Tithing Rewards Both Spiritual and Financial

The Rev. Bucas Sterling, pastor of Kettering Baptist Church, says he has seen
The Rev. Bucas Sterling, pastor of Kettering Baptist Church, says he has seen "an increase in what is called 'prosperity ministry,' the approach that says the intention of God is for all of his children to be financially well off." (Photos By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 15, 2006

LaVonne and Bernard Snowden have three children in private school, two flourishing careers and an elegant house in Mitchellville. As thanks for those blessings, the Snowdens say, they give 10 percent of everything they make to their church.

Carla Brooks, a Howard University graduate student, doesn't bring in much except her financial aid and what she earns working part time. Even so, she puts 10 percent of her money in an envelope marked "tithes."

"Anything that I get, I tithe," Brooks said. "It's not a hardship at all. It's like when anyone else gets their check. They see what they have, they pay their bills and live on what is left. I tithe, and I live off the rest."

Tithing, an ancient practice described in the Bible, is particularly strong in African American communities, where it is reinforced by centuries of family tradition. That has helped propel Prince George's into the top five counties in the nation for charitable giving, as documented by a Chronicle of Philanthropy study based on donations as a percentage of income.

A Washington Post analysis using the same data found that 14 of the top 20 Zip codes for per capita giving in the region were in Prince George's.

Across the spectrum of faiths, religious institutions draw much of the nation's charitable money, accounting for three out of every four dollars given, the chronicle's study of 2002 IRS data found. In African American communities, the figure is closer to nine out of every 10 dollars.

In Prince George's, tithing has played a major role in supporting churches -- helping provide the capital, for example, to develop the 73.8-acre campus of Jericho City of Praise, a megachurch in Landover, and pay off its mortgage in seven years.

When the Rev. Jonathan Weaver arrived at Greater Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church 18 years ago, his congregation had 65 members, and fewer than 1 percent tithed. Today, the congregation in Bowie has grown to more than 2,000 members; they worship in a $4.6 million sanctuary; and more than 75 percent tithe, Weaver said.

"Some people have a sense that pastors are heavy-handed . . . in the use of the Scripture to insist that people tithe," he said. "But we are not encouraging people to give 10 percent. We want them to be effective managers of the other 90 percent. God wants us to be effective managers of what He has entrusted us with."

At some churches, tithing is the backbone of a movement known as "prosperity ministry," through which churchgoers are encouraged to give under the belief that they could receive riches in return. The Rev. C. Matthew Hudson Jr., pastor at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, has been delivering a 12-week series of sermons encouraging churchgoers to put in not just the traditional 10 percent but even more to support their church.

"God is a promise keeper," he said in an interview. "He says if you give [to] me, try me and see if I won't open a window from heaven and pour you out a blessing. I'm going to bless your health, family finances and future."

Tithing first appears in the book of Genesis -- Abraham gave "a tenth" to Melchizedek, king of Salem -- and is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament. In modern times, the practice is open to many interpretations. Should a family give 10 percent of all its income, or of just one salary? Before or after taxes? To the local church or broader ministries?

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