, all the time and for all of us.

What's your take on this topic?

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