Will Romney's Tithe to Mormon Church Matter?

When presidential candidate Mitt Romney releases his tax records Tuesday, voters will get a chance to see how much he donates to the Church of Jesus Christ-Latter Day Saints. Will the news help or hurt Romney with Republican primary voters?

Romney was asked this question in a "Fox News Sunday" interview.

"Do you think it could be any kind of a political problem, the fact, given as wealthy as you are, you have given millions, millions of dollars to the Church of [Jesus Christ]-Latter Day Saints?" host Chris Wallace asked.

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"Gee, I hope not," Romney replied. "If people want to discriminate against someone based upon their commitment to tithe. I'd be very surprised."

The Church of Jesus Christ-Latter Day Saints (LDS), sometimes called the Mormon Church, places great emphasis upon tithing, which means giving 10 percent of your income to the church.

Robert D. Hales, an LDS elder, writes, on the LDS website, "Tithing has been established in these latter days as an essential law for members of the Lord's restored Church. ... Tithing is one of the commandments that qualifies us, by our faith, to enter the temple – the house of the Lord."

In a recent study of Mormons in America conducted by Pew Forum, four in five (79 percent) LDS members said they tithe. LDS college graduates tithe even more, 91 percent.

Romney said that he has been faithful to his religion by giving 10 percent tithe, and made reference to the Old Testament command to tithe.

"This is a country that believes in the Bible. The Bible speaks about providing tithes and offerings. I made a commitment to my church a long, long time ago that I would give 10 percent of my income to the church and I've followed through on that commitment."

Most evangelical Christians, on the other hand, believe that the LDS church is not Christian because its beliefs depart too much from the core teachings of Christianity. The degree to which evangelicals would be willing to vote for Romney because of this has been a subject of much debate this campaign season.

While a few evangelical leaders have discouraged voting for an LDS candidate, most have argued that shared values and competency are what matter most in a candidate.

Many evangelicals believe in tithing as well, but there is greater disagreement over the practice than there is within the LDS church. A study last April conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals showed that 58 percent of evangelical leaders believe that tithe is not mandatory. These evangelical leaders likely view the practice as a form of legalism, which the Bible condemns, but still believe that Christians should give generously.

Romney hopes, though, that his tithe shows voters that he has a commitment to follow through on his promises.

"And hopefully as people look at the various individuals running for president, they'd be pleased with someone who made a promise, promise to God, and kept that promise. If I had given less than 10 percent, people would have to look at me and say, 'hey, what's wrong with you fella? Don't you follow through with your promises?'"

Romney may have pointed to his commitment as a way to subtly raise concerns about his rival Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, as most voters know, was unfaithful to his first two wives.

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