While participating in a prayer group on Monday, the leader reminded us that it was May 17, 2021, the last day of the extension given to us by the US government to pay our taxes. He called it our financial liturgical service. We had to see how much money we owe to the government so it can continue to function for our benefit.
That same day, President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris released their tax returns. It was recorded that President Biden and his wife had earned $607,336 in 2020 out of which they gave $30,704 to ten charities. The largest contribution of $10,000 went to the charity founded in honor of their son—the Beau Biden Foundation. Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff earned $1,695,225 and gave $27,006 to charities.
When we look to the Scriptures, charitable giving, tithing, or giving unto the Lord started in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 14:17-20 Abraham meets Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High. Melchizedek blesses Abraham and verse 20b says, “Then Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.” The tenth or the tithe has become a mark of giving for the people of Israel. In fact, God looks at the generosity or the absence of generosity of his people and writes in Malachi 3:8, “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, How do we rob you? In tithes and offerings.” God tells his people to bring their tithes and offerings and then he will bless them beyond their imagination. He invites them to trust him by giving generously and he will bless them even more because no one can outgive God.
Our government officials talk a lot about generosity and giving to help the poor and the underprivileged, but looking at our President and Vice President’s charitable giving, generosity is not at the top of their agenda. The President gave away 5.05% of his income, while the Vice President gave 1.59% of hers. President Biden and Vice President Harris talk a lot about the generosity of the American people, but these tax returns show that what they say and what they practice are contradictory.
This reality is not just for Democrats. I remember that the Reagans were not known for their generosity, either. When President Ronald Reagan was asked why he gave so little, the explanation was painful. He replied that there were other ways to be charitable, such as participating with one’s time and energy, but we were never told where he was donating this time.
Generosity is something that has to flow unhindered because we recognize that God has blessed our lives and, out of this abundance, we give to help other people. When people who have lots of money give large sums, their giving is recorded in the newspapers, but it does not mean that they give in proportion to their income. One of the funniest discussions I had as a pastor was with a church member who asked me if it was OK to be tithing at two percent. My sarcasm slipped out, and I asked the person how well did they in their math classes. My church member did not understand my humor and I had to explain that a tithe is ten percent. Giving two percent is not tithing, but it is a good place to start before working towards ten percent. Generally, I found that the people who give the least complain the loudest, while people who bring in less income give away a higher percentage.
It is easy to write an article about the President and the Vice President, but each one of us should check our tax returns and to see how much we give to charity. If we criticize them but do not give at the tithing level or beyond, we are hypocrites. If you read the Gospels, you know that one of the severest criticisms that Jesus has is towards hypocrites – those who lay heavy burdens on other people but do not practice them in their own lives.
Robert Roberts was an associate general secretary for the American Baptist Churches USA in the 1990s. He wrote books and conducted seminars to emphasize tithing and challenged our denomination to give cheerfully and abundantly. He told us that giving is something that is taught in our homes. Then he recalled two things that he learned from his parents—never to leave food on the plate at the end of the meal and to give his tithe to the Lord. He concluded, “I have been for all my life a fat tither!”
I do believe that if all the people in the United States would give up to 10% of their income for charitable work, we could wipe out so many shortcomings in our society. If we become an example in giving, then indeed we shall be what our Puritan forefathers and foremothers envisioned: a city on a hill, for the whole world to see. It will be our giving that will be the mark of our society, not the acquisition of more for ourselves.