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Asking clergy about tithing in hard times

Doesbeing broke mean you're excused from rendering unto God his fair share? Can you tell the Almighty the check's in the mail?

Not having enough to go around can be embarrassing, even painful, especially if you're now the person needing help where you once were the person giving it. (Newsday reported last week that U.S. census figures show the number of Long Islanders living below the poverty line -- $22,113 for a family of four -- increased from 5.3 percent in 2009 to 6.1 percent in 2010.)

Can someone ask God to accept a payment plan? We've asked clergy how they'd advise strapped congregants.

The Rev. A.G. Chancellor III, Mount Olive Baptist Church, Medford:

If you're employed and receiving any type of income, you can tithe. It is a faith issue. Just as the government requires that you pay your taxes, our heavenly Father has asked us to give the first 10 percent of whatever we receive. It never is that we can't, it is that we don't.

If you're giving and can't give cheerfully, remember what the Bible says in II Corinthians 9:7: Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

If you can't give with a happy heart, you need to pray to ask God to help you give with a cheerful spirit. If your heart is not right, even if you're doing the right thing, your actions are not acceptable to him. We talk about this . . . in my congregation. It is not about the money, it is about God's word. When I'm tithing, I'm acknowledging God in my life. If you can't give the 10 percent, give what you can, and pray you'll grow in your faith and your giving.

Father Brian Ingram, Church of St. Lawrence the Martyr, R.C., Sayville:

Strictly speaking, a tithe is the gift of a full 10 percent of one's income or assets, and the notion of offering those "first fruits" back to God has a long history in the Judeo-Christian tradition. That being said, there are many ways of giving, and I think a person's inner disposition is far more important than a dollar amount.

In the familiar story of the "Widow's Mite," Jesus heaps praise on an elderly woman who drops two copper coins in the temple treasury. Her gift amounted to next to nothing from a monetary standpoint, but her giving came from a generous and trusting heart.

So very many people are genuinely burdened by the economic challenges of this present time, and in my opinion no one should be made to feel guilty if he or she is unable to match a particular dollar amount. But even a bad economy doesn't preclude a person from giving generously and from the heart. Apart from money, one can make beautiful gifts of time, energy, food, clothing, volunteerism and prayer.

Rabbi Helayne Shalhevet, Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai:

I'd tell them absolutely hands down -- and in Judaism in particular -- that giving is not strictly monetary. Giving through our time, our actions, lending a helping hand, is the essence of gimilut chassidim, or the giving of loving kindness. While giving money is appreciated and always necessary, there are many ways to give, and everyone has something to offer. The question and the challenge is to look into ourselves and find what it is we can offer.

It shouldn't be the case, but I think some people don't value their time and actions as donations. People forget that giving doesn't just mean reaching into your pocket or writing a check.

Pastor Randy F. Larson, The Vineyard Church, Rockville Centre:

I think some people do see giving to God as different from giving to the church. Giving to the church is giving to God. And, when you give to a person in need, it also is an act of worship. The money is God's, anyway. The thing about tithing is, it is proportional. Think of 10 percent as 10 cents of a dollar. Our brain tells us we could do something else with [it]. But he tells us in Matthew 6: 28-30 that he will take care of us:

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin (28):

And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (29)

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? (30)

Your relationship with God is more than just an intellectual relationship. You have to first settle it in your heart with God. For those who are finding it harder to give at all, remember that in God's economy, he doesn't look at the dollar amount, as much as the heart.

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