Newspaper requires 10 percent tithe

When it comes to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his views on religion in the public square, I’ve had my own harsh words but I really had trouble with a news article I read earlier this week from the Houston Chronicle.

The headline of the piece is “Perry puts faith on display but offers little for collection plate.” Reporter Gary Scharrer decided to get very personal:

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry has never been shy about putting his faith on display, from speeches at prayer breakfasts to his 2005 signing of abortion restrictions into law at a church school’s gym to inviting the nation’s governors to a prayer meeting at Reliant Stadium that some are calling “Prayer-a-palooza.”

But when it comes time to giving, the governor doesn’t come close to the biblical guidance of tithing.

From 2000, when Perry became governor, through 2009, he earned a total of $2.68 million, according to his tax records. Of that amount, he gave about half a percent to churches and religious organizations, or $14,243.

By comparison, Americans averaged gifts of nearly 1.2 percent of their income to churches and religious groups from 2004 to 2008, according to Empty Tomb Inc., an Illinois-based research firm specializing in U.S. church-giving trends.

“He’s going to have a hard time with this. While that may be acceptable for someone who does not aspire to leadership, evangelicals get very concerned when their leaders don’t walk the talk,” said Michael Lindsay, incoming president of Gordon College and author of Faith in the Halls of Power.

While charitable contributions gleaned from public tax records are fair game for reporters, there’s something about this report that just bothers me.

Now, maybe Scharrer knows more on the topic of tithing than others, but is it fair to say that there is a clear and obvious biblical guidance for tithing? (Quick note: if you’d like to learn more about the biblical guidance for tithing and how some religious adherents practice, I recommend the book pictured here by GetReligion’s own Douglas LeBlanc.)

The fact is that while many people suggest that the tithing in New Testament church should continue to be the 10 percent of the Old Testament, there’s a lot of debate about that. A reporter shouldn’t just condemn someone but, rather, speak to different theologians for input on the matter.

And on that note, Lindsay is a great choice for someone to talk to about evangelical politics, but I’m pretty sure his view is not universally held when it comes to whether evangelicals wouldn’t accept someone who one year tithed at the rate Perry did.

Which brings me to another point — a single year of charitable contribution data is not sufficient for a story such as this. If the reporter really felt that a gotcha tithing story would be the proper way to fight Rick Perry, he should have seen if there was something unique about the one year cited or if it was part of a larger trend or an outlier. Actually, the reporter might have tried to do that but the section of the article dealing with other years’ giving is too confusing for me to understand.

Another Christian is quoted in the story but he is also highly critical of the governor.

This just really reads more like a gotcha attack than an attempt to either discern the wisdom of the prayer event Gov. Perry is promoting or evaluate Perry’s personal piety.

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  • Jerry

    This just really reads more like a gotcha attack than an attempt to either discern the wisdom of the prayer event Gov. Perry is promoting or evaluate Perry’s personal piety.

    It reads that way to me as well just the like Obama 2008 uproar over his pastor did on the other side of the aisle. We’re also in an era (I first wrote ‘error’ – sigh) where there is no such thing as privacy and every action of a politician of any stripe is subject to media circuses and blogosphere fire storms.

  • TheresaEmilyAnn

    Does the tithing just have to be to a Religious organization or charity? Can it go to ANY charity that wants to help people? Cause then you can count all of his donating to pretty much any cause, and maybe come up with something of a better number!

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The newspaper writer seems perturbed at the way Gov. Perry is handling religion in the public square. This handling certainly deserves to be analyzed, questioned, criticized if warranted. However, it strikes me as odd to go after an aspect of Perry’s personal religious life that has nothing to do with the issue of prayer in the public square or any Church-State issue.
    This is especially so since virtually every church or religious organization has its own take on “tithing” or donations expected from members. As said here it does seem to be a “gotcha” piece rather than real straightforward news reporting.
    I wonder where Catholics would fall in the reporter’s analysis since tithing usually isn’t part of how Catholics plan or rate their charitable giving. On the other hand some people and Catholic organizations are promoting using tithing as a giving yardstick for Catholics.
    In otherwords–what a murky, obscure topic to go after Perry on.

  • Harold

    The fact is that while many people suggest that the tithing in New Testament church should continue to be the 10 percent of the Old Testament, there’s a lot of debate about that. A reporter shouldn’t just condemn someone but, rather, speak to different theologians for input on the matter.

    Except the reporter never mentions the 10 percent. He has scholars talking about tithing (a word used by Perry’s spokespeople) but never draws the conclusion about 10 percent. Instead, the reporter quotes people generally about what Evangelicals believe about tithing and giving and that Perry’s record is well-below the national average (to say nothing of Evangelicals).

    While I would love to have seen a chart of his religious giving by year, the reporters used 2008 only as an example and then provided collective data over the time period they evaluated. It seems pretty clear to me.

  • Bev

    Two things: How big of a church does he belong to? If he belongs to a small church, it’s quite likely that $14,000 is a huge part of that church’s budget, and giving more could have a negative effect on the giving in general from other members. It happens in capital campaigns in churches all the time. A few big givers can give so much that others feel their small pittance is not needed and so they give even less, so rich members who know this are right in not tithing. And someone who is looking strictly at the biblical definition of the tithe would look only at giving to the local congregation. Maybe he gives much more to other organizations.
    Secondly, what’s with the graphic of a book with a foreword by Phyllis Tickle? She’s about as heretical as they come.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/bjmora/rpdenom/Reflist.html BJ Mora

    The original article does mention other charitable giving by Gov. Perry, and provides some context for his salary as a public servant.
    It also says that he and his family attend Lake Hills Church in Austin, which from a quick peek at the website seems to be a megachurch type. However, attendance is not the same as membership, so as an old school Presbyterian I would even ask if he has committed he and his family to any church. If not he has no obligation to tithe – that would only come after his obligation to join a church.

  • Dan

    Ummm… the word “tithe” doesn’t just mean “give/donate/etc.”. It actually means “1/10th”. So, you can debate whether or not one should tithe, but you can’t logically refer to giving 1/200th and say “someone who one year tithed at the rate Perry did”.

  • Ken C

    One problem also is that one should not look to the IRS or to one’s tax reports as the source of information on how much a person has given. A lot of contributions to charity may not be reported to the IRS, or even deductible. I know I don’t report everything for a deduction, sometimes as a matter of principle.

  • http://www.gourmethelp.com Pamela

    This has nothing to do with him being qualified for office. There are many Christians that believe that giving should be done from the heart, not compulsion as tithing is taught these days.

    If someone has problems with how they express their faith in the public arena, that is one thing. People can disagree there as many disagree with religious faith in general. But to say this has anything to do with his qualification of upholding the constitution as he would swear to do if he became president is amazing.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    As a Texan, I have to confess that I’ve been totally oblivious to Rick Perry’s religion until quite recently. I vaguely remember him signing the abortion bill in a church gym, but hadn’t read about prayer breakfasts. Whatever, his current status as presidential candidate-tease and his “Prayer-a-palooza” (love it) make it all fair game.

    The reporter gets points from me for pointing out the vice-president’s low level of giving, but loses some for the slimey comments from that SMU Methodist preacher (Agree with me, cause Jesus does).

    The salient point regarding tithing/10% is what Perry’s church teaches, not what various exegetes or reporters think the bible says. Personally, I’ve known Baptist, Episcopalian, and Catholic clergy to refer to 10% as the standard for Christian giving. I think it’s pretty universal, although I heard the opinion expressed in #10 above.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Well, it was #10, but it’s now #9.

    Which gives me a chance to put in something I forgot to add. Perry is starting to have other religious problems, this time from evangelicals.

  • BrC

    “Which brings me to another point — a single year of charitable contribution data is not sufficient for a story such as this. ”

    He actually used ten years of 2000-9.

    “From 2000, when Perry became governor, through 2009, he earned a total of $2.68 million, according to his tax records. Of that amount, he gave about half a percent to churches and religious organizations, or $14,243.”

  • Parker

    I’m living in Texas, and was listening to the radio on Monday when they talked about this. The thing that bothers me from a journalistic prospective, is that they are reporting on his donations from his tax records. The story isn’t that he only gave $14,243, but that he reported giving $14,243.

    I’m not saying that he necessarily gave more, but has anyone actually asked him?

  • J

    Perry is a member of Tarrytown Methodist in Austin which he considers his home church, but has been attending Lakehills (which is Baptist) in part because it is closer to his house (the temporary governor’s mansion which is costing state taxpayers $10,000 a month in rent).

    http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2011/06/of-rick-perry-a.html
    http://www.statesman.com/news/texas-politics/governors_race/candidates-mirror-population-in-attending-more-than-one-1009306.html
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/17/rick-perry-rental-mansion_n_578311.html

  • ajnania

    Although you pastor may for obvious reasons be the last one to tell you, tithing was required to support the temple in old testament Jerusalem.
    Although it seems reasonable to deduce that the new testament church is the Temple’s surviving analog, there is not a shred of direct evidence that that was Christ’s teaching.

  • JB

    I’ll be anxiously awaiting the follow-up articles from this reporter on how much money prominent adherents of the theory of cataclysmic human-induced climate change have given to, say, the Sierra Club. Or what kind of cars they drive, given the commitment to expose obvious hypocrisy.

    But if we must remain in a truly religious vein, may I suggest examining how often those who profess to be “Christians” on the Democratic side attend church? Or how their political positions often conflict with the beliefs of the church they claim to belong to?

    No, I highly doubt enterprising reporters like those at the Houston Chronicle would dare touch that, because no one ever has the right in the public square to question the faith of liberal Democrats, isn’t that right?


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