"One tenth of all the produce of the land, whether grain or fruit, belongs to the Lord. . . . One of every ten domestic animals belongs to the Lord. . . . These are the commands the Lord gave Moses on Mount Sinai for the people of Israel.
Leviticus 27:30Don Hester of Evans started tithing about six months after he was saved in 1976.
"It was quite a jolt to come up with 10 percent over and above the family budget," he said.
But the Hesters committed it to the Lord, and they never really missed it.When he started his own business, he committed 10 percent of the profits. "I never missed it either," said Mr. Hester, a financial planner with Carpenter and Associates who attends Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez.
Giving one-tenth of one's income for God's service is a spiritual discipline rooted in the Old Testament, Leviticus 27:30. It links believers of all persuasions, Christians and Jews.
It is no more difficult for the poor man than the rich man, said the Rev. William Harrell, pastor of Abilene. "Everybody can't sing in the choir, teach Sunday school or preach, but everybody can tithe. And that is one activity that God lists in the Bible." God also promises to open the windows of heaven and pour out untold blessings to the faithful who tithe (Malachi 3: 10).
But tithing is not compulsory, said Dr. David Jones, pastor of Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church. It is a standard, a goal. It is also a big step for people who didn't grow up with the idea.
"We ask them to take one step up (a percentage point) each year as a guide," he said.But Trinity, like other worship communities in the Augusta area, leaves contributions to the conscience of the believer.
No church or synagogue surveyed -- Adas Yeshurun, Congregation Children of Israel, First Baptist Church of North Augusta, St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church and Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church -- asks for W-2s, pay stubs or other verification of income. And while a financial secretary or a church treasurer may know an individual's annual giving, the minister or rabbi won't."We try not to know. We are very careful about who knows this kind of personal information," said Dr. Jones.
The finances for a synagogue are managed by a board, said Rabbi Alex Greenbaum of Adas Yeshurun synagogue. "Everyone knows except for me."
Tithing in Christian congregations is generally used to support the church. It was used during temple times to support the temple, said Rabbi Greenbaum. Now synagogues are operated by dues, but there is still the law to tithe. Jews are asked to give 10 percent of what they earn to tzedakah. It is a word some understand as charity, but the meaning is closer to righteousness. And it is not restricted to money, he said. "It could be donating time for something or visiting the sick."Synagogues do not pass a plate as churches do -- Jews do not use money on the Sabbath -- but they set dues, said Jackie Wetherhorn, president of Congregation Children of Israel.The response, though, is up to the giver. No one is ever turned away for not paying the requested amount. "All we do is to ask people to look into their heart and their conscience and give what they feel they can afford to help us," she said. Dues cover utilities, maintenance, staff salaries and charitable causes but not membership in the Jewish Federation and Community Center, which is separate, she said.
Tithing is newer to Catholics, said John Scherer, director of stewardship at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church. It was more common to take up a collection on Sunday for month-to-month expenses and then rely on fund-raising drives for larger expenditures, such as a new church. But the idea of returning a portion of one's income on a regular basis is seen as part of living out the call to be disciples of Christ, he said.
Stewardship is broader than giving money. It includes time and talent as well. "We are to be stewards of what God gives us, and it may go beyond the 10 percent, " said the Rev. James Costigan, St. Mary's pastor.Parishioners have embraced the idea of tithing and contribute about $1 million to the parish school through the stewardship program. Consequently, the school, which has 503 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, has dropped tuition for parish families.
St. Mary does not ask for verification of income to establish the tithe. It is a goal, not an obligation, said Mr. Scherer. "The school is an integral part of our mission to teach the word of God. As such, it should be taken on as a mission of the entire parish. We ask the entire parish to support it."Catholic students outside the parish, however, paid $3,200 each last year in tuition, while non-Catholics paid $3,901.
For most worshiping communities, tithes usually don't cover things beyond ordinary expenses. More is needed to pay for new buildings or renovations.
Trinity will have a congregation-wide meeting in August to decide how to use $2.1 million pledged for renovations. A proposal calls for new Sunday-school rooms, offices and improved handicapped access.
It remains to be seen how much will be realized during the next phase, said Dr. Jones.First Baptist Church of North Augusta is nearing completion on a $7.14 million expansion, $5 million of it financed with pledges. "We did have to go into debt. The mortgage will be about $2.2 million," said Dr. Gary Redding, pastor.
People will throw a $10 or a $20 at God occasionally like a tip, but they treat waiters and waitresses better -- giving them 15 or 20 percent, said Dean Newman, a sales director at Club Car.Mr. Newman, a member of Abilene, tithed his $2 allowance growing up and has taught his daughter Keller, 13, and son Carter, 11, to do the same.
His family is gradually moving year by year to a goal of giving 50 percent. "We believe 10 percent is a minimum," he said.
Trinity's Dr. Jones, who has tithed since he was an adult, said it is a reminder that everything belongs to God anyway.
"At some point, you ask yourself, 'Why?'" he said. "It's not because anybody forces you to -- nobody expects me to. It's because everything I have is really God's."