Relief Society Lesson 12: “Tithing, a Law for Our Protection and Advancement”

If you don’t know the story of Lorenzo Snow preaching the law of tithing in drought-ridden St. George, Utah, and the blessings that followed the Saints’ renewed commitment to the law, your best Relief Society-ready review is a Church-made 1963 movie, “The Windows of Heaven.” In fact, if you’re in a ward where many of the sisters are converts or under forty, I give you permission to start with the movie and use it as a springboard for a short discussion at the end of the lesson. It’s on the cheesy side, but it’s a tear-jerker, and it has a lot to say about faith,  blessings, and commitment. Though the original movie was 50 minutes long, the copy you’re likely to have in your ward library is a 2006 DVD that runs only 11 minutes. Lacking that (and adding in a good internet connection), you can find a version on YouTube. This one runs under 17 minutes, which will probably leave you about five minutes for discussion.

If you choose not to show the film, have someone read the following paragraph:

In his previous 50 years as an Apostle, President Snow had rarely mentioned the law of tithing in his sermons. That changed in St. George, Utah, because of the revelation he received. “I never had a more perfect revelation,” he later said, “than [the revelation] I received on this subject of tithing.” From St. George, he and his traveling companions went from town to town in southern Utah and on their way home to Salt Lake City, holding 24 meetings. President Snow delivered 26 sermons. Each time he spoke, he counseled the Saints to obey the law of tithing.

Well, goodness. What had President Snow spent all that time teaching about? It turns out that while the above statement is technically true, it leaves out the fact that as an apostle, Lorenzo Snow spoke frequently and emphatically about the law of consecration, known to early Mormons as the United Order. In fact, before joining the Church, he studied for a year at Oberlin College, where students labored to build and maintain the college and town in lieu of paying tuition–another great experiment in American collectivism, and certainly an experience he used as he helped build the community of Brigham City, Utah. (If you’d like to dig into the background a little more, you can find my notes on “The Life and Ministry of Lorenzo Snow” here.)

It’s also interesting to know how the Saints adopted the law of tithing:

On May 29 and 30, President Snow gave two sermons on the law of tithing, first to the officers of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association and then to the officers of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association. At the conclusion of the second discourse, Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy presented the following resolution, which was unanimously supported by all in attendance: “Resolved: That we accept the doctrine of tithing, as now presented by President Snow, as the present word and will of the Lord unto us, and we do accept it with all our hearts; we will ourselves observe it, and we will do all in our power to get the Latter-day Saints to do likewise.” On July 2, all the General Authorities and representatives from all the stakes and wards in the Church attended a solemn assembly in the Salt Lake Temple, having fasted and prayed in preparation for the meeting. There they unanimously accepted the same resolution. President Snow was true to this resolution himself, teaching the law of tithing in many stakes and overseeing the same effort by other Church leaders.

When members in St. George committed to paying the law, their faith was rewarded with almost three inches of rain. But the rain came in August, two and a half months after President Snow introduced the law of tithing. Note that it wasn’t immediate, and it was probably too late to save many of the crops they had planted, but the Saints still hailed the rain as a miracle. Ask the class: Are there times in your life when you can see that obeying a gospel principle resulted in a miracle? Was it immediate? Are we better able to see miracles after we have some time to put events in perspective and figure out what they mean to us?

The law of tithing is easy to understand and can be obeyed by all. Also from the 1960s was a children’s book about tithing that included the rhyme:

I know what tithing is,

I can say it every time:

Ten cents from a dollar

And a penny from a dime.

How’s that for “easy to understand”? But the part I really like is the “…and can be obeyed by all”:

I say to you in the name of the Lord God of Israel, if you will pay tithing from now on, the Lord will forgive you for all the past [nonpayment of tithing] and the blessings of the Almighty will be poured out upon this people.


I want to have this principle so fixed upon our hearts that we shall never forget it. As I have said more than once, I know that the Lord will forgive the Latter-day Saints for their past negligence in paying tithing, if they will now repent and pay a conscientious tithing from this time on.

…which echoes the oft-preached principle that God does not care where we are on the road, simply whether we are on the road. Ask the class: Does this still apply to payment of tithing? To other sins of omission or commission? Point out that although individual people have very strong feelings about whether we ought to pay tithing on net or gross income, Church leaders have purposefully stayed away from specifying anything beyond “a tenth of our increase.”

It is also interesting to me that though President Snow said, “A part of a tithing is no tithing at all, no more than immersing only half a person’s body is baptism,” bishops today have the option of declaring members to be partial tithe-payers.

Okay, enough about the nickels and dimes. What’s the whole point of tithing?

When we pay tithing, we contribute to the work of the Church. Ask the class: What does it mean to you to contribute financially to the Church? Does it affect your feelings about the Church? (i.e., do you feel more involved? More responsible? More equal to other members?) What kinds of feelings do you have when you contribute to your school’s PTA, to the American Cancer Association, or to the Sierra Club?

The Lord will bless us temporally and spiritually as we obey the law of tithing. I know that there are many, many people who have a firm testimony that tithing brings us temporal blessings. We’ve all heard the jokes about fire insurance and the stories about a neighbor bringing food when a family has just used the last of their reserves to pay tithing. None of these experiences are mine, and I’m actually quite leery of anything that smacks of quid pro quo with God. Ask class members to think of the non-monetary blessings we can receive from paying tithing. Then have someone read Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21 and ask why those specific blessings could be predicated on obedience to the law of tithing. This is a great moment to be completely silent and let people try to mentally connect the two ideas. Eventually (within half a minute, really) someone will come up with an answer, and the more patience you have, the more (and more interesting) answers you’ll elicit.

(There’s also a section in the lesson about teaching children to pay tithing, but I wouldn’t use it unless you live in a ward where nearly everyone has children.)

To end the lesson, ask another hard question. Think about the title of this lesson, “Tithing, a Law for Our Protection and Advancement.” In Lorenzo Snow’s day, obedience to the law of tithing protected the Church from financial ruin and enabled the Saints to build temples. More than a century later, in what way does tithing protect us? In what way does tithing contribute to our advancement? Then ask: Are these blessings that we receive as individuals, or blessings that we receive as a church? Let the class members discuss for a few minutes, then make the case that because the law of tithing teaches us that we are all part of a community, the blessings that we receive from obeying that law are much more likely to be blessings upon the community than upon individuals.



On prolonged sabbatical from her career in arts administration, Libby is a seamstress, editor, entrepreneur, and community volunteer. She has a husband and three children.

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11 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    Love this Libby. I’m not sure which are more insightful–your questions or your answers. This has given me lots to chew on. Thank you!

  2. Chris says:

    It’s important to remind class members that although we receive spiritual blessings from keeping the law of tithing, we may not always receive temporal ones. We may lose our jobs, health, or our home. That does not mean that God does not love us or that the windows of heavens are not opened when we pay our tithing. The temporal blessings we receive from keeping this commandment may not always be evident in this lifetimes, but the spiritual blessings are always there.

  3. Steve says:

    The problem is that we’ve had promises made, most recently by President Hinckley, that if we pay our tithing we will have the necessities of life.

    And, that — sometimes — is simply not true. I’ve personally experienced being unable to pay for housing, utilities, medical expenses, etc. Paying tithing didn’t make it better.

    We really need to shift to this is for obedience, not particular temporal blessings.

    • Libby says:

      Agreed, Steve–we have to talk more about the principles of obedience, commitment, and consecration much more than we do.

      Do you have a reference for the statement you referred to? The best quote I can find from Pres. Hinckley is this:

      Now, do not get me wrong. I am not here to say that if you pay an honest tithing you will realize your dream of a fine house, a Rolls Royce, and a condominium in Hawaii. The Lord will open the windows of heaven according to our need, and not according to our greed. If we are paying tithing to get rich, we are doing it for the wrong reason. The basic purpose for tithing is to provide the Church with the means needed to carry on His work. The blessing to the giver is an ancillary return, and that blessing may not be always in the form of financial or material benefit.

      • Marianne Power says:

        Thank you for the President Hinkley reference. I have been worrying about giving this lesson for months. Yes, tithing is an “easy concept” but I know there are women in my ward who have REALLY struggled with the poor economy in these past few years. I think it’s important to remember that tithing is a law of faith, not an insurance policy or an investment that promises to pay a dividend at the end. For those who are expecting a financial outcome for paying tithing, it may not come in that form. But one thing will CAN come is complete peace in knowing we have followed the will of the Lord completely. I am going to use this quote in my lesson today.

        Also, I hadn’t seen the Windows of Heaven movies since I was a really young kid. I had forgotten it and honestly, was mixing up that story with the story of the crickets. I watched the video on You Tube and it was much more moving to me in the movie format than trying to read the account in the book and trying to identify with the people of that time. I am hoping my ward has a copy of the video so I an show it to the sisters in my ward. Most of them are very young and maybe have never seen the video. The other portion are mostly converts to the church. This will be really powerful for them, as it was for me just now! Thanks

  4. Mimi says:

    Do you have any good sources to find a little history of tithing in the church? How did the members pay tithing until Pr. Snows talk? And how come the church was indebted? I am teaching this lesson on sunday and i think it would be nice to add a little bit more of history with the spiritual. Thanks.

    • Spunky says:

      I am unfamiliar with a specific history of tithing. In general terms, the questions you ask seem to revolve around the dissolution of polygamy. In The Mormon Question, Sarah Barringer Gordon details that the structure of the church was similar to that of developing corporations in the United States in the 1880’s. It became a corporation, and tithing was –almost a kind of tax- that devout Mormons paid to improve the condition of the church as a whole. Brigham Young had a reputation of leading the church with a type of “Iron Fist”- wherein he told farmers which crops to plant, and directed individuals into which careers they should choose for the building up of Zion. Tithing was a part of this. The financial result was positive—with the thriving of the Saints in the later part of the 19th century saw the church developing a powerful financial reputation.

      As a means of disempowering the church, and to liberate women who were perceived to be forced (and sometimes were required) into plural marriage, the Edmunds Act, then the Edmunds-Tucker Act were presented to Congress. From Gordon:

      “As the Edmunds-Tucker Act was introduced and gathered strength in Congress in the early and mid-1880’s, the church designated trustees to be equitable owners of its business property and real estate. These “trustees in trust,” as they were called, like many of the enterprises they controlled and the system of tithing through which development was financed, were viewed by faithful Mormons as divinely sanctioned agents for group investment and group saving.” (p197)

      The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, through the corporation of the church, made church leaders (as in “priesthood” leaders) into criminals for practicing polygamy, and seized a large amount of church funds and assets held in the names of the “trustees in trust.” This is what caused the end of the Perpetual Immigration Fund, *legally* ended polygamy, and nearly ruined the church from an economic standpoint. This is probably why one of the first things that Zina D.H Young did as newly called General Relief Society President (1888-1901) was to completely separate the finances of the Relief Society. This was wise of her; if the church was again attacked by Congress, the Relief Society could have financially backed the church if necessary.

      This is not necessarily about tithing, but it explains the financial system of the church and therefore, some of the faith-promoting ideas that were necessary so the Saints would not become unwilling to tithe, based on the financial disempowerment of the Edmunds-Tucker Act.

    • Bonnie says:

      I found this from Robert D. Hales conference talk from October, 2002:

      Tithing has a special purpose as a preparatory law. Early in this dispensation, the Lord commanded certain members of the Church to live the higher law of consecration—a law received by covenant. When this covenant was not kept, great tribulations came upon the Saints. The law of consecration was then withdrawn. In its place the Lord revealed the law of tithing for the whole Church.8 On July 8, 1838, He declared:

      “And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.

      “… Those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever.”

      The law of tithing prepares us to live the higher law of consecration—to dedicate and give all our time, talents, and resources to the work of the Lord. Until the day when we are required to live this higher law, we are commanded to live the law of the tithe, which is to freely10 give one-tenth of our income annually.

    • Libby says:

      Mimi, I’m sorry to get back to you this late — I hope your lesson went well!

      D. Michael Quinn writes about this in The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Chapter 6 is available online here. It’s fascinating stuff.

  5. Jenny says:

    Bless you. I’m a new RS teacher and I’ve been leaning heavily on your posts — they’re excellent and help me marshal my thoughts as I try to organize my approach to the lesson.

    Thank you!

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