Thursday, July 07, 2011

Unitarians should tithe

"We say that revelation is not sealed but we often act as if our purses were."

John Clifford, Anniversary Service Sermon, 2003

Unitarians should tithe. Yes I said it. Let me say it again: Unitarians should give away 10% of their income.

Sound radical? Crazy? Controversial? If so maybe we should ask ourselves why.

Unitarianism is a radical liberal way of being religious. We say what matters is not what you believe but how we live our lives. We've signed up to the Charter of Compassion which speaks about restoring compassion to the centre of religion and morality. Well, what do we think that means? What concretely does it mean to have a faith based on love and compassion?

What it means is, amongst other things, is giving. Let me be clear that I'm not saying that people should give 10% of their income to their congregation. Between 1% and 5% I would think is OK. And the rest should be given to other charities and groups.

Unitarianism is not an easy religon. It should not be. It's a religion that asks you to transform your life to become rooted in deeper spirituality, love and justice (as any other religion worth its salt also does). It requires us to reject the values of materialism, violence and anger. One way we begin to do that is to give generously. Generosity is an essential spiritual practice.

Unitarians should tithe.


Anonymous Ian said...

Most Unitarians, like most other folks in the country, more than tithe, by a long way.

Remember that tithing comes from a context of religious government. We might, alternatively, call it tax.

"Tithing" as a 10% religious surtax, is an idea that is fair enough, and those who can afford it should certainly consider giving more money.

But it rather deflects the more important point. We are already giving more than a tithe, but those to whom we give it use it in ways that are not honorable. Tithing I rather think diverts our attention from enforcing the honorable use of the money we do give for the benefit of society.

12:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, here in the USA, Unitarian Universalists are among the least likely to tithe, per various surveys. Lot of reasons given for that - but it does seem that tithers are more likely to be working class folks, who believe in the work their church does.

11:26 am  
Blogger Ian said...

I would say that tithing should be from the disposable income (ie. after taxation to the government). Remember Jesus' admonition to "give to Caesar that which is Caesar's and to God that which is God's".

The government takes money to run the services we like to take for granted. The money people give to charity helps those who we choose to help. In choosing a charity, we take a responsibility to select a worthy cause. However, I don't agree that tithing is necessarily the way to go. Sometimes, you can help more by giving time rather than money. Tithing is perhaps a worthy goal, but it shouldn't be the be all and end all.

Stephen has given me, for one, something to think on though.

1:51 pm  
Anonymous Tim Moore said...

It could be said that it's easier for (middle class) Americans to tithe as a smaller percentage of the average income is taxed than in Europe, but that's another debate.

Interesting that UUs are least likely to tithe among American believers: perhaps tithing is viewed by liberals in the States as an oppresive device. Some socially conservative religions, such as the Mormons, refuse members access to certain important rituals and opportunities to serve, if they don't tithe.

I'm not against commitments to giving as a condition of membership, but I think Unitarian values are quite clear on the expectation to tithe:
1. It must be completely voluntary,
2. It must not be a barrier to participation in a community.
3. It should be on the individual's terms how much one donates.

Individual conscience should also be allowed to discern not only how much is given, but also how to contribute to a congregation, which could be of means, time, and/or some other donation in kind. These aspects should always be included in the discussion, as well as the stewardship of the congregational leaders who administer individuals' giving.

8:33 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

@Ian, I know tithing has a historical connection with taxation. But I don't consider that a get out clause. I'm talking about voluntary giving as a core spiritual practice.

Jesus was very clear (and I for one think he was right) that money is a barrier to real spiritual progress. The only way to remove our anxiety and the bounds money has on us is to give away as much of it as we can. 10% is a good guidance mark, but frankly what matters is not hwo much we give but how much we leave behind. What we should leave behind is only as much as we really need. This is what "give us today our daily bread" means - just enough for bread today.

9:11 am  
Blogger Leigh said...

I think that the way we use money reflects our values and principles as well.
I guess our bank statement and the contents of our shopping baskets could say a lot about these types of choices.
On the point of tithing:
My congregation, Newington Green and Unity, decided to ditch subscription based membership last year.

We now have a pledge system and it seems to have made everyone more aware of their commitments towards the community. Most members moved over to giving by standing order and this freed up our collections for charitable uses.

We now nominate charities for our collections and this is announced at the service.

This means that collectively we donate a significant amount each year to various outside causes.

Maybe this idea, or something similar, could or has taken off elsewhere

2:43 am  

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