Last week, I critiqued a Sacramento Bee story tied to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Mormon tithing. The top of the Bee's report:
Mitt Romney’s tax returns reveal that the Republican presidential candidate does something fewer Americans do these days: He tithes.
Romney’s 2009 and 2010 tax returns, released Tuesday, show that he and his wife, Ann, gave 10 percent of their income, about $4.1 million, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The couple reported income of about $43 million for the two years.
While generally positive about the California newspaper's approach, I played editor and proposed a few questions that my markup of the reporter's draft would have included.
My first question concerned the specific amount that Romney gave:
Can you explain the figures in the second graf? By my calculation, $4.1 million of $43 million is 9.5 percent, not 10 percent. Has there been any explanation of the apparent discrepancy?
In the comments section, Frank Lockwood of Bible Belt Blogger fame chimed in with some helpful clarification.
Meanwhile, as I had time to read other news coverage of Romney's tithing more closely, I discovered that Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll had offered helpful explanation:
A campaign official said the governor bases his tithes on estimated income, since he donates to the church at the end of the calendar year before his taxes are finalized. He plans to pay above the 10 percent in 2011, to make up for the underestimate the year before, the campaign official said.
For many Mormons, the percentage of tithing varies from year to year.
“In one given calendar year, I might actually `pre-pay’ some tithing and then the next year, I’ll kind of work that into my calculation,” said Paul Edwards, editor of the Deseret News, which is owned by the LDS church. “I think that most Latter-day Saints can recognize it looks like he’s giving roughly a 10th, whether it’s one calendar year or over an extended period of time.”
On this week's Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I talked about the media coverage of Romney's tithing.
We also spent a few minutes discussing my recent post on a Denver Post story on cowboy churches.
By all means, check out the podcast.