Originally found here.
This is an article reprinted in its entirety except for minor spelling/punctuation/clarity edits as I don’t think I could improve it:
Here’s an interesting view on the history of tithing and how it related to the wealth and financial success of the LDS church.
- 1837 – Presiding bishop defined tithing as two percent of one’s net worth, after deducting debts. This was voluntary and not forced, to quote, “Believing that voluntary tithing is better than Forced taxes” (source).
- 1838 – D&C 119 redefines tithing as all surplus property and then 1/10th of interest annually.
- 1844 – Official proclaimation for all saints to immediately pay a one time tithe of 1/10th of their property and money to the church. Exemptions are not made for those who paid at conversion (source).
- 1845 – The church emphasizes the need to pay 1/10th of all possessions when entering the “new and everlasting covenant” (source).
- 1846 – Apostle John Page, exempt from the rule as he was an apostle, left the church over what he felt was an unjust and mandatory tax. He further stated that many paid at the cost of necessities for life (source).
- 1851 – Brigham instigated a vote that would allow excommunication for members not paying tithing or following the word of wisdom (source). This penalty was inconsistent and not often applied.
- 1873 – Orson Hide describes tithing as 1/10th all of one’s property at the start and 1/10th of one’s annual income thereafter. This appears to be the first known instance of tithing being called 10% of one’s income (see edit for sources).
- 1873 – Multiple statements declaring tithing as 1/10th of one’s income that should “be gladly paid,” occasionally referred to as a “tax from the Lord” (Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, see edit for sources).
- 1874 – Tithing is an inferior law compared to the Law of Consecration (Orson Pratt, see edit for sources).
- 1878 – Even a widow who receives her full support from the church must pay tithing on those funds (L.W. Hardy – May 15, 1878). Note: the apostles were exempt from the law of tithing.
- 1879 – Lorenzo Snow agrees with Hardy, explaining the situation is a product of the lesser law (tithing). Had the people been following the celestial law (consecration) it would not be a hardship for the widow (Lorenzo Snow, see edit for sources).
- 1892 – Joseph F. Smith implies tithing comes before necessities and implicitly suggests that 9 dollars will go further than 10 when tithing is paid (see edit for the actual quote and sources).
- 1896 – Salaries stopped for everyone but the 12 due to financial troubles.
- 1898 – The LDS church is now $2.3 million (1800s $) in debt (source).
- 1899 – Lorenzo Snow stated that everyone must pay tithing, prompting a dramatic increase in tithe payers. This was about the same time he issued a total of $1 million in short term bonds (source). The manuals show this as a turning point for the emphasis on tithing and its connection with full membership. Also note the subtle retcon in the current manuals. This is known as Lorenzo Snow’s declaration on paying 10% of your income, yet income, interest, or 10% are not used in the original quote. Instead, he simply says that each man is “to do the will of the Lord and to pay his tithing in full.” 10% of “income” had not been used prior to this time.
- 1899 – Joseph F. Smith says tithing is a personal choice. Pay more to be blessed more (Conference Report, April 1899, pp. 68-69).
- 1900 – Lorenzo Snow commissioned a list of non-tithe payers in all stakes. “Snow told the apostles that non-payment of tithing ‘was worse than the non-observance of the Word of Wisdom'” (source).
- 1907 – The church is now free from debt.
- 1908 – Tithing can no longer be paid in livestock, property, labor, or produce (source).
- 1910 – Tithing is now required for a temple recommend.
- 1914 – The church releases its first official report on how tithing is being used (source).
- 1940s – You start seeing the words “income,” “increase,” and “interest” used interchangeably in publications from leaders and conference talks (see John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, pg.285-286).
- In 1944, you see comments on paying the Lord first. This is specifically meant to curb the practice of deducting taxes and living expenses (farmers are still allowed to deduct their operating expenses) (LeGrand Richards, Conference Report, April 1944, p.45).
- 1953 – Income made it back into General Conference talks (see Joseph L. Wirthlin, Conference Report, April 1953, p.97).
- 1957 – The LDS church has a $7 million surplus from tithing funds. Despite this, the LDS church manages to go $8 million dollars into debt over the next year and a half (source).
- 1959 – The LDS church stops publishing its financial reports (source).
- 1962 – “The Church was deficit-spending $32 million annually. New York financiers had to advise against the First Presidency’s proposal ‘to finance such spending by selling Church securities for the next fifty years.’ The new year looked no better. By the end of February, there was already a $5 million shortfall, and 1963 threatened to equal or exceed the spending deficit of 1962” (source).
- 1963 – In this version of the general handbook of instructions, tithing was clearly stated as gross income. There is no reference to interest or increase (also quoted in The Messenger, September 1963, No. 87).
- Concurrently in 1963, Tanner revamped the financial structure of the church and “step by step the Church was introduced to corporate financing” (source).
- Another book, The Principle and Practice of Paying Tithing, published in 1965 states that tithing is gross, and not net. Notice the trend away from increase entirely and the full acceptance of income.
- 1969 – Another conference talk on gross income (Bishop Victor L. Brown, Conference Report, 4 April 1969, p. 34).
- 1970 – Joseph Fielding Smith and the rest of the First Presidency sent out a letter formalizing that interest is defined as income, and no one can say anything different. This went to bishops, stake presidents, and mission presidents (source: 19 March 1970).
- Post 1970 – Quotes can be found by searching on LDS.org for tithing, income, increase, or tithe.
- 1996 – Estimates place the LDS church’s annual revenue at ~$5 billion with total assets between $25-$30 billion (Time Magazine).
- 2012 – The LDS church completed a $5 billion renovation in downtown Salt Lake. The LDS owned mall purportedly came in at $1.5 billion, three times the original estimate. It’s unclear how much of the renovation came from the church itself. After completion, the bishopric who supervised the project was released and tithing slips were changed to state, “Though reasonable efforts will be made globally to use donations as designated, all donations become the Church’s property and will be used at the Church’s sole discretion to further the Church’s overall mission” (comparison, old version on the left).
- Today – All fast offerings and tithing donations are sent directly to Salt Lake and distributed as the church sees fit (2010 General Handbook of Instructions). Income, interest, and increase are often used interchangeably.
Conclusion: Tithing changed through the years to pay for emergency financial needs; however, the corporatization of the LDS finances proved to be more valuable in the overall financial stability of the organization. The LDS church also shows a clear pattern of controlling information to hide their debts and, in modern times, their massive revenue. Financials are only released when the church isn’t doing too poorly or too well.
Note: this is not my original research. It’s a compilation of the great work of others. Also note that there have been subtle retcons, interest became income in direct quotes. Blatant example contradicting D&C 119:4.
Edit: Many thanks to rikker for filling in the gaps between 1873 and 1899.
Many thanks to curious_mormon and others who helped construct such an interesting and useful timeline.