More Money More Jesus?

March 27, 2015


So occasionally I see things like the above meme. Or similar ones with sarcastic slogans like “Jesus died so Joel Osteen could buy a multimillion dollar home in the suburbs”. Recently Christian wealth-adviser Dave Ramsey himself responded to criticisms over the cost and value of his own home clarifying that he lives by his principles of having no debt and giving back huge amounts through church and charity. Ramsey has always held the viewpoint of “how can the poor help the poor?” In his recent defense of ownership of said home he positioned his abode as a nexus for service– a place for other wealthy Christians to gather and donate to support church and charity.

Conservatives are hardly the only folks who preach service to the poor while simultaneously generating wealth. Weathy liberals abound. And honestly, could Bill Gates do the work he is doing through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation without his massive resources and personal wealth? No. Yet there is a difference between someone like Gates who made his money from business and someone like Osteen or Mr. Dollar whose “business” is that of Christian ministry. Protestant Ministers have never been asked to take a vow of poverty of course, but the sheer extravagance and amount of remuneration these high profile celebrity preachers earn has long irked not only cynical secularists but also many of the religious as well. Now Mr. Ramsey, of course, is not a pastor and hasn’t made his money from sermons–he’s made the bulk of it from financial advising. Of course that financial advice is, according to Ramsey, Christian-based. He advocates wealth generation as positive for his fellow Christians.Therefore his message and his money is worth consideration in this present discussion.
Ramsey echoes a sentiment that folks as varied as Jay-Z have also made with his “I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them” sentiment. Of course that is true to some degree. Yet the question is: is that Christian?

I do not ask this as an attack but as a genuine consideration. Earning wealth for oneself and one’s family is not at its face value an evil or a social ill unless one earns that money through destructive means and/or uses that money for destructive ends. I’m not here to claim a wealthy person is by default a “bad” person. But can a very wealthy person be a Christian? Can a very wealthy person be a Christian pastor? Conservative Christians will likely take this question as more of an insult than I intend it. I once again stress as I have in many recent articles that I am not trying to ask this question from the inside–that is, I ‘m not inside of the Christian tent pointing fingers and asking if those “others” belong in here with me. I am outside of that tent looking in and here is what I think–some of the people inside of that tent may be better suited and more honest with themselves and their neighbors if they exit that tent by their own accord and find something else to identify as because the label just doesn’t fit without stretching so far that it is unrecognizable. I’m not saying your “immortal soul” is in danger or that you are not “saved” but I am saying that if you are closing in on having a billion dollars in personal assets and you aren’t using 98% of it to make this world a better place you are kidding yourself with the Christian label.

There simply exist far fewer “Christians” in the world, particularly in America, than  people who identify as Christian. It’s most often a superficial label signifying one’s birth to Christian parents not that far removed from how most of the world considers their own identification as Jews, Muslims or Buddhists. Most Christians in America are participants in the civil religion of American culture that meshes patriotism, national foundational documents, capitalism, and common social mores. If generating, maintaining, and then sharing some of a great amount of wealth is your interest you may very well be a good person but you’re not a Christian in the traditional sense. Jesus was pretty clear about what his followers had to do to follow him. Jesus was not a financial adviser. Following Jesus through the teachings and example he provided (as best as we can objectively understand it 2000+ years after the fact) will not lead to a 401k or a vacation home. The original Christian community as established by Jesus’ brother James did not encourage its members to hoard their goods. The diaspora Christian churches as established by St. Paul practiced communal pooling of wealth and resources to care for the poor members of the community.

Now, you can: (a) follow these examples and some still do; or (b) not. They are pretty central to the original basis of Christianity, so if you claim Christianity and do (b) you are at most a Christian-influenced person. You may be (c) and not care about fitting into either category.  I don’t claim that a, b, or c is a “better” choice. It’s totally up to the individual and should be influenced by more than anything written here and it should really be based on more than financial issues as well.  I certainly wouldn’t claim that those who follow (a) will lead stable, happy lives and I wouldn’t even go so far as to claim those in the (a) camp are in any way “better” than those in the (b) camp just that they are more honest in their self-identification. You can be a good or a bad person in a, b, or c. Those in the banner at the top of this article are in a category of all their own, however. They are (d) those who misuse, misunderstand,and misrepresent a religion for personal gain (whether intentional or unintentional) and their seemingly sole (or at least majority) way of “giving back” is limited to their “ministry” which is simply a recurring cycle of misuse, misrepresentation, and often the spreading of false hope and blame to people who will never have that type of wealth.

I don’t think I’m done with this topic yet. But I’m done for now.