Reality, Part 1

What now?In the nearly three years that Cerulean Sanctum has existed, I've posted many times about the disconnect between the American Church and economic issues. We've approved of Crown Financial or Ron Blue budget classes because they cater to the individual making personal decisions (reinforcing the stereotype that Christianity is all about "a personal Jesus"), but we're pathologically quiet about macro monetary issues.

I believe this to be an enormous mistake. If the Church cannot speak to larger issues than personal ones, we will increasingly be seen as irrelevant. We may already be there.

Many blanch at the mere mention of relevance, but I think that what is at issue here is not relevance per se, but the fact that we Christians in America can't seem to live out what we believe on any scale beyond the personal. That gives Christianity the sheen of being a religion that might speak to me, but can't speak to my neighborhood. In lieu of this, our faith falls into a category of just another personal decision, like whether to shop at Target or WalMart.

Gasoline is poised to spring up to $4 a gallon in some parts of the country. To the minimum wage earner, this translates into heightened desperation. Many people who work minimum wage jobs are forced to live outside the more costly areas of town, necessitating longer drives. If I make $6 an hour and have a forty mile round trip to make every day, I'm in trouble.

When I lived in Silicon Valley from 1996-2000, the cost of living was so exorbitant that the average two bedroom apartment rented for more than $2000 a month. No one making less than $15 an hour could possibly live there. Those folks lived in outlying areas and suffered through daily one to three hour commutes from up to a hundred miles away. I once talked to a Safeway grocery store clerk who commuted an hour and forty minutes one way to get to work every day. Now ask her to pay $4 a gallon for gas.

Ford announced record losses last week. They piggybacked a historically large recall on top of that bad news. Their bonds are junk. Toyota just passed them as the second largest automaker in the world. And carmakers aren't looking to build more plants in the US, but in China.

The sheer number of companies in this country that depend on Ford for business should give us pause. The sheer number of Americans who are now paying spiraling prices for every staple of life that is transported by oil-consuming vehicles should start us talking.

But the Church in this country has nothing to say about any of this.

When my wife and I moved into our house five years ago, gas in our area was about $1.35 a gallon. The digits swapped this year and the price of gas this last Saturday was $3.15. We own a thirteen-year-old four-cylinder pickup truck that gets about 22 mpg on the highway and a compact car that gets about 38 mpg. In 2003, we spent about $290 a month on gas under normal usage. We now drive less than we did then, but with inflated gas prices, we're at nearly $600 a month now.

We're not rich; nor are we poor. Kissing $310 a month goodbye hurts. It hurts even more through the ripple effect. The cereal we bought two years ago for $1.50 a box is now about $2.75. Multiply that ad infinitum.

We hear about a good economy, but the real facts are depressing. The latest numbers reported one year ago show that while Americans did enjoy more income, with steadily rising salaries, factoring out the top one percent of wage earners nearly eliminated all gains.  In fact, 99 percent of Americans enjoyed a 1.5 percent increase in salary over the dog days of the last recession. The 12.5 percent increase in wages among the top one percent accounted for the offset. Translation? The rich got richer and inflation ate the average family's wage increase.

Being better educated didn't help, either, despite the prevailing wisdom. Salaries for college educated Americans declined in 2004.

And don't talk about savings. Last year, Americans on average saved zero percent of their income. Nothing. This year, economists are already saying that we could be looking at a negative one percent savings rate. 

The figures cited here are the most recent we have. And that's before gasoline above $2 a gallon and Ford and GM bonds falling into the basement. 

Yet what are we as a Church doing in light of this? Not one thing that I can see. Did we champion the recent push for an increase in the minimum wage? (In Ohio, the $4.25 state mandated minimum wage hasn't changed since 1990!) Certainly no Evangelical worth his conservative salt mentioned this lest he be lumped in with Jim Wallis. Are we Christian conservatives true to our nomenclature by calling for conservation of resources? All such calls that I've seen have been lampooned. What are our plans to help each other cope with looming economic disaster for many households? Or is the mantra we're chanting in our churches today, "Every man for himself"?

I don't know why we're so shortsighted.

I want to tell you something you may not consider: There are people in your church who are really smarting from this increase in the cost of gas that is progressively trickling down into all goods and services. They're wondering how they'll cope. With China and India industrializing faster than you can say "globalization," capitalism's market forces dictate that demand drives price, and that demand for oil will only increase. What then, if salaries do not keep pace? As we've seen, they aren't.

I'm not a fearmonger. I'm only calling for common sense. Our churches MUST speak to this reality and start doing something immediately to ensure that the least of those in our churches are not bankrupted by forces they cannot control. Because right now, someone in your church is weeping over bills they could easily pay two years ago, but not today.

That person might even be you. 

More tomorrow… 

by Dan Edelen

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56 Comments

  1. Posted August 7, 2006 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Good article, Dan. Have you heard what Aaron Russo is saying about economic issues? If so, what do you think? If not, here’s a 30 minute interview. Freedom to Fascism

  2. Posted August 7, 2006 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Dan,

    The only problem I have with this post is that the only solution you offer is a rise in the minimum wage. With the unintended consequence that Bobby who lives in a gated community with his rich lawyer dad and surgeon mom can make more money at his job at McDonalds to buy DVDs with?

    It’s not just the poor that get the minimum wage.

    Wage and price controls don’t work. They just don’t. I’m not for a completely unregulated economy of course, but if you think regulating the economy (which is what, ultimately, artificially setting wages is) works and betters the lot of the working man, check out the sad history of Eastern Europe between 1917 and 1990.

    I don’t know what the solution is. But this isn’t a cut and dried “Christian = higher minimum wage”. The small business people who will have to choose between going out of business or firing that extra minimum-wage worker because they can’t afford the artificially hiked wages muddy this a bit.

    Regarding your larger topic – yes, the church should speak to economics. Justice does need to “roll down like waters” as the scripture says.

    But bumping up one price permanently in response to what may be a temporary rise in another price just results in more high prices for everyone (rich, poor, and in-between).

    • Posted August 7, 2006 at 2:00 am | Permalink

      Bill,

      I didn’t say raise the minimum wage. What I said is that I don’t see any Christian Evangelicals talking about any larger economic issues, including raising the minimum wage.

      Still, on that one issue, what explains that the state I live in hasn’t raised its $4.25 minimum wage in 16 years? Do 1990 dollars have a 1:1 correlation to 2006 dollars? If you don’t believe that to be true, then you support raising the minimum wage by default.

      Again, using the logic you provide on this one issue, why not LOWER the minimum wage to $2/hr if it makes no difference on a larger economic scale?

      And no, this will not be a temporary bump. Again, when China and India—the two most populous nations on the planet—start demanding more oil in their quest to further industrialize, the cost will only rise. Even your simplest economics textbook will tell you as much.

      As to my whole point, it’s not enough to say, “We don’t know how to fix it.” Are Christians supposed to go screaming into the night because they don’t have easy answers to hard questions? NO! But no Christian leaders are talking about our economic woes other than to start talking about Apocalypses and Rapture. That’s not maturity, nor leadership.

      What will your church do when people start lowering their giving because they can’t make ends meet? What is your church doing to meet the needs of people in your congregation that are in unproductive jobs that don’t make enough money? What is your church doing to help those people who are struggling under the skyrocketing costs of energy? What is your church doing to help its people conserve energy and push for alternative energy sources?

      A bunker mentality on this is no answer.

    • Posted August 7, 2006 at 2:43 am | Permalink

      Bill,

      BTW, no personal attacks on you here. I’m not trying to launch into you. Just asking tough questions that I think will benefit others. Maybe my wordings seem a bit rough. Sorry.

      Smileys aren’t always the answer!

      Blessings!

  3. Posted August 7, 2006 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Me again :-)

    Another two points. Regarding how “we’re pathologically quiet about macro monetary issues.” – i think most people, including myself, are woefully uneducated in how economies work, and are also encumbered with layers of ideology that have been larded on top of economic facts. We all need more education

    Regarding the high price of fuel – one solution that I believe works better than upping the minimum wage is investing in affordable public transportation. That way the poor person who has to commute for an hour can do it aboard a safe and efficient mode of transportation, while unclogging the roads and reducing polution, and extending the life of their car.

    [full disclosure - I ride the bus to and from work every day - 25 miles one way. It's awesome]

    This is good stewardship, I believe. I know many conservatives – many of them Christians – who are dead-set against subsidized public transportation. I think they are wrong.

    To me there’s a more straightforward moral case to be made for this than for raising the minimum wage. Our real goal should be to help adults gain the skills to move beyond the minimum wage bracket.

    • Posted August 7, 2006 at 2:08 am | Permalink

      Bill,

      Public transportation doesn’t go far enough out of many of the richer metro areas to get to the people who are forced to live many miles away from expensive metro centers. Plus, if it takes a car an hour and forty minutes to get into town, wouldn’t it take a bus almost twice that, what with constant stops and all? Public transportation does little to help those in low-paying jobs in an area like Silicon Valley, for instance.

      My area’s talked about a light rail system, but that’s to the tune of billions of dollars and would only connect the toniest suburban neighborhoods to downtown, neighborhoods that could afford the brunt of a public rail system. The problem is that those folks aren’t the ones who need it! Most light rail systems in this country are also losing money.

      • Posted August 7, 2006 at 6:54 am | Permalink

        Dan

        Public transportation doesn’t go far enough, but it is a step in the right direction.

        I know every place is different, but it actually results in a quicker commute for me, not longer, because instead of being entangled in all the other single-driver cars on the highway I get to ride in the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane on the bus.

        And the bus is an express, so it doesn’t have a lot of stops.

        Regarding lowering or raising the minimum wage. I don’t know what difference it would make. I just don’t believe raising it does much good, and has a lot of unintended consequences. I think that, regardless of what we want, there is that “invisible hand of the market” and it’s relatively mathematical – what something is worth is what people will give for it. Period. Of course, government has stepped in in many areas and fiddled with things, and the result usually has unintended consequences.

        But I’m not dogmatic. I know the minimum wage has gone up in my state since I once earned it (quite a bit, actually) and I think that’s ok. I didn’t protest against it. But I just don’t see it as a solution.

        • Posted August 7, 2006 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          Bill,

          A lot of metro areas lack the HOV lanes. Adding them is six of one, half dozen of another.

          When I lived in Silicon Valley, the HOV lanes were a major source of frustration and traffic tie-ups. There was much talk of taking them out. They work okay in metro areas that aren’t congested, but in those that are, they just cause problems because they take up a lane that would ordinarily be available to cars. 50-50 on this one.

          While I believe in the capability of markets to regulate themselves, I do not believe that some commodities should allow for speculation. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and quite the firebrand, is a very rich man who understands commodity markets. His blog did a great job exposing how light, sweet crude speculators are partially responsible for driving up the price of gas, especially right after Katrina. In truth, despite calamity predicted in refinery output, refineries after the last hurricane season weren’t in all that bad a shape when people finally got around to examining them.

          But speculators had already done their damage and the price of gas soared, in part to cover possible payouts on the futures markets.

          The government of this country allows oil speculation. That must cease and desist. They can stop it tomorrow if they want to. But we have an oilman in the White House who has a lot of buddies.

  4. Rob
    Posted August 7, 2006 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    At the same time – although not always an answer – I’ve recently moved a whole lot closer to my work. Cheaper commute (walk/train) and my wife and I now only have 1 car. I also have a much much shorter commute (saving 2 hours / DAY) We live in a tiny little apartment – which costs us a similar amount to a pretty substantially sized place back wehere i used to live (which is a fairly low socio-economic area..).

    You might have seen this article Dan: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07.....38;ei=5088

    • Posted August 7, 2006 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      Rob,

      On the flip side, it costs far more to live in many metro areas than outside them. (New York City or San Francisco, anyone?) Metro livers are also more likely to be pure consumers, unable to generate any of their own food.

      • Rob
        Posted August 7, 2006 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        True – I do happen to live in the second largest city in the country over here – but Melbourne is no new York.

  5. Posted August 7, 2006 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    As Christians, we are trapped in a bit of a pickle… some of it comes with the territory, and some of it comes from misguided teaching…

    We are taught to speak out for Christ – but not TOO much – cuz if you speak out TOO much then you are like “those rebel Christians who stand in front of abortion clinics” and we can’t have any of THAT going on… so – speak up, by all means – just do it with BALANCE and LOVE.

    I think that is B.S. We either speak up on issues, or we don’t. End of story.

    But we are too NERVOUS – what if the world looks upon us negatively when we speak out on issues? Well, guess what – THEY ALREADY DO! That COMES with BEING a follower of Christ.

    As Christians who are citizens of America, we can also SPEAK OUT through our voting. I voted for Bush because I believed he was the man he claimed to be. I still ALMOST believe that to be true, but I’m not so sure sometimes… since nobody can predict the future, the best we can go on is trust – and it’s NOT trust in politicians – but, rather, trust in GOD! He is in total control of the future – even if gas does reach $4 a gallon.

    And then, where does that whole “render unto Ceasar” thing come into play? Or submission to authority and those over us?

    There is far more to consider here than simply “Hey, Christian, DO something about it!” – Cuz, really, the way to DO somethong about it (the gas issue for example) would be to simply STOP BUYING THE PRODUCT! But that would mean giving up our cars and/or the comfort and flexibility those 3 cars in our family give us… and it is rare – pagan and Christian alike – for someone to be willing to “prove the point” in such a drastic, active manner.

  6. Posted August 7, 2006 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Also – yeah, light rail is usually a waste. Busses, though not as “sexy”, are way more flexible.

  7. A. Nonny Moose
    Posted August 7, 2006 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    While the Christianity community does what it does best – talk – I’ve faced financial collapse. Two weeks ago, when I told one of the elders at my church that I was looking at bancruptcy (despite having two graduate degrees and a modest lifestyle), he helped by giving me the name of a “good bankruptcy attorney.”

    I filed last week.

    So talk all you want but until people start writing checks to one another, all this talk about being members of one body is, well, it’s what the church does best.

    • Posted August 7, 2006 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Moose… Everytime I read Acts 2:42-47 – about the early church – I get this knot in my stomache because I realize I (nor any church I have ever been a part of) do NOT live as illustrated for us in that passage. We TALK (as you say) about helping each other – fulfilling needs, etc. But do we REALLY do that? Okay, yeah – a church might have a deacon’s fund where a collection is made every so often in order to supplement the fund – and then that money is used to help those in need… but there is a huge difference between dropping a $20 into that fund – vs – handing someone a check for $1500 to cover their mortgage.

      I don’t know what the answer is – people say, “well, it has to start with the individual… one person, then another, then another sort of thing.” Yeah, maybe. But 1 person living that way, though it’s “a start” is far different from a community of people living that way.

      I am saddened that the best advice you received was a network connection with someone to help with your bancruptcy… might there have been another way out? I don’t know – but I like to think there could have been.

    • Posted August 7, 2006 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      A. Nonny Moose,

      I understand what you’re going to. Too many times, especially in Evangelical circles, to be in financial straits is equivalent to being profligate with money, rather than the victim of other forces. People with financial problems are treated like they have the plague—and it’s perceived as catching!

      When we fell into a series of devastating layoffs, we approached our former church to see if they would help us should our situation get difficult financially. We were told to take a hike, despite the fact that we’d put five figures worth of money into that church over the years. Depsite the fact that they help people who didn’t even go to the church with the very issue we might have needed help in. No discussion as to the level of assistance that might be needed ensued; it was just, “Nope.”

      That left a very sour taste in our mouths.

      • Friend of Aslan
        Posted August 8, 2006 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        That’s terrible, but I can also relate! I went through a HORRIBLE time after my husband decided that life with his junior account exec was preferable to life with his wife and children, and departed for greener pastures. I wasn’t working, as the children were young. Two are profoundly handicapped (ever try to find someone to take care of handicapped children so you can work)? I was left with all the bills (wisdom of the courts). My parents helped as much as they could (especially with clothes and Christmas presents for the children, and if you don’t think those presents were important, you are dead wrong!) The courts entered a child support order but my ex ignored it, they never enforced it and 16 years later, he STILL owes $150,000 in arrears. Getting to church at all was a challenge, as the two children who are handicapped were not able to be in the sanctuary or participate with other children; many is the time I sat in an empty room with my boys while the service went on…did anyone ever volunteer to help? Once or twice, that’s it. Did anyone ever take my other two boys fishing or show them how to throw a football? Once, and only because the person in question had a “crush” on me. Financial assistance? Nope! I remember having no food in the cupboards and scrounging in the seat cushions of the car for change before things started to get better…but that process took years. Did God keep us? Did He perform miracles for us? You bet, but He couldn’t have been happy about the lack of concern on the part of people who knew my situation. However, that’s water under the bridge now.

        I am fortunate, more so than many women, in that I had an education, so while I did go through some difficult years, I had SOME hope for an eventual turnaround. Women heading up households who have no real skills are often in a desperate bind, and often through no fault of their own. Divorce is one of the leading causes of poverty in the US, and fully 80% of court ordered child support is NEVER collected.

        Years later, things are much better, although I am not, and probably never will be wealthy (unless you compare my standard of living to that of a resident of, say, Sudan). I am remarried, and my husband is woefully under-employed; I am in nonprofit, so we get by, but we still have struggles, and it appears that we may be in for hard times again.

        Unless the church really, and I mean REALLY, starts laying down its life for widows and fatherless children (do you have any idea how many children there are in the foster care system who need homes? Why aren’t Christians opening their hearts to these children and teenagers? Too messy to have extra people around?) we will never see the blessings that God showers upon people who undertake to really care for them. This is an issue that is near and dear to God’s father-heart, as He affirms over and over in Scripture that HE is a father to the fatherless, and He furthermore promises punishment to those who persecute the widow.

        We as a Body HAVE to start dying to the flesh (myself included!) and do the hard work of obeying our Father in EVERYTHING He says. It looks as though we may have a custom-made opportunity soon to really put our treasure where our hearts are.

    • Francisco
      Posted August 7, 2006 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      My aunt told me she was told asian people who own small business help each other when one among them is in financial need by collecting money to help him start out the business again. Up to two times. Third time they give up on him. Sorry, I have no fact checker, so if you want to correct me, please do so.

    • Posted August 8, 2006 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Moose-

      Back in the 70′s a friend of mine started a stationary store. He networked with Christian business owners and got off to a good start. Within a couple years, however, he started running into financial troubles. The reason? The Christian business owners weren’t paying their bills. He finally went bankrupt. He moved to a lower cost area and went back to work, as he pledged to pay back all his creditors, regardless of the bankrupcy protection. He lived what I would call an exemplary Christian life, ran his business according to the most upright moral standards, and lost it all because other Christians did not live up to the simple standard of “Thou shalt not steal”, much less “selling all they had and giving to anyone as they had need.”

      The Christian community would be a very different place if we obeyed God’s word and looked out for one another.

  8. Posted August 7, 2006 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Great post, Dan. I love what you have to say about us caring for those around us in our churches (and I would add in our community–if we’re even in relationship with our neighbors). I agree. I however, think the minimum wage should be raised. The American Evangelical church seems to worry about God’s judgment on our nation when it comes to issues that stem from sexual sin: abortion, homosexuality, pornography, etc. But for some reason, though the OT prophets decried unfair wages and abuse of the poor, in the name of capitalism and individualism, we can tend to overlook those issues as worthy of a prophetic voice. My life and outlook changed dramatically when I took Isaiah 58 to heart. I’d challenge anybody to read it and insert themselves in place of Israel. How does God really feel about people?

    Maybe small businesses would fall apart if they were forced to pay a living wage to their employees, or maybe God would reward their faithfulness and generosity.

    The first place to begin is with ourselves and our own family. By first admitting we really are part of a society, a community, and that our choices don’t just affect ourselves but those around us–from our neighbor to some child in a sweatshop to workers chained to their workspaces. Where we buy and what we buy matters.

    Regarding oil, I have to admit, when I see a Hummer go by I think, “Hey you’re using up a lot of people’s fuel, buddy!” :-) There are so many ways to conserve I won’t bore you with the details here. And the great thing is, you’ve got a little more money to, gasp, maybe redistribute (instead of going on an extra-great vacation) to those in your church and community who need help. Of course, you might be in the position that you need the help from those who have it. Wouldn’t it be great if brothers and sisters in Christ stopped their shopping sprees and buying luxury cars and houses, in order to live out the commands of scripture? But we have the right to buy whatever and wherever we want, right? (BTW: Costco as opposed to Sam’s Club, treats its employees with great salaries and benefits and working conditions. A real live example that you can treat your employees fairly and still do well.)

    Sure we do. But we can choose to sacrifice financial wealth and prestige or we can choose to sacrifice ministry opportunity. The choice really is ours. So we must ask, what choice is closer to the heart of God, will advance His kingdom and will be “incorruptible?” But it’s time we start being honest with ourselves that the one choice really is more Jesusy than the other. And the choice to abstain is really difficult, but at the end of our lives, which one will we be glad to have passed down to our children?

    • Posted August 7, 2006 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Lisa,

      Welcome! I hadn’t noticed that you had posted here previously. It’s a privilege to have another respected author reading Cerulean Sanctum.

      I agree with your points, especially the one about the prophets.

      My household opts out of many common activities that cost a lot of money when added up. I know many people who still attend those activities, even though they’re saving no money at all or are living off credit cards. I don’t understand that.

      Choosing the incorruptible becomes a luxury, though, when folks are finding it hard to even make ends meet. I know many families who were adamant that mom would stay home with the kids until the kids required braces, or someone got sick, or property taxes skyrocketed, or any of a host of things that catch people by surprise. Five years ago, I knew about a dozen homeschooling moms who had no jobs outside the home. Now I know one. Most have had to bail on their plans because of economic issues. And none of those people are profligate in any way. They’re not trying to keep up with the Joneses; they simply can’t keep up with even subsistence living on a single income.

      All that wreaks havoc with ministry or church involvement. We need to find solutions to this problem.

  9. Posted August 7, 2006 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks for being one of the few Baptist blogs to tackle economics. I do so irregularly on my blog, Levellers. You can use the search engine to find those posts if you want to compare notes.

    • Posted August 7, 2006 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Bill,

      If I tell you that Cerulean Sanctum isn’t a Baptist blog per se (I actually attend a Pentecostal Church, grew up in the Lutheran Church, and was part of the Vineyard Church for years), will you still read it? ;-)

      Blessings.

  10. Posted August 7, 2006 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Lisa

    I appreciate your heart and agree with much of what you’ve written.

    I would like to offer some perspective, though. America, by and large, does not have poverty on any scale like what could be found in the OT times. We have safety nets upon safety nets, and a lot of very generous people who devote many hours and dollars toward eradicating poverty. We will, of course, always have the poor with us. But we need to be careful: not to keep beating a dead horse, but the reason raising the minimum wage is an attractive solution is because generally it penalizes someone else – since most of us don’t own a business. I am not as hard-line as I may sound on it – I think the minimum wage should probably grow with inflation. But – to turn Dan’s earlier question to me around – why not just raise it to $20/hour?

    We need to be very smart in how we fight poverty. So much of it in this country is based on disfunctional families and disfuntional cultures.

    And the church should truly be at the forefront – we’ve abdicated much of our role to the government. But churches still give an enormous amount – more than most people realize in our cynical times.

    To the person who went bankrupt – I’m so sorry. Did you approach your church’s benevolence committee? Will they offer no support? If so, that’s such a shame.

    And, you’re right. We do talk a lot. But many churches will and do help their members.

    • Posted August 7, 2006 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Bill,

      The figures I cited in my post affect even the upper middle class. Wages are stagnant for everyone but the top one percent of wage earners in this country.

      About five years ago, my old church (mostly middle-class to upper-middle-class) did a survey during a series on financial responsibility that asked, “How many of you have set aside at least six months income in case of unemployment?” There were five hands raised in a packed house of about three thousand! :-O And my wife and I were two of those hands.

      That’s insane. I’m always wondering how people live. They drive cars that cost $30,000+ that guzzle gas, live in $400,000 homes, go on vacations twice a year and yet they have no savings or money set aside in case the breadwinner loses his/her job? They buy, buy, buy. But how? Where’s the money coming from?

      • Francisco
        Posted August 7, 2006 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        …and some would say to you -as I myself heard of- that such consumerism-driven society is what makes America great…

      • Friend of Aslan
        Posted August 8, 2006 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        Have you seen the stats on the extent of credit card, and other types of debt, in America today? It is STAGGERING, and the bill is about to come due. People no longer save for an important purchase, or a family vacation – they use a credit card or take out a home equity loan, etc. People simply are incapable, it seems, of deferring gratification – they have to have waht they want NOW, and consequences take the hindmost. This ties into an earlier post on your blog wherein you state that Americans are a nation of short-sighted individuals who tend to think expediently rather than creatively (my own pet peeve) – and this is one more example among many (the economy, the planet, etc.).

        Thanks for asking the hard questions, Dan.

  11. Posted August 7, 2006 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Dan-

    Looks like you touched a live wire on this one…

    Americans as a whole are woefully ignorant of economics, micro or macro. Christians are a special case, however. I find it fascinating that Christians are so sensitive about the subject when placed in the context of Christian living. Evangelical Christians in particular have been over-sensitised by the social gospel of the 60′s and 70′s and the prosperity gospel (name it and claim it) that still dwells with us today (have you listened to Joel Osteen?) that we flinch when any discussion of money comes along.

    So what do we do when presented with economic responsibility on a national and even international scale? We need to go back to the Bible and take another look at how God wants us to deal with others. We are called to “pray for your leaders, that it may go well for you.” We are called to be aware of what goes on around us, as shown by Paul in the courtyards of the Gentiles. He knew the times and the cultures and so was persuasive in his arguments. We are told to be moderate in all things, including our spending habits. And, as modelled by the early church, we are to take care of those unable to take care of themselves.

    Finally, we should not be silent when we see injustice. This is not limited to criminal cases! When we see a Christian family struggling because the members are unable or unwilling to make decisions that will better their situation, we should do what we can to make a difference. It may seem like meddling, and in our individualistic society, it is, but our life in Christ is not individualistic, it is corporate. We have a responsibility for the welfare of the other members of our body. It is that meddling that shows the outside world what Christians are, and what we believe. It is that that makes us relevant.

    • Posted August 7, 2006 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      David,

      We’ve exchanged the idea that no one in the church is to have any needs with the idea that every household is an island that must pull itself up by its own bootstraps. That pathological self-reliant belief system has been discussed here countless times. It’s at the heart of the disconnection many Christians feel within their churches. It’s why one pew can hold a family who just spent $40,000 remodeling their basement seated next to one where both parents work sixty hours a week each just to meet basic needs. That’s wrong.

      Until we can get past this “What’s mine is mine, and you go get your own” garbage mentality we suffer from in America, we won’t see the kind of vibrant Christian community so many of us long for.

      • Posted August 7, 2006 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        Amen!
        Acts 2:44-45 All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

      • Posted August 7, 2006 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        Amen!

        Acts 2: 44-45 All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

  12. Posted August 7, 2006 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Bill,

    you said “the minimum wage should probably grow with inflation” but it hasn’t. It has not been raised for almost 10 years and when it came down to the wire recently, someone thought it would be a good idea to link it with another tax break for the those at the top of the economic ladder. Don’t you think that is criminal?

    I think the effect on “small business” thing is overhyped. And I do not agree that it is the upper middle class kids who will benefit from a minimum wage increase. There is such a think as the hard working poor. I have met them personally, not just read about them. I am “blessed” to be in a profession where there is so much demand at this time that I presently have no financial or job security worries and I only look at the prospect of a $5 per gallon gas as a minor financial incovenience but what Dan Edelen has written about is real. Yes, the situation is worse in many far poorer nations of this world but the Body of Christ in this country needs to start looking seriously at these issues.

    Dan,
    In my church there is a weekly prayer bulletin and invariably each week, there is an individual asking for prayer for financial difficulty. How do you think we or an individual church member should respond to this. It is a fairly big church. I do pray about it but I feel I am doing the “be warmed and be fed” thing. The alternative is to seek out such a person, talk to the person and write a check. I understand why the church won’t do it because it may set a precedent. I can do it as an individual but where does it end? Then there are the usual thoughts I use to rationalise my inactivity- “I have my own responsibilities” ” what about all the needy in my own family” ” there are safety nets in this country” “you may not be helping the person by just giving him or her money” – this last one does not make sense actually

    Maybe you will be addressing possible solutions in Part 2, but what are the practical things you think individual Christians should be doing?
    -Raymond

    do not help anyone by just giving him or her cash”the needy in your own may not be helping the person

    • Posted August 8, 2006 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      “I understand why the church won’t do it because it may set a precedent.”

      Like this? “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” Acts 2:45-46, 4:34-35

      That’s supposed to be precedent. Y’know? :/

  13. Posted August 7, 2006 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    sorry, the last line at the bottom of comment above should have been edited out. please ignore. -Raymond

  14. Jeff H
    Posted August 7, 2006 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    A quick observation regarding the minimum wage. Most of the people I know who work for small businesses (in lower paying jobs) tend to get a decent salary and full benefits. Conversely, most of the people making minimum wage are working for large retail chains and have practically no benefits.

    My take on this is that small business owners have a relationship with each of their employees and (generally) make sure that they can get by. One owner I know would occasionally skip his own paycheck during a down month to make sure the employees were paid.

    With large businesses the owners (or shareholders) are isolated from the workers and profit outweighs any sense of obligation to take care of the workers. These are the workers who need the protection of a decent minimum wage.

    • contractor
      Posted August 7, 2006 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your comment Jeff H. I am a small business owner experiencing a situation exactly as you describe. Big business would like to see me go out of business. Increasing the minimum wage would help many of my unskilled friends so I have no aversion to the idea, but increasing it substantially might make it difficult for me to offer competitive wages to my employees. So I am holding out on this question.

      Since I am in a construction related trade, I am forced to hire contracted labor until the job is done when I have to lay them off until the next big job. This is the nature of our business and our empoyees are used to it. However, because of this I try to pay better than average – as high as I can and still turn a reasonable profit.

      However, this brings me to another problem. I find it extremely difficult to find workers who are truly skilled and who are honest. In fact, getting them to show up at the job is a feat in itself. Even Christians don’t seem to share our work ethic. Forget hiring people from church or relatives or friends. (One of them stole our personal car and totaled it last winter. How is that for gratitude for teaching them a marketable skill!?)

      All I want is an honest, reliable, skilled person who wants a good, steady job. I would love to keep them around a long time. As our business grows I would absolutely love to give them great benefits. But I have found only one person with those attributes – and I am married to him.

      I am trying to run an honest business, but I am constantly dealing with dishonest employees: they exagerate about their “skills”, they steal from employer and client, and they are rarely punctual and take a break every time the boss isn’t looking. These attributes all cost me money and accounts. Sorry this comment sounds so dismal, but this is where I live right now. I would welcome any input from your readers on this one, Dan.

      • Posted August 7, 2006 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        Contractor,

        I framed houses for a living in my mid-twenties. I worked fast, showed up on time, worked ten hour days, and took two fifteen minutes breaks and a half hour lunch. When the business I worked for was sold, the new owners refused to take on anyone who wasn’t already union. Told me to take a hike despite glowing reviews from my supervisors. All of us non-union guys were tossed out.

        So I’m only partially sympathetic. Builders in the 1980s created the mess they find themselves in now. Yes, it hurts the smaller guys out there, but the smaller guys looked the other way, too, and now they’re paying for it. The big guys poisoned the well and the little guys drank anyway. Now everyone’s sick.

        I hate to recommend labor that’s here on questionable pretenses, but I know some contractors who hire Ecuadorans and Guatemalans who work their butts off and do good work.

        You’re also right on the “Christian” issue. At this point in my life, I tend to run the other way when an electrician, plumber or similar tradesman tells me he operates from Christian principles. My own own experience is that the work is done shoddily, over the estimate, and without much regard for me as the homeowner. Christian tradesmen are likely to foist off their own poor showing by falling back on “Christian” excuses. That doesn’t pass with me. If anything, they need to show me a higher standard of operation. Today, I want a proven track record of on-time and under or at estimate. No Bible-based excuses, either.

        I can’t stay in business if I don’t meet my deadlines. Yes, I sometimes have to push projects back because customers have not provided me with the material I need to proceed. But they’re also very aware that’s their fault and not mine.

        I’ve never had a customer give me anything but glowing reviews. That’s because my standards are exceptionally high for what I do. No one gets excuses from me. I don’t try to hide behind the Bible, either. (I doubt Paul embroidered Scripture verses into his tents.) I’m a freelance commercial writer who just happens to be a Christian. I’m not a “Christian freelance commercial writer.” There are no fish on my corporate stationery and no Jesus phraseology in my contracts and estimates. If someone wants to know, I tell them. Otherwise, it’s strictly business. Because in the end, the only one I have to answer to is the Lord.

        • contractor
          Posted August 8, 2006 at 11:04 am | Permalink

          Gee Dan, for someone who complains about how the church has not been compassionate about your needs in difficult times I expected a more compassionate answer from you. I don’t understand your metaphor. Just what poisoned well do you think we drank from?

          I understand what you are saying about not trusting businessmen just because they claim to be Christian, but we have worked very hard to have a stellar reputation in our town. Proof of our work ethic is evident in the fact that a decent percentage of our business is from repeat customers who have found us to be honest and fair. We have been in the business (but working for other people) for more than 25 years. I don’t think our business fits the description you offer. I am glad that you have it all figured out for your business, though.

          As for hiring guys with green cards, I would have abolutely no qualms with doing that – if they were skilled and I knew how to find them. There are no Ecuadorians or Guatemalans that I know of, but there are a number of Mexicans in our area. If only we spoke the language….

          • Posted August 8, 2006 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

            Contractor,

            The poisoned well is exalting the people who game the system and not the hard-working folks. This has been a consistent theme in my business posts. The guy who knows where the skeletons are buried always avoids the axe, while the truly productive guy’s out on the unemployment line the next day.

            That used to be more of a function of larger business because smaller businesses could not afford to lose their best people. But the jackbooted business tactics of some larger companies (especially with well-known CEOs) trickled down to the small business guy, who now plays the same game because their CEO hero in the big company did and “won big.” Jack Welch, anyone?

            Everyone suffers for that poisoning. Everyone.

            I have no problem with businesses run by Christians. I have a business run by a Christian! But what I detest is when those very business people LEAD with their Christianity, rather than letting the work speak. Their faith becomes an excuse to hide terrible work. If all a Christian businessman has going for him is that he’s a Christian, then that’s awful. Yet a quick check of Christian radio and print ads will show you just that. “I’m a Christian, therefore you should buy your car from me” is no reason for me to buy a car from him. Good service and outstanding customer care should speak more loudly than someone’s verbal profession of faith. If his actions back up his talk, then great! He’ll be my first choice in a car dealer. Otherwise, he’s an antiwitness.

            My personal experience with business people who lead with their faith has been dismal to the Nth degree. Sadly, my experience with outright pagans has been much superior.

            I think one of the reasons this is true is that if an unbeliever doesn’t deliver the goods, he’s got absolutely nothing left to fall back on. He can’t fall back on God. His hope is only what he can do on his own. This may be a more desperate position, but it forces the pagan to excel.

            Now the Christian says that he does everything to glorify God, but I’ve got to wonder how many people take that seriously, considering my own lousy experiences in that regard. Some Christian businessmen will huff and puff about “operating through Christian principles” in order to please God, but then their work wouldn’t pass muster with the least discerning person on the planet. I don’t get that.

            This problem holds true for a lot of other areas. Christians seem enamored of kitsch, and too many of our artistic endeavors seem hell bent on being as jaw-droppingly kitschy as is humanly possible. I think some churches make an idol out of excellence, but just as many don’t seem to have that word in their vocabularies.

            I’m making no judgment calls on your business. Some Christian businesses have done it all right. Some haven’t. If yours has, that’s wonderful. But the problem you’re having is a result of the “other guys” who ruined it for the rest of us. In many cases, we either play the game by the rules they created or we suffer for trying to do it in a godly way.

            And yes, I’m feeling that pain, too.

        • Francisco
          Posted August 8, 2006 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          Dan,
          I might be wrong but I get a hint from your last paragraph that you would support separation between church and state…just curious.

  15. Posted August 8, 2006 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    Well I know that we are actually doing better this year than we were a few years ago… but if you look about 10 years back we were doing great. Now I drive “barely roadworthy” vehicles instead of the nicer new cars we had that were dependable because the cost of everything else I can’t afford a single car payment now. I used to spend about 40 dollars a week on groceries… we push 80 now. I used to spend 15 a week on gas per car… now we push 40. I think the idea to start producing corn based ethanol is the best idea we have had in a long time… we grow a TON of corn and we could shore up our flailing farmers. It would produce more jobs, more self sufficiency as a nation if we burned corn instead of oil.

    That and remember years ago walmart stood on their “made in the USA” labels… look for that now. Seriously. Walmart alone has become a joke. Sure its the cheapest because its made in China. It’s laughable. If people would learn to buy one nice pair of shoes and wear them instead of 20 “cute” pairs made in Taiwain, then our economy would be okay. When did the shift happen from quality to ‘right now’ quantity? What will it take to go back?

    • Posted August 8, 2006 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Ronni,

      In March of this year I asked readers to share if they were better off. Young people just starting out were, nearly 100%. But people over forty told a different story. I suspect 90% of them said they were worse off. some far worse off.

      But we’re not talking about this in our churches, are we? In fact, most of the people saying they were worse off told me through private e-mails, rather than in comments. It hurts them a lot to even admit it.

  16. Posted August 8, 2006 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Wow, I said something against the minimum wage and now I’m a robber-baron :-) Being misunderstood hurts so good . . .

    j/k. Good conversation.

    Dan, I know a bit about commodity futures, having supported commodity traders for many years. Futures are a great way for businesses to protect themselves from price risk – the California debacle (and resulting scandals, etc) a few years ago was due to the fact that they did not hedge (due to rules setup by not-so-smart California legislators) the purchase price of natural gas. When natgas was low, they were geniuses. When it went through the roof, they lost everything.

    It’s complicated, like most things in life. Most people don’t understand the intricacies of our commodity markets at all.

    Speculative trading can definitely be a bad thing. But the main reason oil prices are high is because of supply and demand, uncertainty about what’s going to happen in the middle east, etc.

    Amen to everyone who has mentioned the church in Acts. That is the way churches should work. If a church won’t take care of its members that’s a terrible thing.

    • Posted August 8, 2006 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Bill,

      I read something last year after Katrina that said that oil speculation could be adding as much as a dollar to the cost of a gallon of gasoline. If speculators are running up the futures price, it has to be covered somehow. You and I wind up paying for that coverage.

      And yes, amen to living like the Church in Acts. It’s time for us to do so.

  17. Friend of Aslan
    Posted August 8, 2006 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Have you read http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/? NOT a Christian perspective but an interesting read nevertheless.

    • Posted August 8, 2006 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Friend of Aslan,

      I will take a look at this, though right now I don’t need anymore bad news!

  18. Posted August 8, 2006 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Dan of Doom: A bunker mentality on this is no answer

    Gosh, Dan, what ever are you talking about? Don’t you know the economy is just hunky-dory. Everything is just great. Dubya says so. Larry Kudlow says so. There’s no inflation to speak up; Fed statistics prove it. We’re all living in paradise here. There are help wanted signs popping up all over at every fast food place around here.

    {end sarcasm}

    Seriously, Dan. I have no answers. Maybe, we should stop voting for Republicans, since they always oppose raising the miminum wage no matter what. (I guess they don’t want to pay their nannies any more.) And as for myself, it will be a long time before I ever vote Republican again. But what does that matter? And I you know the old saying about lies and statistics. That’s why I long ago stopped believing the Fed Reserve, along with the rest of my government. Maybe churches need to agitate more politically. Maybe set up more “safety net” services. One thing for sure, the status quo just isn’t going to work.

    Actually, I am getting pretty sick of everything. And there are days when I flat out start believing that our country is under God’s judgement, and there’s no escaping it for anybody.

  19. Posted August 8, 2006 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I’m gonna print this post out and take it to my small [men's] group tonight — we’ll see if there’s any interest… ;)

    BTW, You might want to check these out, too: Money: Substance or Symbol – Part 1 and Part 2. I don’t know how to tie them into this discussion seamlessly, but it’s another aspect of today’s economy that has to be taken into account when deciding how to address the situation.

  20. Posted August 8, 2006 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    By the way, Dan, I am sorry about the multiple posting. I was getting some confusing messages from your website about regexes and whatnot. But thanks for deleting the duplicates.

  21. Posted August 8, 2006 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Oh, this was the message I was getting from your wp-comments-post.php file:

    Regex ID: 455 (slots) appears to be an invalid regex string! Please fix it in the Blacklist control panel.

    It looks like you might have a malformed regex in your script somewhere.

  22. Posted August 9, 2006 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    I hesitate to say this, but I guess I will. I hope it’s taken right.

    One pet-peeve I have with economic proposals is when we’re all for doing things that affect other people. The minimum wage, for instance. Again, this is not an anti-minimum wage diatribe. I’m more moderate on that than I might sound.

    But people like the minimum wage because it doesn’t (they think) affect them unless they are an employer. So – yeah – yay minimum wage! It’s OPM (Other People’s Money). But it makes us feel good to support it.

    I brought up some modest proposals about public transportation and they were shot down as too expensive and unworkable. Now it is true that public transportation is expensive, and we all have to share the cost. And we may lose a lane of traffic if we insist on driving everywhere with no passengers. But we claim to want to be good stewards of the environment, and want to help poor people. Public transport that is affordable is a Godsend to poor people. And it gets cars off the road. And sends less emissions into the air.

    I live in one of the most congested cities in America (Houston) and the Metro bus system works well. As does the HOV lane. Of course a lot of people are against it – because it costs a lot. But it’s one of those community things that it seems we should be for.

    I just am naturally suspicious (and perhaps wrongly so) of solutions that penalize others and not us.

    I think it, of course, starts in the church. We should give until it hurts, as should our churches. I know I personally have miles to go even there. And if we’re hurting, we should have a place to run to in the church. We also need education on debt, and being good stewards, and not living extravagently. Ah, the Christian virtue of being content – it’s rare

    I feel for churches, though. There are so many scam artists out there. It is a very difficult balance.

    Peace.

    bill

    • Dee
      Posted August 10, 2006 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      I am one who really appreciates public transportation. When I worked in Chicago I rode the electric train every day from Indiana. It was my down time between work and home so I arrived somewhat refreshed and definitely less stressed than if I had to confront the traffic.

      My current home town is not large enough to warrant a commuter train, but the buses are nice and affordable. They provide transportation around town for a wide variety of people and a monthly bus pass makes it affordable to regular patrons. Sure beats paying increasingly high prices for insurance, maintenance, and gas to drive a car. Not to mention the headache of being stuck in traffic. I agree with you that public transportation is an investment in the community.

  23. Posted August 26, 2007 at 11:33 am | Permalink

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2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Dan Edlen at Cerulean Sanctum has posted an excellent article about the disconnect between the American Church and economic issues. I hope you will take the time to read it. [...]

  2. By Cerulean Sanctum » Reality, Part 2 on January 25, 2007 at 1:13 am

    [...] Yesterday, I asked why Christians are so loathe to deal with economic issues that extend beyond the merely personal.  [...]

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