walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

thinking about tithing

No, I won't be tithing. Come on. Work with me here.

The Mormons have a lot of money. More than any other church in the US per capita, if I recall the quote from the recent documentary correctly. They really, really, really urge tithing. They also have a church welfare system, both for members and disasters (presumably it's part of outreach, but it's hard to be cynical in the face of how much they've done post-Katrina).

SFZC, in the wake of Richerd's departure, unwound most of the businesses that he had built up. (I'm still trying to track down whether that was Baker quoted in USA about finding stuff for all these people to do. I _think_ it was, but I've loaned it out.) There were a whole host of reasons for doing this, not least of which were tax implications. They realized they'd been operating in a very grey area not paying taxes on all this stuff and getting out of it would be easier than most of the alternatives. Under Baker, income and expenses grew very high; the first balanced budget occurred well after his departure, at about half the level of the peak. And of course that income has always included lots and lots of donations, big and small.

But when they were land o' zen slaves, they had a lot of people getting room, board, no benefits (no health insurance, no saving for the kids' college, etc. -- well, other than for Baker) and tiny, tiny, tiny stipends, and working jobs for SFZC. When they did the math, they figured that each hour worked by one of these slaves returned $2.89 to the center. Was that a donation or not? Whatever the case may be, they decided there's no way the slave would, say, live life non-residential, working some regular job for some secular person, and give $2.89 of whatever they made to the center. I inferred that they also thought that $2.89/hour/slave was chump change. Was it?

If someone were tithing pre-tax, they'd be making $28.90/hour to return that much. Call it $30. Multiply that by 2000 to get a full time job. That's $60K a year. I'm betting that's not anything like what those people were capable of making "on the outside". By unwinding the slavery operation, SFZC got rid of a set up that made them more money per person than a 10% tithe (10% of gross is the official LDS tithe, altho there is a lot of weasel room there).

I'm not saying that SFZC should have maintained their slavery operation. There were solid reasons for getting rid of it. But here are some additional comments on the subject. Several of the people who lived at SFZC (including Green Gulch and Tassajara) grumbled about no health insurance, no retirement plan, etc., but of course once you start paying all the expenses of a middle-class life, there isn't going to be anything left over to support the organization, much less enough to let you work part time so you have more time to practice zazen. This stipend/no-bennies/you're on your own when you leave/are kicked out is exactly the same deal at Jehovah's Witnesses "volunteer" run operations like Bethel (including, like SFZC, their farming operations).

I found myself wondering. Was there something in the air in the early '80s? That whole thing at Bethel about Franz leaving, and 607 B.C. not holding up and word getting out and the restructuring of the organization. That all happened right around when the Apocalypse was happening at SFZC. There's nothing particularly similar about the structure of either breakdown or what triggered it or anything like that.

But they do share one thing. The sincerity of a number of people at a relatively high level, when confronted with something they could no longer deny, triggered a massive crisis for an institution that had previously been able to paper over all their difficulties. Both institutions survived, albeit in a reduced form. I think SFZC did a much better job cleaning house and power-sharing in the aftermath. But then, I don't know very much about SFZC, so I'm probably completely wrong.
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