Gordon Monson: Do Latter-day Saints have to buy their way into heaven with tithing? Asking for … um, a friend.

Should members have to pay up to get in — whether to a temple or to the Celestial Kingdom?

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Tithing in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always been a curious commandment to me … um, to a friend of mine. Maybe to you, too. Money is supposedly filthy lucre, or, at least, of this world, not of heavenly reaches and realms. I mean, render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s, right?

But tithing blurs that line in a profound way. Is Caesar’s coin also God’s coin? Furthermore, when it comes to finances and faith, shouldn’t a freewill offering be the result of free will? No lecturing, prodding or shaming.

It’s all reminiscent of comedian George Carlin’s irreverent bit regarding religion and money.

He said about God: “He loves you, and he needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money. Religion takes in billions of dollars. They pay no taxes, and they always need a little more.”

If that’s a bit rough and rugged for your faith sensitivities, it is worth pausing for a thought or two or 2 billion.

Why does God ask for money?

The Almighty certainly does in the Latter-day Saint tradition. There have been times in the church’s history when cash was tough to come by and every little bit counted. But in a religion that not just believes in ongoing revelation to prophets and apostles but also stresses it in a major way, times have changed. The church’s fortunes (emphasis on fortunes) have changed, too. This particular religion has an estimated $100 billion, maybe even $150 billion, in its reserves — with more in other vaults.

So the same outfit that once was cash poor and in desperate need is now richer than Egypt’s old King Farouk.

Tithing and temples

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Richmond Virginia Temple, which was dedicated Sunday, May 7, 2023. Columnist Gordon Monson asks: Should temple admittance be tied to tithing?

The church now has, as the saying goes, more money than God. That’s a curious thing.

If it’s true, then why are church members, in order to be in good standing, taught to fork over 10% of their income every year? It’s hardly an original question. It’s been asked before or most assuredly whispered or wondered about, even in church hallways.

Think it over: You have a church that holds in its possession more land than all but a handful of landowners in the entire country. But that same organization, in God’s name, asks for a not insignificant percentage of the income earned by Sister Thompson, a faithful single mom with three kids, working 40 hours a week to make $30,000 a year to keep a roof over her family’s head and her children fed and clothed. And by Brother Perkins, who makes $50K, and wants to help pay for his teenagers’ college educations. Should they go into debt to pay bills, to give their family opportunities so they can also pay their tithing?

Does God need their money, too, because the portfolio of $150 billion might slip to, say, $148 billion in any given year? And when the bulls run and that stock portfolio jumps to $200 billion over the same span, Sister Thompson and Brother Perkins, to keep their temple recommends, still are required to shell out their 10%? Should temple admission be connected to money in any circumstance? Really? Does that sound like the way God works?


Proponents of the principle of tithing say that if members pay it, they are putting their faith in God as they give their money to the people who run their church, and that the heavens bless them for it, sometimes with financial favor, sometimes with blessings of other kinds.

But buying favor from God — or is it buying your way into heaven? — feels unseemly. After all, it’s what’s in the heart and soul that counts, not in the wallet.

The church’s holdings, meanwhile, grow and grow and grow.

Dollars and sense

(Andrew Harnik | AP ) This Aug. 5, 2017, file photo, shows the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission building in Washington. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its investment arm paid a $5 million fine to the SEC for failing to properly disclose past stock holdings.

So, here I am … um, my friend is … a Latter-day Saint who pays tithing, asking questions about that commandment. Not trying to alter anyone’s belief here, not trying to rebel against the church, just trying to process it all, to have it make sense.

Nonbelievers will say it’s a cunning scam, a corporation masquerading as a religion. What do believers say?

Many of them fall in line. Follow God’s command, heed church leaders, they reason, and it will all work out. The church might be God’s, but it’s the way of this terrestrial existence to have men and women, mostly men, run the operation on Earth. Yes, it’s imperfect because humans are imperfect. But they are the ones who, as a matter of practicality and of building faith, God has left in charge.

They agree God doesn’t so much need your money. Instead, they say you need to pay him your money to demonstrate your belief, to expand your faith, to enable blessings to flow forth that would otherwise be inaccessible.

The church tries to downplay its wealth, even hiding it, in some cases, as demonstrated by the shenanigans perpetrated by church investors that prompted a recent federal investigation and subsequent fines of the faith and its investment arm.

In the end, maybe Latter-day Saint leaders view all this as good for God’s kingdom and, in turn, good for believers’ earthly and eternal prospects. But if sacrificing dollars is for our own good and to show God some goodness, would it be OK for members to donate what amounts to their tithing, or some portion of it, to other worthy causes, to charitable needs they see at home, in their community, their country, and all around the globe? Would God object to that? Should that keep you out of the temple or heaven?

Moreover, should the church give more than it already does — and, granted, it does give much (more than $1 billion last year alone) to many worthy causes — to those who find themselves in pain, suffering from hunger and homelessness and hopelessness?

Does God — all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, all-wise — really need money? Does God need Sister Thompson’s and Brother Perkins’ money, more than their kids need their money? Do the believers need to forthrightly give it — or much of it — to one particular organization, a wealthy outfit worth billions and billions and billions, in exchange for their eternal well-being and welfare? Does it buy a nonstop ticket to God’s great glory?

Money, money, money, money, money.

Not rebelling here, simply asking, again, for a friend, trying to understand.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Columnist Gordon Monson.