Bill Maher recently picked on Mitt Romney for giving money to his church.
"All his charitable donations are to Mormons. He gives to his cult. That’s not a charity. They're not poor people," Maher told the crowd of his HBO show "Real Time with Bill Maher."
Newsbusters did a great job pointing out Maher's inaccuracies, such as the fact that not all of Romney's charitable expenditures are given to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so I'll spare you all those. Let me instead tell you more about tithing and other charitable donations made to the LDS Church.
Let's start with tithing, defined as 10 percent of our increase or income. The LDS Church teaches that tithing is an important principle of the gospel, and that we are blessed when we we pay tithing. Malachi 3: 10-11:
10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.
This is a tried and true principle for faithful Mormons. Tithing is not used for a paid clergy. We have a lay clergy, with members serving as bishop and other leadership positions while simultaneously working at their normal employment. Then what is tithing used for?
Tithing donations are most usually remitted through the local congregational leader, or bishop, and from there to Church headquarters, where they are allocated and disbursed directly to the Church’s many worldwide programs, including its educational, missionary, building, humanitarian and welfare efforts.
In addition to paying tithing, Church members are invited to pay a fast offering once a month, which is the amount of money saved by not eating two meals during the members' monthly fast. This money is given directly to local bishops, to distribute among the local poor in the Church, with any left over money being forwarded to Church headquarters to give to members in other areas that need additional financial help. Financial help to needy members from fast offerings and the LDS Church Welfare Program generally entail a work requirement to preserve human dignity. It is structured such that members learn new skills and self-reliance, as abilities and circumstances permit.
The end goal is helping these needy members to become able to care for their needs on their own. This Welfare Program is very successful, and many outside the Church have taken note of its structure and how it could benefit the welfare programs of the United States.
For example, Ronald Reagan praised the program and said, "If, during the period of the Great Depression, every church had come forth with a welfare program founded on correct principles ... we would not be in the difficulty in which we find ourselves today."
Ted Kennedy has also praised it, saying, "I am enormously impressed, as I have traveled around the world, of the efforts that the Latter-day Saints have made globally." Also see What the Mormons Know About Welfare from the WSJ, or Utah storehouse at top of Mormon food chain from RNS.
Additional to tithing and fast offerings, members can donate to Humanitarian Services funded by the LDS Church. Current initiatives include worldwide Emergency Response, Neonatal Resuscitation Care, Measles, Clean Water, Vision Treatment, and Wheelchairs. Anyone can get involved, and this help is available to all, regardless of religious or political affliation. From mormon.org:
The Church sends out semi-trucks or planes full of assistance following any natural disaster, anywhere in the world. They send hygiene kits, blankets, medical supplies, food, clothing, etc. Volunteers also respond at the sites of natural disasters, many of them being the local members of the LDS Church.
Helping Hands is one of these volunteer organizations. Welfare Square in Salt Lake City is kept well supplied so that when disaster strikes, help can get on the way immediately. The Church partners with other charities around the world to facilitate the dispersal of aid.
Other places where members may donate to the Church include The Perpetual Education Fund, the Temple Assistance Fund, and a general or local Missionary Fund, to name just a few. The Perpetual Education Fund is available to those members who do not have the financial means to attend school or train in skills sufficient to support their families, who are often members living in poverty in third world countries. The Church offers them low interest loans which they will repay after they are working, which is why it is called a perpetual fund.
The Temple Assistance Fund is available to help those members without sufficient funds who live far from an LDS Temple to be able to travel to one and be sealed to their families for eternity. The Missionary Funds are donated to help pay the mission expenses for young men and women who would like to serve a mission but lack the financial means.
I don't know what Maher had in mind when he accused Romney's charitable donations of not being charity because the recipient is the LDS Church. As you can see, the LDS Church is involved in a great many charitable causes around the globe within and without the Church. We could hardly profess to be followers of Jesus Christ if we did not.