Meltdown, U.S.A.


On a recent car trip, my wife and I were telling our son what the world was like when we were his age. One immediate difference between 2008 and 1970 is that people worried about their reputations. Having a bad reputation ruined nearly everything in life and was one of the most difficult things to overcome.

That worry about reputation kept people in line. Even more so, it kept companies in line. To have a bad reputation was certain death to most businesses. And the companies who lived and died most by their reputations? Banks and other financial institutions.

Which pretty much explains why our country is facing the financial meltdown now before us. The people who lead most companies today would sell their reputations in an instant if it meant that such a s sale could boost revenue, even if that boost came with an enormous ultimate cost.

And the financial institutions that uphold our economy did that because they thought they could make a fast buck in a new market: people who weren’t a reputable credit risk.

Some polls say that 85 percent of people in America identify as Christians. George Barna’s polls have routinely pegged the born-again Christian percentage at about 30 percent or so.

Al I have to ask is, where were all the self-professed Christians in the management of all these investment banks and their smaller regional bank cousins? Where were the Christian voices who should have been saying, “You know, reputation and ethics matter more than a quick buck”? I want to know where those Jesus-believing folks were when the decisions were made that led us into this morass.

You say that Christians weren’t in high levels in those investment banks? Wrong.

No, I can’t call them out by name, but past scandals reveal the truth. The Wall Street Journal several years back showed that nearly every major player in the business scandals exemplified by Enron, Worldcom, HealthSouth, and the like were professed born-again Christians.

What is going through such a person’s head when presented with potentially reputation-destroying schemes to make a couple bucks off sub-prime loans? Doesn’t the Holy Spirit shout no? 'Children died, the days grew cold, a piece of bread would buy a bag of gold...'Don’t the most basic Scripture passages kick in and warn that person against that course? Doesn’t that person ask, If I consent to this, will it honor my Lord?

I guess if their lord is the almighty dollar, then the answer would have to be yes.

So the hell with reputation. Dismiss what the men who founded the investment bank thought, even though they would’ve fired their entire board of directors if those directors tried to float such lamebrained schemes.

“But sir, we could make a couple bucks right now if we just—”

“Hell no! Not with my name and the name of my father and his father before him on the marquee.”

Cerulean Sanctum turned five-years old this month. From the beginning, readers have read my concerns about economic issues and the Church’s lack of preparation for the looming financial meltdown I believed was coming. And now that meltdown is here, at least the first stages of it. As I’ve said before, “We are not ready.” Better make that “We were not ready.”

The people in high positions in financial sectors who said they were Christians were not ready when God put the test before them.

The people in low positions who maybe should not have bought into self-destructing ARMs were not ready when God put the test before them.

And once again, the people who make up churches across this country,  who continued to dance to the happy music and make no preparation for tough days—even though the Bible tells us the tough days are coming (and now God’s test is before us)—were simply not ready.

Isn’t that Jesus’ name we carry? Isn’t it His name on the marquee?

And so much for guarding our reputation as God’s people, people with foresight and wisdom, the ones who can read the signs of the times and prepare for the time when no man can work.

35 thoughts on “Meltdown, U.S.A.

  1. Dave Block

    Barna’s polls drive me crazy! I think they’re often awful. I read things like “78% of those identifying themselves as born again Christians say they would sell their daughters for Yankees box seats.” Or “92% of self-professed evangelical Christians can’t name the four gospels.” OK, I’m using hyperbole here. Point is, it’s easy to identify yourself as born again or evangelical, and easy to think of yourself as that. We have NO IDEA how many people identifying themselves as such in those polls really are followers of Jesus. We can’t know how many of these people are the real deal, yet we’re supposed to shake our heads at the beliefs and behaviors they report. It’s all bogus if you ask me.

    The key word here self-professed. Maybe some industry leaders who sold out their companies’ ideals are Christians who chose greed over principle, or maybe they’re wolves in sheep’s clothing who have been revealed.

    • Dave,

      Ken Lay of Enron fame used to teach a Sunday School class at his church and I believe was also an elder. The HealthSouth guy was invited to preach at many churches in the South even after his company’s scandal broke.

      I live near a city dominated by a large, famous company. I know many, many Christians who work for that company, people who are in high-ranking positions not only in the company but in their churches. A few years ago, the company took an ungodly stand on an issue and those same high-ranking Christians looked the other way for fear of losing their jobs. I was stunned at how quickly those folks caved in.

      Fact is, there are Christians out there who have the chance to make a difference, to stand up for right, but who instead lie down with dogs and come away with their fleas. It’s a lousy witness. We can’t live like that.

      Leonard Ravenhill once quoted a Chinese pastor who said that he believed that only about 2 percent of people in any Western church are truly born again. That should scare a lot of people, if true.

        • David,

          What is the standard for fruit, though? Most would say: “I don’t cheat on my taxes, I love my wife and kids, I help people when I can, I make tough decisions at work, and I go to church every Sunday and pay my tithe.” That is the extent of fruit in most people’s lives, isn’t it?

          • David

            Only if we measure by worldly standards. God set the standard for fruit, and Paul calls us to judge one another accordingly. The lack of discipline in the western church results in the false standards, which allows for the whole concept of “self-professed Christians” rather than Christians who are witnessed as such by others. We need to hold one another accountable, but our very method of fellowship makes that almost impossible.

            In a way, the collapse of our financial institutions through a simple lack of accountability could be traced to the lack of accountability amongst Christians. Our pillars fell long before Wall Streets.

  2. I think that a lot of the problem in our American culture is the notion that we deserve to be blessed.. it permeates the church as well the rest of the country. Some health and wealth preachers capitalize on it but all Americans buy into it.. you do and so do I.

    This “right to be blessed” causes people to over-extend themselves, making purchases that they cannot afford today but feel that future earned blessings will cover the bills. Personally, I think that if I work hard and save I deserve to be blessed.. and I go to some strange places believing this American dream.

    I think that the baby boom generation has bought into this “blessing” mentality because, unlike our parents, we did not have to experience hard times like the depression. I am hoping that the current economic meltdown is not of that “great depression” magnitude but if it is I suspect that our kids and grandkids might have a different perspective on blessing.

    • KB,

      The saddest reality I learned in the business world is that all the hard work in the world amounts to nothing because of office politics. The far better way to get ahead is to know where the skeletons are buried or to be sycophants for the people in power.

      • Guess it depends on what you mean by “amounts to nothing” Dan. If you believe in what you are doing and do it with integrity it always amounts to something.. but I think that is one of the messages of your post 🙂

        • KB,

          You’re right. Doing work with integrity and quality is always worthwhile and God-honoring.

          I’m speaking of the perspective of the American Dream for the average 9-to-5er. Cubicle-dwellers often work themselves to death only see promotions and raises go to yes-men and such.

          • I have to admit that this one-time cubicle dweller was bypassed several times and blamed ‘politics’ for the ‘injustice’. Looking back, I have to sadly admit that it was more of my relational problems with upper management that got in my way.

            I really didn’t have to be a “yes man”.. they were just looking for someone who could present an alternate view in a cogent and rational way – unfortunately I lack those skills in my early years.

            When I did get into upper management later in life I realized that, even with good communication skills, the job was more about my organizations bottom line than how I was perceived by the executives.

            • KB,

              I once went through a brutal downsizing by a major company. With few exceptions, the water cooler crowd who sat around all day and discussed the company intrigue kept their jobs. The people who there working from dawn to dusk were the ones who got the pink slips.

              And I continue to see that repeated time and again.

              I once had an interview with a major company during which the very first question was “So, do you like to party?” Completely unanswerable. Answer yes and you may be written off as a no-account frat boy maniac. Answer no and you run the risk of being seen as a killjoy who can’t work with other people. My response was that I enjoyed parties, but wasn’t a hardcore drinker, preferring a glass of wine with dinner mostly.

              That was the wrong answer. They were looking for the frat boy. I was later told that I came in second to the guy who interviewed before me. Later, I learned that they had to fire the guy six weeks later because he was an alcoholic and missed work all the time.

              And that’s what’s wrong with American business.

          • That is a dark and cynical picture that you paint of corporate America Dan.. it sounds like you had a job in marketing – I hear things are pretty cut-throat in that world. My experiences in the IT world were pretty good until overseas outsourcing came into the picture in the late 90s.

  3. We have corrupted the Gospel into something that invites people to simply add a belief in Jesus to all the other stuff in their lives. This Jesus will help them be happy, prosperous, and healthy and he asks nothing from them except maybe a regular check to their church. This is much like the first century, when the Romans told the Christians that it would be okay for them to worship Jesus as long as they also worshipped the Emperor.

  4. Sonya

    How timely,

    My place of employment in one dept is a mess beacuse of lack of strong moral and ethical leadership.

    In another email I recieve from a christian ministry the heading was ‘Why do you permit discrimination on your job”?

    Christian Medical and Dental Assoc is putting out articles on how chritisn healthcare workers must not shrink back from ethical challenges in the workplace but rather confront and fight them.

    I do think the church may be assuming more of a offensive position in the decades ahead surrounding these issues. We need more christians with integrity who God has assigned to these places for their voices to be heard.

    • Sonya,

      People are waking up. I am please to see that many Christians are more environmentally conscious than they were.

      I am no quite as positive though on some other issues, especially those that may cost us our jobs or result in losing out on promotions. Americans are very good at holding opinions until those opinions start costing them money.

  5. Dee

    I think people are too afraid to take a stand.. It is scary. I live in South Africa, and right now we don’t have a president because of corruption. Our president was great but he was asked to stand down because there are so many within the government that are corrupt. It was all spoken of in the bible.. the world has to come to this. It is not just America folks, it’s everywhere, even in the most third world countries, It is a world meltdown.

    • Dee,

      No disrespect to Africa intended, but it continues to astonish me how tumultuous African politics is. And when it’s not in turmoil, countries wind up stuck with awful dictators/strongmen who tend to plunder their countries. As an African yourself, why do you think this is?

      • I share your astonishment, but don’t you think that the long record of infamy in African politics is the direct result of European colonialism drawing unnatural boundaries which cut across tribal and language distinctions?

        • David

          Most of the tribal conflicts seen in Africa today are purposely fanned by political leaders. Far from being the result of a colonial past, they are the result of self-centered power brokers. Kenya is a good example of a nation that had been under the British until the 60’s, but only had serious tribal conflicts when the men in power attempted to stay in power by fanning tribal differences. Up until the late 1990’s, Kenya was a peaceful, prosperous (for Africa) nation.

          Colonialism is a far too convenient excuse, much like slavery in the 1800’s causing the slums of today. The truly sad part is that many of the power hungry people of Africa (and America) call themselves Christians.

          • David

            What “natural cohesion”? Tribal differences exist everywhere. Look at Belgium, where tribal differences threaten to tear in twain the capital of “United Europe”. Tribal differences existed long before the Europeans ruled over Africa, and were in large part the reason Europeans could colonize Africa. If there had been cohesion, there would not have been colonization. Arab Slavers bought from African tribes who had conquered tribes. The Maasai of Kenya make war on their neighbors because they believe God gave them cattle to be theirs and theirs alone. Thus anyone else who has a cow has obviously stolen it. God confused the understanding of Man, and only God can restore it.

            Just as Belgium, Germany, Italy, Holland, Britain, and even America made tracks all over Africa, the same happens in Christian churches. Where there is little in common, the bonds that strengthen us fail. Divide and conquer, hardly a new concept, applies to the Church as well as the State.

      • Dee

        I am right there with you regarding Africa as a whole. I am a white South African and proudly south african ( I am glad the end of apartheid came)! However a lot of the african’s here have come out of tribal communities who believe in black magic (leaders in the government), raping children and killing people to sacrifice to false gods. The president of the anc (which is our government) after rapiing a women, claimed that he had a shower which would prevent him getting aids!!!! This man could be our next president…yikes. just google the name Jacob Zuma anc president and you will see countless reports of corruption, court cases and the like. We have a beautiful country will wonderful people but our leadership is terrible.

        Look at Zimabwe for instance, it was once a great nation, then they drove out the white farmers because of their hate toward them and now they are one of the poorest countries because there is no farming or food. Africa as a whole is in a dire state. But I guess it is everywhere. Especially countries who follow false gods will find themselves in turmoil! Look at china and all the countries who worship false gods…

        • Dee,

          I weep for Zimbabwe. The stories coming out of there over the years are just mind-boggling. The world could not wait to condemn the majority white government there. Then that government was deposed and the world got the government it was clamoring for. Now the world ignores Zimbabwe completely though the problems are a thousand times worse under the world’s preferred government.

          More than anything, I wanted the forgiveness that I saw being extended in your country to be an example of how people can forgive and be forgiven and a country can move forward to greater heights. Now I wonder if people only used that forgiveness as a license for more evil. Now I see that when there is forgiveness without repentance, most people lose.

          I prayed for South Africa just now.

  6. Dee

    we aren’t even given the option to vote for a new president.. the government is just makiing the choice for us. I am nervous for our country.. I wish I had enough money to up and leave! but I can’t run away from this country as it is everywhere. The grass is not greener on the other side.

    • No, Dee, you’re right. It isn’t always greener. We have a good system in the United States. However, it would be an outstanding system if we actually lived it out the way the Founders intended.

      • Dee

        in essence, any country and leaders that follow the true God will do well! Countries that do not see God and throw him out of schools and try to be more knowledgeable suffer great consequences.

  7. I am delighted – and still surprised – to report that there are still Christians of Generosity who invest their treasure in heaven … through the poor. And I have the great blessing of working and worshiping among them.

    I agree that the situation is dire. I confirm that, for as long as I’ve been reading this blog, Dan’s prophetic utterances about our excesses as a nation have been spot-on, and I shouldn’t be at all shocked that the result he predicted has come so soon.

    But there is also hope, and it’s in our hearts and in our wallets and purses and in our lives to help us invest wisely in the world to come and the world we’re in.

    It’s the One who made that world through His Son, hovered and brooded over by His Holy Spirit, inspiring from within us our gratitude and giving and grace.

    – If we’re willing to let Him.

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