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A recent survey reports that Latter-day Saints donate the most in monetary donations to their religion of all Christian respondents while reporting the lowest percentage of those who feel pressure to donate from peers and religious leaders.
The survey, conducted by the financial resource website LendEDU, polled 1,000 religiously affiliated Americans who “indicated that they did contribute financially to their respective religions.” The survey asked respondents about the monetary value of their donations, the cost of participating in their respective religions, pressure associated with donating and budgeting for such donations.
Patrick Mason, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Claremont Graduate University and a Mormon scholar, said that the findings come as no surprise due to the way the principle of tithing is both taught and encouraged within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, particularly with “the tithe being connected to temple attendance.
“That provides additional incentives for Latter-day Saints to pay tithing, whereas in every other church, synagogue or mosque it’s basically voluntary,” Mason said. “There can be moral suasion, there can be preaching from the pulpit, they can pass around the basket and try to make you feel guilty, but they don’t have any other tools, generally, in order to provide that kind of strong incentive for giving.”
Still, the survey found that just 8.33 percent of Mormon respondents reported experiencing pressure to donate from peers, while 16.67 percent reported experiencing pressure to donate from religious leaders. Both percentages are significantly lower than other Christian respondents.
Mason explains that the LDS Church rarely talks about money from the pulpit with the exception an occasional general conference talk or Sunday School lesson on tithing.
“So how do you get the lowest pressure but the largest giving? You have another structural piece in play and that’s the temple recommend interview,” Mason said. “They don’t have to talk about it very often because if you want to be a member in full standing, it’s just understood that tithing is part of that and it’s going to be enforced privately in a different kind of setting that apparently most people see as low pressure. … It’s a self-selected group.”
Mason says overall the survey speaks to the success of the American model of religion, a model where churches are “voluntary associations supported purely by the financial contribution of their members, not by the state.” The survey numbers “seem to suggest that most people, the majority of people in all of these different faiths are basically comfortable with the idea that participation in a religious community also brings a financial obligation. …The people in the pews understand that supporting their congregation is their responsibility,” Mason said.
As for the LDS Church, Mason says the survey “speaks to really the remarkable success that the church has had in instilling in its members that financial giving is an important value.
“People prioritize things in different ways and you can tell how people prioritize things in terms of how they spend their time or how they spend their money or other kinds of social goods,” Mason said. “And I think one of the reasons for the LDS Church’s success over the past 100 years has been its financial stability with a couple of rocky points in the mid-century but the reason it was able to do that is because it was able to instill in its members a belief that tithing was not … simply a voluntary offering that you gave after all your other expenses were paid but (the) consistent refrain that tithing is the first thing you pay.”