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Huntsman Sr.: Tithing Does Not Count as Charitable Giving

 

From Forbes:

Jon Huntsman Sr. has given away about $1.5 billion to worthy causes – about 80% of his total wealth. He is also spending $200 million building Huntsman Springs, a golf resort and nature reserve in Idaho that will donate all proceeds of real estate sold to his family’s charitable foundation. But neither of these totals include his strict tithing to the Mormon church of 10% of everything he has ever earned.

John Huntsman Sr in 2004 (Source: Chemical Heritage Foundation)

John Huntsman Sr in 2004 (Source: Chemical Heritage Foundation)

“My philanthropy is not borne out of my faith,” he says. “They require 10% tithing. I don’t consider that to be philanthropy and I don’t consider it to be part of my philanthropic giving. I consider it as club dues.

“People who put money in the church basket and people who go to church and pay the pastor: that isn’t real philanthropy, that’s just like you belong to a country club. You pay your dues to belong to that church so you pay your tithing or whatever it is. I’ve never added that into my philanthropy in any way because I just think it’s a part of a person’s life.”

Huntsman, 77, one of 19 people living who have donated more than $1 billion to charity, made his wealth through chemical products group Huntsman Corporation, which he founded in 1970. But he never waited until he was rich to donate. “I have always given money away,” he says. “I haven’t always been wealthy – the opposite in fact. But I have always felt that I wanted people to share it with me.”


 

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The Washington Post recently reported that Utah ranked as one of the most generous states when it comes to charitable giving. However, much of that is the form of tithes to the LDS Church. Paying tithing is a good thing. However, if we view it as paying membership dues, as Huntsman does, rather than as charitable giving, we would mostly view that earlier Post report as more an indicator of the high percentage of active LDS Church members living in Utah than an indicator of generosity.

Of course, individuals like Huntsman do a lot on their own to boost those Utah donation statistics.

While tithing does count as a charitable deduction for tax purposes, I fully agree with Huntsman that tithing is more like membership dues than it is charitable giving. It is the financial cost of membership in the community. I pay tithing because I value my membership in that community, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Comments

  1. I have to agree, but only in light of the context. I think it matters particularly where the money that you give to your religion goes and also why it is that you are giving. If the giving is required then perhaps it shouldn’t be considered philanthropy or worthy of a tax rebate; if it goes toward things that aren’t necessarily contributing to the advancement of the community then again perhaps it shouldn’t be considered as such. However, if it does meet those requirement then I think, regardless of the religion, the church, etc, that it should indeed be considered a charitable donation.

  2. I think that by societies standard giving to a Church should count as charitable giving. Churches are institutions that do an immense amount of good in society. They are especially active in disaster relief, counseling and other activities that benefit members and the whole community. Even the portion of Tithing that is merely used by the church for its own membership is still an overall net good for society.

    For members of a church however, we shouldn’t be content with our 10%. I am grateful we have fast offerings and other opportunities to give to charitable causes. We should prayerfully find ways to use our money, time and energies to do good in the world.

    • Tithing is a good thing and the Church does much good. I wrote this just after spending time with my boys and their leaders at Scout camp, so I feel very strongly about this right now. Tithing should be considered, from a legal perspective, as most non-profit donations. So I do not think Huntsman is making a legal or tax distinction, but more a matter of conceptualization.

  3. John Mansfield says:

    The vast sums that are donated to well-off universities have a similar quality. A fine contribution to the well-being (and prestige) of one’s alma mater, and even a benefit to the world, but not really charity.

    • John, I think there is something to that. Somebody asked on Twitter where donating to the arts would fall. I am not sure. Most non-profits require donations of some sort to survive and thrive. Not all of these are what we would call charities, but these still fulfill a public good. So to say that it is not charity…is not to say that giving to those organizations or groups is not important.

  4. Mark B. says:

    On the other hand, it’s ten percent! And for people who are not billionaires, it can be a substantial sacrifice. Bro. Huntsman should make it clear that he’s speaking for himself only–and that others may have different experiences.

    • I agree with you on that. I cannot donate much beyond tithing myself. It is much easier for him. But I think he is addressing those involved in philanthropy. His audience is the wealthy in these comments.

    • Linda F. says:

      I completely agree with you Mark. I appreciate Huntsman’s perspective & opinion, but I take my direction from President Monson.

  5. When I read these it makes me think of all those that feel completely content with their charitable giving because the pay their tithing. I think Huntsman was saying that we should do more. We can donate our time or our money. We shouldn’t consider ourselves “charitable” by doing the bare minimum. I, mysel, could donate more time. I could volunteer more.

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