Use of Fast Offerings

Posted on July 18, 2012 by

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David Mason writes in the Washington Post

“Everyone in the United States has some sense of the mythic collectivism embedded in Mormon culture. Mormons, go the legends, can travel, willy-nilly, throughout the country and find their needs met everywhere. Mormons need only ask their local bishops to get money to pay mortgages and car loans, to buy food, to fill prescriptions, to remodel bathrooms, to cover gambling debts, and to get their bass guitars out of hock. Mormons keep giant warehouses of food out of which any Mormon can walk with armfuls of staples and luxuries, string-free.

“The mechanism that makes such collective strength possible is the tax or mandate or what-have-you called tithes and offerings. Not only do Mormons kick 10 percent of their ongoing income towards Salt Lake City to ensure the fiscal health of the LDS church, they each drop $10, $20, $50 and more additional dollars a month into their local congregations to ensure that none of their own faces either insolvency or discomfort.”

Before correcting the error in Mr. Mason’s statements let’s first emphasize the distinction that he is making between tithes and offerings.  Tithes are, indeed, paid to the church in order to construct and maintain thousands of local places of worship, hundreds of temples, seminaries, institutes, church-sponsored schools, various charitable organizations, office buildings, church employees, and the missionary program.  Offerings, on the other hand, are given a very specific purpose by the donor, and the type of offering to which Mr. Mason refers are known as “fast offerings”.

Fast offerings are donated voluntarily (payment of fast offerings is not required for admittance to the temples) and are dedicated to the purpose of helping the poor and the needy.  In order to receive assistance from the fast offerings of the church a person must meet with the bishop or branch president assigned to that area.  He generally counsels the individual and makes a determination as to how to best help the individual or family.  Mr. Mason is incorrect in implying that this is only available to members of the church.  In fact, this assistance is available to all people whether or not they are members of the church.

Furthermore, Mr. Mason is incorrect in his (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) suggestion that this aid is given out carelessly to undeserving individuals frivolously.  As evidence of this note that despite the population of Utah being 60% LDS it has one of the highest bankruptcy rates in the nation.  If the church were handling fast offerings as Mr. Mason suggests then we would expect this not to be the case.

However, Mr. Mason had a larger point to make about the church welfare program…

“Mormons figured out the basic principles of Obamacare in the nineteenth century.”

The reader is left to guess at what these “basic principles” are that apparently are common with Obamacare.  The implication is that these “basic principles” are about everyone sacrificing a little and contributing that for the common-good of those in need.  That may be the extent of the commonality, however.  As evidence, read the the Gospel Principles manual, chapter 25, explanation of fast offerings which states:

“When we fast each month, the Lord asks us to help those in need. One way we do this is by giving through the proper priesthood authority the money we would have spent on food for the two meals. We should give as generously as we are able. Through our fast offerings we become partners with the Lord in administering to the needs of our less-fortunate brothers and sisters.”

Following Mr. Mason’s approach, we’ll leave it up to the reader, then, to decide on the equivalence of this voluntary program with a mandate.

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Posted in: Charity, Finances