In a lengthy piece in my local newspaper this week, Justin Welby, the bishop of Durham, gave some suggestions for new year's resolutions. Right at the top of his list was the plea that we should all tithe 10% of our income. Respect due, he did not insist that the money should go to the Church but stated that any charity would be an appropriate recipient of our tithes. I fully agree with him that being charitable is a human duty. That humans give to others is empirical proof of our claim that we have the ability to empathise with others and so is part of what makes us human. Not to give to others makes us less than human. Where I disagree with him is with his insistence on charity being linked to a percentage of income.
Percentages of income no doubt seem perfectly logical to a person who has an income in excess of what they need to live on. However, to those who struggle to survive it is just another burden placed on them by the rich and privileged.
You see, the real value of a percent of something increases the smaller it is. A pensioner in England receiving £100 per week is living on the breadline. If she gives away 10% of that £100 she will be left with just £90 and the loss of £10 will make her life even more miserable and hard. A company executive earning £2000 per week will be enjoying a life with no financial worries and will have plenty of money to spend on luxuries. If he gives away 10% of his salary each week he will be left with £1800 and will still be enjoying a life with no financial worries and he will still have plenty of money to spend on luxuries. The pensioner will have made a huge sacrifice. The company executive will not have done.
Jesus threw out the tithing system and replaced it with the recommendation (warning) that, as long as there are people who do not have enough money to live on, we should give all our wealth in excess of what we need to live on to those who live in absolute poverty. Very few Christians follow this system of true tithing. We hope that Christ will be merciful when he returns to judge us. A rich person who demands that poor people should give more, in effect, than himself would be testing the Lord's mercy to the extreme. Instead, a rich person should secretly give a percentage of his income far in excess of the traditional tithe and never insist that anybody else gives anything. He should certainly not insist on others tithing a percentage as any taxation system based on a fixed percentage being demanded from all favours the rich and further oppresses the poor.