Illegal immigrants, MLMs, and tithing

Scott B. over at By Common Consent wrote a really interesting hypothetical question blog post called “Ill-Gotten Gains & Illegal Immigration.” He demonstrates that the Church is very serious about not accepting tithing money acquired through the nebulous idea of “ill-gotten gain,” such as gambling or fraud, and shows documented cases of the Church returning money upon the discovery that the member earned that money in a dirty way.

He then posits this hypothetical situation:

Suppose that you live in a hypothetical geographic region which has recently initiated legislation designed to identify illegal aliens in your community. Suppose also that you know of numerous families in your ward or stake who happen to be illegal aliens. Suppose also that you are called to be the Bishop of that ward. Finally, suppose that two individuals come to your office, separately, seeking counsel.

Person 1: “Bishop, I know that Family X are in this country and earning a living illegally. Any money we receive as a ward from that family represents profits on ill-gotten gains, and the Church has said that we don’t profit from such.”

Person 2: “Bishop, you know that I am not a legal resident of this geographic region. I am, according to current laws, an illegal worker. I know that the Church does not want to receive unclean funds as tithing and fast offerings. Yet, I desire to pay tithing. What should I do?”

Interesting arguments abound in the comments.

Personally, I think that multi-level marketing (more commonly known as “pyramid schemes” or by their acronym MLM) represent ill-gotten gain more than an illegal immigrant’s wages. And, as anyone in Utah knows, the Jell-o Belt is especially rife with them. But alas, the Church, as far as my knowledge goes, does not return the wages of those who make money as the top tier of the MLM pyramid. But that’s my two cents.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Illegal immigrants, MLMs, and tithing

  1. MLMs and pyramid schemes aren’t the same thing. They are similar, but pyramid schemes actually are illegal. If the church did knowingly get money from a pyramid scheme, I’m sure they would give it back. (Though I have time thinking that people who knowing break the law are concerned about paying tithing.)

    When I hear MLMs I think Pampered Chef, Amway, Avon, etc. Which interestingly, are sales jobs typically held by women who want to earn money, but stay at home. That makes me suspect the high-level of vitriol aimed at them. And I’m not singling you out in this, I’ve heard negative things about them from plenty other places. I get that having your neighbors try to sell you something is annoying. Even more so if someone is leaning heavily on the ward social structure to do so. But unless someone is withholding temple recommends or distributing church callings based on MLMs, then I don’t see how they’re immoral. What is it about MLMs that makes them ill-gotten gains?

    I often hear the assertion that MLMs are more prevalent in Utah than other places. What is this assumption based on? It feels like subtle Utah-Mormon bashing to me (more specifically, stay-at-home-mom Utah-Mormon bashing, like I explained above), and it always rubs me the wrong way.

    • Ted

      I stand corrected.

      The reason why I have disdain for MLMs is because it emphasizes a quickly expanding sales force rather than actually selling the product. I once had a ward member explain to me what I would get in an MLM. The incentives are designed to heavily promote getting more sales people under you than actually selling the product. You will not make any money at all being a good salesman, you will only make money being a recruiter and then reaping the rewards of the hardworking salesmen. Case in point: in the MLM I was introduced to, you make 1% commission on a sale you actually made, but you made a 20% commission on a sale someone made four levels below that you recruited.

      My father is a salesman, and he taught me to be a good salesman. I have no qualms about salesmen providing quality service and products and earning their money that way. I do have qualms about only the top tier of people in an MLM making money hand over fist in an unsustainable way off of the toiling of the bottom employees who have no way to get to the top through hard work because of market saturation. To me, this would seem ill-gotten, but then again, I’m about as close as you can get to an anti-capitalist while still loving America, so yeah.

      And the Utah comment is both tongue-in-cheek and also based on my experience and others. Almost every Mormon I know who has lived in Utah and out of Utah does report a significant number of Utahns working in MLMs. I suspect that it has to do with what you say – SAHM or men pressured in a bizarrely skewed economy to make a living for their families while being good fathers, or to make tons of money quick to support their growing families.

  2. 1 – Why would a church want to give back so-called “dirty” money when the church has a chance to receive that money and use it for good? Which is better – take the money and use it for the glory of God, or refuse the money which might then be used for non-christian purposes?

    2 – The New Testament teaches generous, sacrificial giving, from the heart, according to our means. For some, $1 might be a sacrifice, while for others, even giving 50% of their income might not induce a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, ONLY the farmers tithed, and it was equal percentage (a tenth). The New Testament teaches the principle of equal sacrifice instead of equal percentage. Equal sacrifice is much harder to achieve, if not impossible, than giving ten percent.

    • Ted

      1 – There are some pretty legal reasons for giving back tithing money made off of, say, investor fraud or bank robbery. Also, I think it’s just a matter of principle that the Church doesn’t want to use the filthiest of lucre to build the Kingdom of God. it doesn’t want to acknowledge that any kind of good could come from such practices. They use it to make a statement.

      2 – At least in our church, 10% is the lesser law. Ideally, we’d all be living the law of consecration as detailed in the beginning of Acts, but human nature tends to get the better of us and I guess God is being practical in our case.

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