Why I started putting part of my monthly giving towards buying groceries.
It has long been customary in many Christian traditions to give 10% of one’s income to the church (a tithe). In a way, this parallels the way Americans have historically given to charity: blanket donations to organizations that do the charity work for us.
But for a while now, my wife and I have adopted a slightly broader approach to tithing: we’ve begun putting a small portion of our weekly tithe toward buying groceries for ourselves.
“What!” my Christian friends might exclaim. “Isn’t tithing supposed to help build up the church?”
Yes, it is. And in a real and practical way, that’s our intention exactly. I’ll explain—because I think an exploration of our reasons, in our context, may be valuable to anyone thinking about how to make a difference with their giving.
Many of us tend to buy from grocers without consideration for how animals were raised. We purchase the less expensive options to save money. We may not be aware of the way many animal factory farms objectify the animals they raise for profit’s sake. We may not think about the way we, too, unintentionally objectify those animals by putting our money toward supporting such factories.
So my wife and I decided to put a small portion of our tithe toward offsetting the cost of buying slightly more expensive animal meats and products from farmers and grocers who support a respectful treatment of animals.
What does raising animals in a respectful way mean? Generally, it means giving them free range by not putting them in dark containers or narrowly confined spaces where they’re not able to move about, and not maiming them or injecting them with antibiotics and growth hormones for the sake of greater profits.
You’re probably thinking: tithing to buy food derived from pasture-raised and organically fed animals doesn’t exactly build up the Christian Church, and therefore doesn’t warrant our tithes.
But I would argue it does, and here’s why:
Many people in my religion have already adopted a non-traditional, broader – or free-range, if you will – approach to tithing, one that’s not limited to church collection baskets. We allocate at least a portion of our tithes toward supporting various Christian-based causes and charities not linked to our home churches. This helps build up the universal Church by supporting its mission to sanctify the world.
So why not also tithe to support farmers and grocers who support a respectful treatment of animals? Certainly, acknowledging the intrinsic value of animals is not excluded from the mission to sanctify the world. This idea, after all, is rooted in God’s seventh commandment to respect the integrity of creation. It suggests animals have both an intrinsic value and a place in God’s world.
But what’s more, by tithing to uphold this intrinsic value, we actually promote our own dignity and build up the church from a bigger-picture perspective. This is because making good ethical choices positively influences the Body of Christ and, for that matter, the entire human race. In fact, as philosopher Soren Kierkegaard says, “We create ourselves by our choices.” To put it another way: making a gift to an institution doesn’t get us off the hook for the other decisions we make and priorities we set.
So we must more deeply subscribe to a Christian ecology, which acknowledges the interconnectedness of all people, animals, and things in God – one that holds to the Lord’s command in Genesis to be good stewards of nature, not to dominate or objectify it for profit’s sake.
This is why my wife and I support the efforts of pasture-based farmers raising cows, chickens and pigs in a manner befitting their intrinsic value, as well as grocers like Whole Foods Market and Native Sun, which use such farmers as their suppliers.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one to elevate animals to a position of equality with people, as do some animal rights advocates. Our priority should always be, first and foremost, to use our money – tithes and alms alike – to relieve human misery. However, I believe there’s a certain respect that should be afforded to animals, and tithing can help to ensure that respect is upheld, not only for the animals’ sake, but also for God’s sake and ours.
Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, speaks to this point:
“We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity.”
Indeed, by helping create for animals an environment consistent with the way they were intended to live, we help solidify fraternity with our fellow human beings, with God, and with creation as a whole. If we all were to give just a small portion of our regular giving to this cause, we would begin to transform our world overnight.
Bart Price lives in St. Augustine, Florida, with his wife, Angie. A Six Sigma Black Belt, he works in the Six Sigma department of a financial firm. He has published a poetry book entitled The Wild Woods Edge and creates and sells what he calls Photo Poems, combining his original poetry and photography on 8×10 mats. His art can be found at www.bartprice.com