UU leaders, ministers, staff, and lay, all agree that it is crucial to build "a culture of generosity" among Unitarian Universalists if we are ever going to do any of the things to which we aspire. In fact, it is the one thing that we agree on. Everyone from the flattest of the flat earth Humanists, to the most crusty nostalgic Christian, to the grooviest New Age hipster, to the UU comrade fresh from the barricades, all decry our legendary cheapness.
So why doesn't someone start thinking about how to encourage and recognize those who tithe? After all, we have national programs designed to encourage all sorts of other good behaviors, and to recognize those who are good examples. One gets all sorts of ribbons to wear on one's name badge, and one's congregation can be listed in lists in the UU World for all sorts of good things. One can even have little icons next to your congregations link if you are welcoming, or accessible. So, we are not afraid to make distinctions. So why are individual tithing not encouraged or recognized. Why isn't anybody thinking about this.
OK, I will.
1. We should define a suitable level of tithing. I think that the formula of 10% of income going to charity, and half of that going to the local church, and other UU institutions and organizations is a good measure. I think tithing should be definable by looking at the relationships between certain numbered lines on one's income tax return.
2. There should be national definition of tithing and national emphasis on tithing. So, it is not just old Rev. So and So trying to get a raise.
3. And there should be some way that tithers can be, at their own voluntary choice, be recognized as tithers. ANd we ought to encourage people to seek that recognition. Every person who tithes publicly helps set a new higher expectation for others.
When I consider my own congregation -- I think that the main effect of having tithing recognized as a general category -- even if no one was actually identified as a tither -- would be to turn our thoughts away from the "angels" as being the financial backbone of the church to the tithers.
We have people who I suspect are tithers in my congregation. I am close, but not yet. But I know that our largest givers are not anywhere close to being tithers -- they are just very wealthy people. We, of course, do not do anything to honor these large givers and do not recognize them, but just talk about them all the time, either in gratitude or envious resentment. We would be healthier if the financial contribution that was the projected ideal was the tither -- who might not be wealthy, but was just generous. The message of tithing is that anyone can do it; the message of angels is that only a tiny few can do it, and they better not expect anything in return.