Tithes: Time, Talents, and Treasure

Recently, Mike Huckabee commented on Ted Cruz’s charitable contributions, saying, “I just think it’s hard to say God is first in your life if he’s last in your budget. If I can’t trust God with a dime out of each dollar that I earn, then I’m not sure how I can tell him that I trust him with my whole life… To me, it’s a validation of a person’s stewardship and whether they put God first in their life, not just in their political endeavors.”

Now, I am not terribly interested in debating Cruz’s financial contributions. Put simply, tithes are designed to support the church, and I am not Cruz’s pastor, nor am I a member of his denomination. Cruz’s tithes are between him, God, and his pastor. Why do I mention clergy? The Old Testament makes it clear that tithes are primarily for supporting them: “And in return for the service they do me in the tabernacle that bears record of my covenant, I have allotted to the sons of Levi the enjoyment of all the tithe Israel pays.” (Numbers 18:21). Mike Huckabee is not Cruz’s pastor, nor does he serve actively as a pastor with a cure over any souls. He therefore has no business lecturing Cruz (or you, or me, or anyone) about whether he should be tithing, or how much he should be tithing.

Further, with regard to stewardship, Huckabee only focuses on its financial aspect. Many of us, I have no doubt, can rattle off the three T’s of stewardship, especially around October, when most churches begin their pledge drives to plan for January’s new budget. The three T’s are time, talent, and treasure. Based on his comments, Huckabee only seems to value treasure – the dollar amount which Cruz has donated to a church, which, again, is really none of Huckabee’s business. Huckabee also, of course, only appears to care about the dollar amount that someone tithes, when tithing treasure encompasses far more than simply the money one earns. Again, I am not out to defend Cruz, particularly, but to analyze the faults in Huckabee’s reasoning.

People also tithe their time and their talents. Having served several parishes in various capacities, I’ve been humbled repeatedly by the time and talent people have contributed to the church – time spent in the altar guild, time spent cleaning and repairing parts of the church. I know several lawyers who will tithe hours they will work pro bono on behalf of the church, and various other professions who tithe their talents in similar fashion; we must also consider the countless hours people will spend cooking for various parish functions.

Huckabee has no way of knowing how Cruz devotes his time and talents, and, as I’ve already discussed, it’s really none of his business. Huckabee is not Cruz’s pastor, who is about the only person on the planet who has any business discussing tithes with Cruz. Huckabee’s comments, therefore, can only be construed as an attack on Cruz’s character – an attack Huckabee has no business making. It is uncharitable in its tone and uncharitable in its intent. Huckabee does not seek a change in Cruz’s behavior (which, again, is not really his job), but only seeks to damage him. In attacking Cruz, Huckabee harms himself more than his target, which is a shame, especially since it comes from someone who was once a pastor himself.

As a rule, I try not to come down too harshly on individuals – particularly not in public, which is also terrible form on Huckabee’s part. That conversation, if it happens at all, should be in private between individuals, rather than on television or in an interview with the media. When I find myself about to lash out at someone, a certain passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews (5:2) checks me. “[He] can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.” Huckabee’s talents would be put to far better use focusing on his own flock and fostering its spiritual growth, rather than attacking an opponent in a manner he has no business attacking. Put another way, would you trust a pastor willing to gossip about you in public for the purpose of political gain?