Impending Economic Cataclysm: The Organized Christian Church Has Buried Its Head in the Sand
by Bill Sardi
Strange as it may seem, the organized American Christian church appears to be silent about the unbearable load of debt that Americans carry. There are few if any preachers warning their congregations of the inevitable economic cataclysm that approaches. This is despite many admonitions in the Bible to avoid debt, both at the governmental and personal level.
The Bible-believing churches were quick to respond to a technological crisis, Y2K, and to send their sons to war in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks at the World Trade Center. The Bible-believing churches oppose abortion and a gay lifestyle, but when was the last time you heard of a clergyman who warned the faithful for incurring debts beyond their ability to repay, or derided our nation’s leaders for miring America into onerous debt?
It’s not like this issue only affects a few in the church pews. In 2007, before the recession began, 14.7 percent of U.S. families had debt exceeding 40 percent of their income.” (U.S. Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, “Vicious Cycle: How Unfair Credit Card Company Practices Are Squeezing Consumers and Undermining the Recovery,” May 2009)
In the fourth quarter of 2008, 13.9 percent of consumer disposable income went to pay interest on this debt. (U.S. Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, “Vicious Cycle: How Unfair Credit Card Company Practices Are Squeezing Consumers and Undermining the Recovery,” May 2009)
From a collective standpoint, the nation’s leaders have driven America into $12 trillion of debt, about $39,000 of indebtedness per person says the US Debt Clock. The Federal government has financial obligations it cannot possibly deliver, particularly Medicare which has an $89 trillion shortfall. This year (2009) the Federal government will spend far more ($3.9 trillion) than it collects in taxes ($2.4 trillion). The difference ($1.5 trillion) is added to the national debt.
Regarding the national debt, the Bible says: "For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you." (Deuteronomy 15:6) Currently, nearly half of the national debt is owed to foreign interests.
Debt: too sensitive a topic
Clergymen may already know that dealing with the topic of personal debt from the pulpit is too sensitive a topic. According to CreditCards.com, discussion of credit card debt is highly taboo. Divulging one’s financial irresponsibility is not likely to make it into a confessional anytime soon.
CreditCards.com provides the results of their survey, as follows: the topics at the top of the list of things that people say they are very or somewhat unlikely to talk openly about with someone they just met:
- The amount of credit card debt (81 percent).
- Details of your love life (81 percent).
- Your salary (77 percent).
- The amount you pay for your monthly mortgage or rent (72 percent).
- Your health problems (62 percent).
- Your weight (50 percent).
- Your political views (42 percent).
- The death of a loved one (39 percent).
- Your views about religion (34 percent).
- Your age (24 percent).
- The price of a tank of gas (9 percent).
- The weather (5 percent). (Source: CreditCards.com research, January 2009)
Christian clergy avoids the topic of debt
It appears the clergy, in a pick-and-choose manner, have ignored Biblical admonitions to avoid debt (2 Kings 4:7: "Pay thy debt." Romans 13:8: "Owe no man anything") so as not to incite financial anxiety among their members for fear of seeing Sunday offerings dwindle further than they already have. The current economic collapse has already produced about a 10—15% drop in church giving.
Despite the many evidences of an unprecedented worldwide financial collapse, a faction of the church preaches the prosperity gospel. An article published in The Atlantic magazine blames the current financial crisis on the likes of pastors Joel Osteen and Fred Price, who preach a prosperity gospel. However, the Bible also teaches that "the Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts." (I Samuel 2:7) "For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45)
The Christian church has ducked its head on this issue and is on the verge of becoming an irrelevant institution in modern society.
Litany of reasons why
There are a litany of reasons why church leaders have failed to address this debt crisis.
Some of the reasons are ignorance among the clergy of financial matters as well as predisposition (a Christianity Today survey reveals 8 in 10 Christian churches have in the past or currently make mortgage payments).
Furthermore, since most Christian churches preach "God and Country" and often display a Christian and American flag in their sanctuary, it would be difficult for such "patriotic" churches to criticize usurious practices by the Federal Reserve and US Treasury Department and quasi-government agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) that established predatory and usurious lending practices for residential real estate. The Bible deals more harshly with unfair and deceptive lenders than it does loan recipients.
At the height of the subprime mortgage frenzy, where were the prophets and preachers warning of the consequences?
It’s not like the Bible is irrelevant in these matters. The Bible warns of incurring debts that cannot be repaid. "Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you." (Proverbs 22:26—27) There are now 18 million vacant foreclosed homes in the US.
While personal bankruptcies surged to more than 1 million filings in the United States in 2008, the most since a rewrite of bankruptcy laws took effect in 2005 (American Bankruptcy Institute, January 2009), the organized church has remained silent.
The problem worsens among young adults who have learned to use credit unlike their forefathers. The bankruptcy rate among 25- to 34-year-olds increased between 1991 and 2001, indicating that this generation is more likely to file bankruptcy as young adults than were young boomers at the same age. (Source: “Generation Broke: Growth of Debt Among Young Americans”)
The average credit-card-indebted young adult household now spends nearly 24 percent of its income on debt payments, four percentage points more, on average, than young adults did in 1992. (Source: “Generation Broke: Growth of Debt Among Young Americans”)
Americans are so mired in debt they see nothing wrong with it. It is obvious that many practicing Christians are living a lifestyle they haven’t earned by reliance upon credit, a practice that is at odds with the Judeo-Christian work ethic.
Out of a population of 300 million, there were 713 million Visa, Discover, Master Card and American Express cards in circulation in the US, and 55 percent of credit card users kept a balance on their credit card in 2008. (Source: ComScore, September 2008) In this modern world, it’s difficult to believe that some people are able to live without credit cards (27 percent of U.S. families had no credit cards in 2007, according to a Federal Reserve Board Survey of Consumer Finances, February 2009).
Millions of unsolicited credit cards are dispatched in the mail every year. One recipient, who couldn’t make minimum payments on her cards, said she considered every credit card that arrived in her mail box like a pay increase.
Usury: preying upon the poor
American bankers prey upon those who struggle to make payments on their credit cards. About 26 percent of Americans, or more than 58 million adults, admit to not paying all of their bills on time. Among African-Americans, this number is at 51 percent. (Source: National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 2009 Financial Literacy Survey, April 2009) Penalty fees from credit cards will add up to about $20.5 billion in 2009, according to R. K. Hammer, a consultant to the credit card industry. (New York Times, September 2009)
Issuers of credit cards lure people to activate cards sent in the mail with low promotional rates which issuers could revoke after a single late payment. (Pew Safe Credit Cards Project, March 2009)
These practices would likely be called usury (onerous interest rates on the poor) from a Biblical standpoint. But when was the last time Christians even heard the word usury issued from the pulpit?
Even from an historical patriotic viewpoint, the nation’s founding fathers were wary of debt. Michael Hodges, who writes The Grandfather Economic Report, says: "Our nation’s founders were against debt. At the writing of the Constitution they were concerned about debt incurred to finance the Revolutionary War, and it was their intention to promptly pay it off. Alexander Hamilton (federalist paper #7) called for the u2018extinguishment of all debt.’ Thomas Jefferson later wrote, u2018I place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared.’"
Having written a Biblical guide for Christians concerning the economic cataclysm now underway (Yea, Though I Walk Through The Valley Of The Shadow Of Debt, available free here), reviewers say it is not likely to get widely read because it is critical of church leadership and not likely to be endorsed by the clergy. But that is precisely the problem.
The Book of Hosea in the Bible has an appropriate scripture in this era of financial collapse: