These are a few observations that help me frame the discussion of tithing, investment funds, and the accumulation of wealth by institutions.

To understand why these observations matter you should reflect carefully on these verses:

D&C 90:3 Verily I say unto you [Joseph Smith], the keys of this kingdom shall never be taken from you, while thou art in the world, neither in the world to come;

4 Nevertheless, through you shall the oracles be given to another, yea, even unto the church.

5 And all they who receive the oracles of God, let them beware how they hold them lest they are accounted as a light thing, and are brought under condemnation thereby, and stumble and fall when the storms descend, and the winds blow, and the rains descend, and beat upon their house.

We are obligated to treat with care the oracles (meaning the written revelations) given to Joseph Smith, and to obey them and the principles they teach. They haven’t aged out of relevance nor been superseded by something better. No living “oracle” (meaning a human that others look to as an idolatrous substitute for God) has wrested the keys from Joseph and no true prophet will find himself teaching some other gospel diametrically opposed to Joseph’s. These observations rely on Joseph’s oracles and others from ancient scripture to explore fundamental principles that should shape our policies and practices, but generally don’t.

“The storehouse”

There is an artificial distinction in the minds of Latter-day Saints between “tithing,” “fast offerings,” other humanitarian donations, and the profits generated by investing the above donations in the marketplace. This distinction doesn’t seem to exist in scripture, including in the revelations given to Joseph Smith.  I will mention how this distinction was created later, but for now let’s simply make a note that it exists. 

Funds donated, whether consisting of someone’s entire surplus property or of an exact tithe of 10%, go into what Christ calls “my storehouse” (D&C 42:34). The accounts and warehouses used to store excess goods and mediate the transfer of wealth collectively constitute “the storehouse.” For instance, according to Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible one of Melchizedek’s titles was “keeper of the storehouse of God” (JST Genesis 14:37). This same term was used in subsequent revelations to Joseph Smith to describe the monetary and in-kind storage of donated goods. It is the word chosen by translators of Malachi to refer to the nation-wide donations received, in addition to calling it “mine house” (Malachi 3:10). The specific word is not so important as the recognition of the concept. The money and property donated by believers is God’s, and in general go into his storehouse. 

In our day, the Lord says that “tithing” includes both the perpetual donation of 10% of yearly interest and the donation of surplus wealth to the Church (D&C 119). It’s all tithing, and it all belongs to the Lord and his storehouse.

In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, the returning Lord requires that his servants account for their respective stewardships. The Lord claims ownership of both the principal and any interest earned without distinction between the two. 

The idea that donations in addition to the yearly 10% or the interest earned by investing tithing money are somehow exempt from the rules governing the rest of God’s storehouse is a lie. In the end, God claims ownership over the whole earth and all things in it, and those claiming to be his agents should not try to skirt his laws (D&C 104:16). 

What is the storehouse for?

If we ask the scriptures this question, we hear a loud choir of angels singing a unified response: The poor, widowed, and orphaned have first claim on the tithes given to storehouse. 

JST Genesis 14:37 And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God; 38 Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.

D&C 42:33 And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants. 34 Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy…

D&C 51:13 And again, let the bishop appoint a storehouse unto this church; and let all things both in money and in meat, which are more than is needful for the wants of this people, be kept in the hands of the bishop.

D&C 78:3 For verily I say unto you, the time has come, and is now at hand; and behold, and lo, it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people, both in this place and in the land of Zion—

D&C 83:4 All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age. 5 And after that, they have claim upon the church, or in other words upon the Lord’s storehouse, if their parents have not wherewith to give them inheritances. 6 And the storehouse shall be kept by the consecrations of the church; and widows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the poor. Amen.

These revelations only allow for a surplus of money to be saved and stored after all the members’ needs are met. Withholding money from them and saving it in an investment fund would be stealing, as the Lord has appointed the money for their support. 

When Bishops or other leaders are appointed to full-time labor that precludes their supporting themselves, the Lord classes them among the “poor” and they can receive enough to meet their family’s needs as well (D&C 41:9; D&C 42:71-73; D&C 70:7-14); under ordinary circumstances, however, both local and general leaders of the Church are obligated by the covenant of the Book of Mormon to work for their own support (Alma 1:26; D&C 84:54-59). 

Who pays?

Donations are not meant to be extracted from the poor, and tithing is not meant to be a burden to them. The Lord praised the widow for her generous donation of a mite; he did not imply that she was commanded to donate it, and he condemns the clergy that devoured her house by creating the religious system that required that mite of her. 

In D&C 104, God explained the principle that underlies any specific economic arrangement he creates among his people, whether it is the United Order, or another system of tithing such as instituted by D&C 119: 

13 For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.

14 I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.

15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.

16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

Donations are to flow from the rich to the poor, and never the other direction. Those who have more than they need are rich. Those who have less than they need are poor. We are all accountable to God in the determination of our needs and wants.  If a man teaches that the poor should be paying tithing out of their poverty, then that man’s way is simply not God’s way. If someone exempts themselves from paying out of their surplus riches while extracting wealth from the poor, surely they will not escape the penalty explained in verse 18. 

D&C 119, the last revealed definition of tithing in our dispensation, explains that our recurring tithing is to be paid yearly out of our “interest”, which Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines as the “surplus advantage” or net profit of an economic effort or investment. If someone works but obtains only enough money to meet their needs and those of their dependents, they have no “surplus advantage” to divide for tithing. 

There is strong scriptural condemnation for those who teach that tithing donations should be paid by the poor before paying for food, clothing, and shelter. (Mark 12:40-44;2 Nephi 13:11-15; 2 Nephi 26:20)

Can’t tithing be used to build temples, meetinghouses, and other facilities? 

That is, after all, how D&C 97 indicates the Kirtland Temple was to be built (vs. 11-12). However, what purpose should a temple serve? When you lift up your hands to pray do you want God to hear you? Do you want people to enter it with a pure heart and commune with God together? 

If we haven’t first cared for the poor, then taking tithing out of the storehouse to build a temple is a theft. We have robbed the poor and therefore have robbed God. God will not visit nor accept such a temple: 

10 ¶ Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

16 ¶ Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

The people who build Zion will not be robbers. They will be able to commune with God in their temple because they have made themselves equal in earthly things: 

D&C 78:3 For verily I say unto you, the time has come, and is now at hand; and behold, and lo, it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people, both in this place and in the land of Zion—

4 For a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church, to advance the cause, which ye have espoused, to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father who is in heaven;

5 That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.

6 For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things;

As long as we remain unequal in temporal things, or if we only grudgingly accept equality, the abundance of the manifestation of the spirit are being withheld from us (D&C 70:14), and we thus remain cut off from the full blessings of the Temple and of salvation. 

I can think of no scriptural justification for building and maintaining chapels or administrative buildings using tithing funds, even after the needs of the poor are met. I can think of many scriptural cautions against doing so. A vast collection of buildings creates a perpetual obligation of maintenance, meaning a portion of tithing will forever be diverted from the poor and into buildings. If your worship requires chapels, you are not living the religion described in the Book of Mormon or restored to Joseph Smith, which did not require chapels. 

“Tithing” redefined

D&C 119 specifies how tithing is to be used: 

2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

It has become popular to interpret this revelation to mean that “tithing” only includes our regular payments of 10% of income and not other donations, and that it is only allowed to be used for administrative purposes. This is a lie that has been perpetuated by thieves to hide their plundering of God’s storehouse. It is successful to the degree that we refuse to study our scriptures and instead choose to believe manmade traditions. As I pointed out earlier, D&C 119 includes in its definition of “tithing” both recurring donations of 10% of one’s interest, and other donations of surplus property. It’s all tithing. As for the use of tithing, the scriptures are clear that it is impossible to lay “the foundation of Zion” without ensuring that the needs of all participants are met. Thus the rights of the poor to God’s storehouse remain fully intact: 

D&C 105:1 Verily I say unto you who have assembled yourselves together that you may learn my will concerning the redemption of mine afflicted people—

2 Behold, I say unto you, were it not for the transgressions of my people, speaking concerning the church and not individuals, they might have been redeemed even now.

3 But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;

4 And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom;

5 And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.

D&C 119 does not reserve tithing for administrative purposes in lieu of helping the poor. It did not supercede nor nullify the eternal principles contained in the previous references. “Laying the foundation of Zion” requires giving the poor enough to meet their needs by the willing humiliation of the rich. As we read earlier, there is no point in building a temple until that happens. 

Takeaway lessons

From this we learn:

“Tithing” includes all donations made by the saints, both perpetual donations of 10% and other donations of surplus wealth. 

Donations are mediated and stored in a “storehouse” that God claims ownership of. 

This wealth of the storehouse is primarily to ensure the needs of the poor are met. Only the wealth in excess of what the members have need of may be stored in the storehouse. 

God claims ownership of the interest earned by investing tithing funds just as he owns the tithing funds. 

If someone does not impart to the poor and needy as appointed by God, they will lift up their eyes with the wicked and be tormented in hell. 

Temples built and maintained by the robbery of the poor, and attended by worshippers who do not honor their obligations to the poor, will not be accepted by God. 

D&C 119 does not alter any of the above principles. 

These observations raise some difficult questions: What is the best way to collect and administer tithing funds in harmony with D&C 104 in a worldwide church? What safeguards will be in place to prevent fraud and abuse on all sides of that transaction ? By what mechanism or process will disbursal be subject to common consent? What should we do if we discover a massive surplus has been accumulated while poor members around the world have gone undernourished and undereducated? Is contributing to the further growth of that surplus a valid use of one’s personal donations? 

The fact that these questions don’t have easy answers does not give us license to ignore God’s oracles in favor of an alternative system.