I was astonished as I read the details of Sarah and Todd Palin's 2006 and 2007 tax returns. What triggered my attention was the line item on the percentage of the Evangelical couple's contributions to charity.
Normally this line item can cover different kinds of charity. But without looking at the details, most if not all of this money is likely to have gone as part of the born again couple's contribution to the church of their choice. And while some might contribute without claiming that contribution as a tax deductible gift, except for some small change thrown in during the Sunday offerings most if not all Christian contributors to churches do so using a check for the purpose of being able to claim that amount as a tax deductible gift. Churches by and large have and carefully protect their tax exempt status.
Sarah and Todd are known to have gone to the Assemblies of God Church in Wasilla and later to the Wasilla Bible Church. Both these churches, like all evangelicals in the US and around the world, believe in tithing, which is giving at least one tenths of one's personal income. While the Wasilla Bible Church's web site didn't specifically address this issue, the Assemblies of God's web site had this to say as to the Church's position on tithing:
"The Assemblies of God has always been a proponent of tithing (or giving one-tenth of one's personal income to support the work of God)."
A look at the Palin's tax returns shows a lack of adherence to this important principle. According to the McCain web site Todd and Sarah made in 2006 $127,869 and donated $4,250 to charity in cash/check donations (which presumably was their tithes) and $630 in non-cash/check donations (which one presumes is the cash in the offering divided by weeks comes out to a mere $12 per week), for a total of $4,880. This is 3.3% of their adjusted gross income. Less than a third of the 10% that Evangelical churches believe that it is mandated of the faithful to contribute. The following year, 2007, the Palin's contributions were significantly lower. In 2007, Sarah and Todd Palin donated $2,500 to charity in cash/check donations and $825 in non-cash/check donations( this year their cash in the till was higher up to $15.86 per week) , for a total of $3,325. This is 1.5% of their adjusted gross income even half of what was given in 2006. Assuming that this was all that was given to the Church and assuming that all the declared charity contributions were exclusively for the church, this represents a very very small percentage of the 10% expected of the evangelical faithful.
Much has been said and written about the fact that Sarah Palin has energized America's conservatives in general and evangelicals particular because of her various moral positions especially her strong stand on abortion. She has been repeatedly attacked from the left because of her and her church's right wing positions on various issues. The Assemblies of God web site gives a long explanation of the need to make the contribution of one tenth of one's personal wealth. It ends with this quote:
"We believe tithing is a recognition that everything we have comes from God. The practice checks our greed, promotes personal discipline and thrift, testifies to our faith, promotes God's work in the world, and alleviates human need."
Barack Obama, who has also not hidden his Christian faith and his church attendance is reported to have contributed 6% of his nearly one million dollars made in 2006 to charity. It is not clear how much of that went to churches, although the New York Times stated that in 2005 and 2006 the Obamas gave $27,500 contribution to their former church Trinity United Church of Christ. Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden's charity contribution averages out at less than 1%.
As to the republican candidate for President, and according to his own web site " most of Senator McCain's contributions were made to the John and Cindy McCain Family Foundation." No mention is made of any church-related contributions.
While the Bible talks about the need to help the needy, it also warns about people condemning others. In the Gospel of Mathew 7:1 Christians are called not to lay blame onto others. "Judge not lest ye be judged." But while the Palins shouldn't be condemned for their lack of commitment in carrying out one of the tenants of their evangelical faith, it is important, however, that the public at large, especially evangelicals, know whether their beloved candidate for vice president practices what she preaches. If the McCain-Palin ticket has decided to make character and not issues the key differential between the candidates then at least on this level, Palin seems to falls clearly short of her own church's principles.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian Christian who grew up in an evangelical church.