The Money God


Here in Ohio, we have yet another voter referendum on casinos, Issue 3. In the course of the last 25 years of my life, pro-casino forces have tried to shove gambling down the throats of Ohioans with one voter referendum after another, but we’ve always gagged and spit them out.

Churches and police have stood arm in arm against gambling. Church leaders cited the studies that showed without a doubt that gambling destroys families.The Ohio Fraternal Order of Police was relentless in detailing the studies that prove that casinos lead to exponential jumps in crime.

But that was then. Now the police endorse the casinos.

Why? Sadly, I can reduce the answer to one character on the keyboard: $

Not only will law enforcement get two percent of the casino tax (which would make their share $19 million a year), but they will certainly drain additional money from taxpayers when crime increases—along with the need for more police to contain it—and the casino tax mysteriously fails to cover the added expense, as “We Who Know How These Things Work” know it will. It’s the ultimate in cynicism from the police. Rather than seeing crime as evil, they now see it as job security, their fair share of the filthy lucre, plus an additional shot at more funding. And my momma always told me I could trust a policeman. Ha!

Honestly, it’s a short trip from there to endorsing street drug sales. And prostitution. Heck, why not let the state’s legislators run a human organ trafficking ring out of the capitol building? Next thing you know, the state budget will be met by selling your liver and kidneys or mine to the highest bidder.

No bottom exists when money becomes the raison d’être. Today, morals and ethics take a distant third to money and lining one’s own pocket with it. I hate to be a cynic, but our culture as a whole in America is doomed if the answer to everything always comes down to cold, hard cash.

Look at the Roman Catholic Church and abortion. The RCC itself is staunchly anti-abortion, but the people in the seats are, by majority, for it. Big disconnect. So it’s not hard to imagine protestant churches as entities being strongly against this vice or that, but later finding that the individuals within are less inclined to match the doctrinal line. And money is a big divider.

The churches in my area are standing against the casinos, but when you talk with people outside their hallowed sanctuaries, many of them are mumbling the mantra of the casino marketers: more jobs, money for schools, and on and on. They wonder how any of that can bad.

We equate our jobs with money, so we let our jobs define us. “So what do you do for a living?” is usually the second question we ask someone after “What is your name, please?” A person’s answer usually tells us all we need to know about his or her salary. And from that we decide whether this is a person with whom we can be friends or who can benefit us as we claw our way to the top.

Heaven knows we need the right people in our churches. We make the business owner an elder and relegate the convenience store cashier to dumping out the Sunday nursery diapers.

And it’s all about money.

Truth is, Jesus doesn’t define us by what we do for a living. In other words, you are not your job. Nor does Jesus care all that much about how many earthly riches you and I have, for He looks on the richness of the heart.

I think I can also say without qualms that Jesus doesn’t like it much when we stand for money more than we stand for truth. I once visited a rich church comprised of a number of fast trackers to the upper echelons of management in one of the largest companies in town. Those men talked a great deal about stopping this vice and that in the name of Jesus. But when their own company took an antithetical position on a vice issue, these fellas shut up pretty quickly rather than risk their ascent to the corner office.

And that’s pretty much how each of us would have played the same hand, if dealt it. We really do love our money more.

What this economic dive has taught me more than anything: When it all comes down to it, we Americans will always choose money over Jesus. Jesus or Money?That’s the real American Christian either/or. And it’s only becoming more apparent as our societal restraints unravel. (Which is why it’s no coincidence that Hollywood is rolling out a timely new movie based on the old question of whether or not a person, for a large sum of money, would push a button guaranteed to anonymously kill some random person in the world. Answer: I think most people would, regardless of their religious beliefs. Of course, Hollywood wants to impose unrealistic consequences for the sake of suspense, but you and I know that most people would not spend more than 30 seconds pondering consequences. Everyone dies eventually, right?)

Honestly, I’m shocked that a few churches in Ohio haven’t publicly allied with the police to tout the need for casinos. If the casino referendum should—miracle of miracles—go down to defeat, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some churches lobbying for gambling next time the vote comes up (which it seems to every two years). If things get bad enough, we can always find ways to put a Christian spin on just about everything. Besides, selling your soul doesn’t hurt much when you do it one small chunk at a time.

I mean, we all have our price, don’t we?



Making dinner this evening, I opened up my favorite olive oil spread and realized that it was now whipped.

At some point, a group locked away in a corporate office park somewhere, figured consumers would love the new, improved, more spreadable spread. They’d worked hard to perfect this latest incarnation of the product, and were proud of the results.

Here’s how I saw their triumph: same size container, now with just more air.

Do I truly believe that the manufacturers of what used to be my favorite spread slaved night and day to better the product that I now held in my hand? That engineers worked feverishly to improve the silky smoothness? That marketing convened panel after panel to test all their hard work?


Here’s what the fly on the wall of some mucky-muck’s office heard:

Mucky-Muck: “Rodney, we’ve got PPP.”

Rodney: “Yeah, ‘price point pressure.’ Engineering’s on it.”

Mucky-Muck: “The usual?”

Rodney: “They blow some nitrogen in and we’re golden, boss.”

Mucky-Muck: “Make it so, Number One.”

And thus is born yet another compromise.

Now you can contend I’m just a spoiled American consumer griping about non-dairy spreads. You’d be right, of course. No points for stating the obvious.

But in a much deeper way, I’m not upset about the spread. I’m upset about what it says about us.

Somewhere, the people behind the air-laden spread are going home to their wives and kids having never once considered that they sold a little piece of their soul that afternoon. Now repeat that same tiny moral death a million times over in America today. Little concessions to the lowest common denominator, to the cheap, to the compromise.

What’s truly sad is that not a person reading this today is immune. Not me and not you. We all get mired in the “Oh well, no one will notice” shtick until we don’t feel the twinge of guilt anymore. It’s all in a day’s work, and the day’s work counts more than anything else, right? Keep your nose clean, even if no one’s ever is.

I think these concessions are what’s wrong with our country.

Somewhere, someplace, sometime, it stopped being about principles. It stopped being about a God outside of us.It's your choice and mine Instead, it became the little deaths each of us suffers when we compromise on things that are dear to the heart of God. Those little deaths that no longer hurt because repetition numbed the sting.

A person doesn’t get a hard heart overnight. Yes, the raw materials for one lurk within all of us. No, a hard heart comes from compromising day in and day out on those tiny decisions that eaither bring us nearer to God or separate us from Him.

I honestly believe that people used to be more thoughtful when faced with compromise. I’m not necessarily saying that the compromise never occurred, only that we today think so little on matters of importance. In many ways our past compromise renders us incapable of even understanding what is important and what is inconsequential. The trite and lightweight takes precedent over considering what might destroy a future generation.

“The shareholders are hungry for a better quarter next quarter. If it means we burn the building down to make our numbers, then let’s do it.” Such a CEO would not last long in a rational world, but I suspect ours instead waits with baited breath from said CEO and his “I Did It My Way!” book, I Burned Down the Company and Made Everyone a Mint. Just don’t read the final chapter wherein the same CEO asks, “Hey, where did my yak bladder leather chair go?”

Are we operating like this in the Church? In what ways? And how do we stop the compromise when compromise is what we have become?

Because we can’t keep pumping air into the spread because one day someone’s going to open the container and find nothing but air.

The Tension


I feel the tension constantly. As I mature in Christ, I feel it growing. Yet, I know even less how to live in that tension than I believe I once did. Or perhaps I never truly knew how to live in it at all.

There is a tension that exists between this world and the next. The World has its ways and Heaven has its own. Our age today is one in which the overlaps are disappearing, making it harder to navigate a practical Christian life in an impractical world.

An example might help.

A couple months ago in my church, the speaker talked about our need to cast off the World’s views on image. Our appearance does not define who we are, nor does God look at the external but what is within us, unseen by others. Plastic surgery, laser peels, liposuction, hair restoration—they are all symptoms of a dying world; Christians must move beyond them.

Now this is a fine message for people who are obsessed with their appearance. For the woman who thinks that no one can love her because of the way she looks, this is manna. For the teenager struggling with a body that suddenly seems to no longer be the body once known, this is life-giving. It is God’s truth. We cannot ignore it.

But there is a big “however” with this that brings the tension.

The World does care about image, and it cares in ways that have gone far beyond plastic surgery to merely look nice. Suddenly, your image, the way you look, may be the only thing separating you from working and being unemployed. It may mean the difference between the medicine that keeps your sick child alive and not having that medicine due to lack of health insurance benefits provided by an employer.

Newsweek ran a special issue detailing the “Office of the Future.” The center of the magazine had the largest gatefold I had ever seen in a magazine. This six page spread revealed all the gadgets, all the ergonomic devices, all the new concepts that will drive businesses in the near future.

Contained within that gatefold, however, was a statement that went far beyond mere gadgetry and futuristic technology. Instead the message reflected a societal change that was inescapable: none of the two dozen people shown working in the “Office of the Future” were over the age of thirty-five. There was not a gray hair or wrinkle in sight.

Almost prophetically, the very next issue of the magazine had a cover story on Botox. Inside, there were interviews with men and women who often told the same story: “I got Botox injections so that I would not lose my job solely because I was the oldest-looking person in the department.”

The sadness of this is profound and asks us in the Church if we are truly able to help people find the intersection of this world and the next. In this case, the Church can say all it wants about not letting how you look control your life, yet the World is giving a different response that has profound influence in our daily existence.

It’s the tension. And not only do we Christians in the 21st Century not address it well, we often mouth platitudes we don’t believe ourselves as a reassurance that nothing is wrong. But something is overwhelmingly wrong.

It would be easy to point fingers at the sales rep who dyes her hair, gets a face peel, and semi-annual Botox injections. Christians easily point their fingers and yell, “Vanity!” Yet how many of them are willing to go the second mile to prevent the loss of that woman’s job due to age discrimination or to hire her when her boss thinks he wants someone more youthful and hip-looking to represent the company?

The rules of the World’s game are monstrously complex and changing every day. We have to live in this world, though. If the Church is to be the agent of God this side of heaven, then we need better ways to play by the World’s rules while never forsaking the righteousness of Christ.

I don’t have the answers on many of these tension issues, but I know that we must find them. The practical realities of day-to-day living do not give us the option of quitting the game. As Christians in this time and place in history, we have to not only challenge the World, but beat it at its own game.

We need people to step up in order to help us live in this tension—and we need them today.