Should the Jobless Tithe Unemployment Benefits?
Yes, if Joyfully
John Densmore, longtime drummer for the Doors, took up tithing after John Lennon praised it in a Playboy interview. Years later, Densmore mentioned in an essay for The Nation that tithing helped him resist greed. He wrote, "During the Oliver Stone film on our band, the record royalties tripled, and as I wrote those 10 percent checks, my hand was shaking."
My left hand did not shake in 2008 when I tithed on an advance check for my book about tithing, but my soul quaked a bit. I was going through one of the most barren periods of my life as a journalist. I was filled with shame about not bringing more money into our household. I was unsure I could deliver the book.
Who was I to continue tithing? What, apart from a distaste for brazen hypocrisy in myself, moved me past this hesitation? Mostly this: I could not see in the voluntary discipline of tithing the same escape clauses that I would expect in a prenuptial agreement.
There are some reasons for jobless people—or anyone, for that matter—not to tithe. Do not tithe out of joyless obligation to law. Do not tithe if your soul requires nothing short of a New Testament demand to tithe (there is none). Do not tithe under the assumption that God will owe you anything. Do not tithe if you expect to default on a debt. Do not tithe if you will resent God for asking sacrifices of you—unless you intend the tithe, in the spirit of "I believe; help my unbelief," as your invitation for God to purge your resentment.
Do you see a pattern in those reasons not to tithe? If we live in ways that lead to double mortgages on our homes or leave us routinely treating mercurial desires as needs, something more than whether we tithe is at stake. Tithing is not a luxurious option achievable only by those whose financial security is assured. It is the ancient spiritual practice that God uses to begin setting our priorities right, to heal our hearts of greed and fear, and to draw us ever closer into his own boundless generosity.
My prayer for jobless brothers and sisters grows from my vocational desert experience of only a few years ago. May times of insecurity or fear draw you closer to God as your provider and shepherd. May unimportant objects in your life fall away and leave you feeling liberated. May you know, both through worship and through your giving to others, that God will see you through this wilderness. May you discover, in season and out of season, that God has a deeper purpose for all the blessings in your life than making ends meet. May you sense God's presence of comfort, encouragement, and redemption.
Yes, with Generosity
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the recent economic meltdown is long-term unemployment, a reality in which many thought they would never find themselves. For the first time, hardworking, well-intentioned individuals are paying their bills with the income they receive from government checks instead of their profession or trade.
During these tough times, it is easy for churchgoing, typically responsible Christians to fall off the radar as they deal with the shame of being unable to provide for themselves or their families. In these times, it is more important than ever that Christians seek out pastors, leaders, and friends who can provide loving community and accountability to be faithful stewards in times of hardship.
Scripture does not speak directly to the topic of tithing on an income that is not your own, so I am reluctant to say firmly, "Yes, give this much." But the Bible has much to say on the subject of generosity and gratitude. There are four questions church leaders and others can ask to help someone struggling with tithing on their unemployment benefits: