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Let’s Settle This Later: the Tithing Settlement Issue

It’s that glorious time of year: Warm Christmas greetings, reflecting on the birth of the Savior, good will abounding, music filling the air, gifts from the heart, parties with family and friends, happy children, and my favorite holiday tradition of all…tithing settlement.

This isn’t a post so much about the merits of tithing settlement, but rather the timing of it; although, if I’m being really honest I have never been a fan of tithing settlement at all. I find it to be really awkward to sit in a formal setting with my bishop and talk about something so personal as money. If there wasn’t a paper sitting there with a number on it I might feel a little different, but I always half expect the bishop to say, “Really, that’s all you made this year after working 4 jobs between you?”

With other worthiness issues, we don’t schedule a specific meeting to make a settlement. Can you imagine the sign up for our yearly “Law of Chastity” settlement or the “Family Relations” settlement? I’m still a little unsure why we can’t account for our tithing worthiness in a temple recommend interview, for example. But I digress…back to the issue of the timing of tithing settlement. 

This year as I was standing at “THE LIST” to sign up for tithing settlement and finding almost nothing that would work for us, the ward clerk and I started having a little discussion about the timing of tithing settlement. He told me that they received a letter saying they were not to start tithing settlement before November 15, and must be finished by December 31. I told him that I have never understood why they choose what is the busiest time of the year (anyone else here a music person? December is crazy!) for many people to make an accounting of something that isn’t even completed yet for the year. He told me, “it isn’t about the accounting, it’s about the intent.”

So, I decided to do a little investigating, and I have come to the belief that it is about the accounting, based on the fact that they do have tithing settlement at a different time of year in parts of the world with a different tax date. I am assuming the purpose of a December settlement is so that everyone can make sure their tithing has been recorded accurately while they still have a chance to do something about it in the tax year. There is an easy solution to that, which I’ll cover in a moment.

Which leads me to this: In my mind it’s either about the accounting, or it is about the accountability (i.e. worthiness, intent, etc.), or both.

If it’s about accounting, why not give each member their printout at the first part of December (or even better, make it accessible to members online so they can check it through the year to make sure it is accurate.) Then, in January when the tax year is actually over and the world has slowed down, we can sit down with our bishop and truly say that we were or were not full tithe payers that year. Hey, he could even give us our final tax statement at that meeting instead of the ward clerk handing them out at church or mailing them.

If it’s about accountability, could that not take place any time of year? Again, I think January is a fantastic time for an accountability interview if the church wants to have a formal tithing settlement. January is so long, cold, and boring. Most of us have ample free time that we did not have in December. Besides, most of us are making resolutions at this time of year. Thus, the perfect time to meet with our bishop about our commitment to live the law of tithing.

If voting were allowed in the church, I would vote for January tithing settlement.

Until then, I’m just glad that my bishop opened up December 31 this year!

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Paul 2 December 29, 2011, 8:46 am

    In the current system, bishops have a 31 January deadline for when they send in a report of tithing status. This means that many of them will accept an email or verbal report in January and factor that into their report. You can call the shots, if you are willing to say “Not yet.”

  • CJ December 29, 2011, 9:07 am

    Great ideas – I love your suggestions. Unfortunately, I think there are plenty of people in every ward who would not check their online statements (assuming they’re available) before the end of the year. Tithing settlement becomes an opportinity for them to verify their tithing was entered correctly and to ensure they will have paid enough by the end of the year.

  • Angie Gardner December 29, 2011, 2:43 pm

    Paul, did this possibly change with the new handbook? Because my ward clerk told me (last week) that tithing settlement has to take place between November 15 and December 31. He said the bishop opened up 12/31 this year so that he could finish in time.

    (Poor bishops….if I think my December is crazy…)

    CJ, I would love to have online access but I doubt that will ever happen. Still, anyone can get their printout whenever they want it, or the ward clerk could print everyone’s out for them in December still but not actually meet with the bishop until January. You would get your final tax statement then, in my perfect world.

  • Paul December 29, 2011, 4:47 pm

    Angie, good question. I have always assuned it is tax related as far as timing. Interesting that one can declare at the end of Nov. & still contribute w/ postmark by the 31st of Dec.

    That said, a 12/31 end date simplifies it for the bishop — no requests to consider a January donation as for the prior year. (I was asked to do that once as a bishop; I said no…)
    Paul recently posted…"Feeling" the SpiritMy Profile

  • Tracy Polyak December 30, 2011, 11:18 am

    Angie, I have thought the very same things, especially since my dh has been either a clerk or in the bishopric for most of our 20 years together. Those guys spend an incredible amount of time on tithing settlement during the month of December.

    I think that Paul is right. Having a 12/31 deadline is most certainly for tax and legal purposes. If you separated the accountability from the accounting portion, I think that there would be significant temptation to wait until after 12/31 and then make changes. While there is no legal problem with correcting errors after the close of the year, it does open up the Church to more scrutiny when it does so. In fact, I believe that the financial software the Church uses makes it very difficult to make changes after the close of the year. The Church is very conservative with regard to legal issues, and I think that the December tithing settlement reflects our leaders’ choice to stand back far from the “line,” so to speak.

    I do want to say something about THE LIST on the door that is a so very common way to schedule tithing settlement. Please someone correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that our leaders have been counseled not to do this, as tithing settlement is a private matter that should not be made public, even in the scheduling. It is the responsibility of the Ward Executive Secretary to make those appointments and to keep them confidential.

    Incidentally, I once heard a former bishop speak of how he asked his Executive Secretary to make an tithing settlement appointment with the head of each and every family, even if the head of the family was not a member. Those non-member husbands that accepted the invitation were very grateful to be included and treated that kind of respect.

  • Tracy Keeney December 31, 2011, 12:41 am

    Funny you posted this!
    During our settlement, the Bishop pointed out that tithing is the ONLY thing that members are asked to report each year. He mentioned that even temple recommend interviews only happen every 2 years now.
    Beyond his point, everyone doesn’t have to “report” to the Bishop whether or not they feel worthy to attend the temple. Only those who are getting or renewing a recommend report to the Bishop about their worthiness. It would be a legitimate point to say that the reason it’s yearly is because of tax purposes (and I’m sure that that’s at LEAST a part of it) but EVERYONE is suppose to attend tithing settlement. Even those who don’t pay it. The church doesn’t need THAT information for tax purposes.
    The Bishop said that tithing settlement goes toward the Law of Sacrifice and our covenant to be willing consecrate everything we have. That our standing as tithe payers often says more about our devotion than anything else.

  • Marie December 31, 2011, 10:05 am

    In other countries (Sweden) we don’t need tax statements.

    I think it is logical to do it at the end of the year. It is also a possibility to focus on giving. A quiet time to reflect on the fact that I can give back something, in the middle of rushing around buying Christmas gifts.

    It is something quite magical about a new year, a fresh start, possibilities, a time for bettering myself. It is much easier to start fresh (with tithing or other things) when you can put a whole year behind you. And of course the church must have a finishing date so that they can do their accounting (and have it finished) before general conference.

  • Angie Gardner January 1, 2012, 8:53 am

    Marie, you make some good points, although I feel the same about January. 🙂

    We attended our settlement yesterday and I realized it really is mostly about accounting, as evidenced by all the paperwork the bishop and clerk were doing. And yet, there is that box to check for “full tithe,” which seems like a worthiness issue to me.

    In a nutshell, I have decided that I just really don’t like tithing settlement. Thus, I probably wouldn’t like it January either. I don’t know why I find it awkward, I just do. I guess I just don’t like talking about money. I don’t sit down face to face every year with my other tax related people, and I guess I just feel that on the accounting end of things maybe members could be a little more proactive about making sure their own tithing is correct for tax purposes. We don’t do this kind of thing with other charitable organizations that we give to. And, even if the church wants to do the accounting thing to make sure it’s on the up-and-up, I don’t see why that has to be with the bishop. Seems like it would be part of the clerk’s job to handle the accounting end of it if there is a discrepancy. If they gave us a statement in December and we signed and returned it, that should more than suffice, no? If there was a discrepancy, then you can make an appointment and figure it out. Just my opinion, of course.

    I do think it’s an intertwining of the accounting and the accountability (mostly accounting…but there is that question, that box check, and the fact that the meeting has to be only with the bishop.) I still think you could work out the accounting with the clerk and be proactive about your own finances, and as for the worthiness, it’s already a part of the temple recommend interview. Do we meet annually for other worthiness issues? Tracy, you mentioned it’s the only thing we are accountable for every year, and that’s true and more – we are accountable every year AND every other year in a temple recommend interview as well.

    In the end, I guess I just don’t like the focus on money. It’s an important commandment, but others are important as well, are they not? Wouldn’t it be nice to have an every year meeting with our bishop to talk about the state of our testimony instead? It just seems heavy-handed to me, and my independent personality kind of squirms at that.

    Having said that, while I was squirming, my children were so proud to tell the bishop they were full tithe payers, so that was good.

  • Angie Gardner January 1, 2012, 10:16 am

    Oh Tracy P – I wanted to comment on THE LIST. It does seem like I had heard that before, but in every ward I’ve ever lived in they put a list on the clerk’s door – although they do it a little different in this ward. They have little tear-off strips that you take and fill your name in and then give it to a bishopric member. So I guess it’s kind of private, other than if people see you grabbing a slip.

  • Alison Moore Smith January 1, 2012, 12:35 pm

    I tend to agree, Angie. Tithing settlement is at a terribly inconvenient time of year and it’s just kind of odd. We went this year, but didn’t even go the two years prior. When we renewed our temple recommends, we answered the same question.

    It just seems awkward. Dress up. Drive to church. Wait in the foyer. Get called in. “Yes.” Leave. Can’t we do it by phone? 😉

    We used to have a schedule on the clerk’s door with times you could fill in. This year, everyone was ASSIGNED a time and you had to figure out how to unassign yourself if it didn’t work. Yea, so maybe it did prod us to go in this year, but I had to ask to change my dad’s appointment to match with ours. I kept thinking, “If I cross out his name will people think my dad isn’t going?” 😛

    On the accounting, I’m glad we get the forms back — since my 11-year old SON paid thousands of dollars in tithing this year…because some of ours was misattributed to him (he and his dad share the same first name). But clearing this up didn’t require the big old sit in.

    One piece of paper just after the first of the year is good for me.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Moving Targets Are Not Good GoalsMy Profile

  • Tracy Keeney January 1, 2012, 7:02 pm

    Angie, you’re right– it IS also a worthiness issue. Something else our Bishop said, was that people are often surprised that when they say that they are NOT full tithe payers, that he has to take their recommends and some people even have to be released from their callings since being a temple recommend holding person is required for some callings.

  • Angie Gardner January 5, 2012, 7:52 am

    Alison, just curious – when you didn’t attend tithing settlement, did anyone say anything to you? I might just skip next time and see what happens.

  • Thomas C. Moore October 22, 2014, 7:54 am

    Allison. You may want to read Section 72 of the Doctrine and Covenants. As a former bishop, as you father was also, we had a responsibility to take an accounting of the stewardship of each member as required by this revelation, at least that is the way I interpreted it. Maybe I was wrong, what do you think? Read particularly verses 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 19, and others which talk of accountability.

  • Alison Moore Smith October 22, 2014, 10:54 am

    Thomas more is my own very dear Uncle Tom. 🙂 Whom I happen to adore. (In case you didn’t notice, this post was written by Angie Gardner. But I did comment on it, so I’ll respond in light of my own comment.)

    First, I really love Angie’s idea to move tithing settlement to January. Instead of getting the late-autumn update, the at-tithing-settlement update, and the real deal after the year is over, we could get ONE pre-settlement update and the final, real deal.

    Plus not at the worst possible time of year to squeeze in just one more meeting. 🙂

    As for the scriptures mentioned, yes, I do think it is the bishop’s stewardship to be accountable. But I’m not sure this section dictates general member tithing settlement (although I know it has been interpreted thusly), I’m not even sure it’s about tithing with regard to general members.

    In looking for authoritative commentary on scripture, there isn’t much on this section that I can find.

    • The D&C student manual lesson, “Duties of a Bishop ,” that covers section 72 doesn’t mention tithing.
    • The seminary lessons that covers that section, doesn’t mention tithing.
    • The BYU religion class lesson covering that section doesn’t mention tithing.
    • The Gospel Doctrine lesson, “The Law of Consecration,” that includes scriptures from this section (and others) mentions tithing only once. (GD is done topically, so it’s challenging to find these specific scriptures.) This is in regard to paying it but not accounting for it.
    • The Gospel Doctrine lesson most applicable to tithing, “The Law of Tithing and the Law of the Fast,” doesn’t reference section 72 or tithing settlement at all.

    Much of section 72 is about “elders” interacting with the bishop, not general members. The most applicable verses I can see — that could be interpreted as addressing general members, but sound more like missionaries to me — are 14 and 15:

    14 And the labors of the faithful who labor in spiritual things, in administering the gospel and the things of the kingdom unto the church, and unto the world, shall answer the debt unto the bishop in Zion;
    15 Thus it cometh out of the church, for according to the law every man that cometh up to Zion must lay all things before the bishop in Zion.

    Of course, I’m not a man. 🙂 But, to me, even this doesn’t seem to necessitate tithing settlement as we know it.

    If these snippets “…shall answer the debt unto the bishop in Zion…” and “…every man that cometh up to Zion must lay all things before the bishop in Zion…” do in fact address the general membership, there are probably lots of more efficient (and convenient) ways to address it. Don’t you think?
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…No Squeegee, No Wipe, Self Sheeting, Streak Free Window CleanerMy Profile

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