Politics, Economics, and the American Church


Empty pocketHere at Cerulean Sanctum, we talk little about politics and much about economic justice issues. Today, we'll see how those two items intersected in the election last week and how we American Christians must wake up to a brutal reality.

Pundits galore propounded the reason that Republicans got tossed off Capitol Hill, but they missed the real voter zeitgeist. Given the glowing economic news trumpeted in the usual Republican-sympathetic media sources, the talking heads looked only to non-economic federal issues to explain stunning Republican losses.

But to update a famous phrase, "It's still the economy, stupid."

While voters may talk about the Iraq War, terrorism, and a number of other global issues Republicans bungled, they'll vote based on local issues. Only people satisfied with their local outlook will vote global and national issues. If the local outlook is grim, forget about anyone looking beyond his own backyard. Local economic health, in particular, drives voting.

Here in (formerly, as of 11/7/06) Republican-dominated Ohio, the state with the worst job prospects in the country, a poll showed that 83% of Ohioans viewed economic issues as "very important" or "extremely important" in determining their Senate pick (Source: The Wall Street Journal, 11/8/06). But Republicans, thinking the economy was superb for everyone, continued to campaign on any issue but improving the economy. They expected folks to suck down the hoopla over the "great economy" despite seeing bare cupboards. As a result, Ohio incumbent Republican senator Mike DeWine got slaughtered by his Democratic challenger, Sherrod Brown, who took a more aggressive stance regarding Ohio's economic health. We talk about Virginia tipping the balance of power in the Senate, but DeWine's loss was potentially a greater news story, since it highlighted voter unease with the supposedly terrific economy. Plenty of people took one look at their bank accounts and the collective sigh sounded a lot like "*&^%!"

Ohio can't be the sole state with hurting workers. As we'll see, national figures could scare the heck out of anyone, regardless of state. So I suspect that many of the Republican losses reflect middle-class voters facing economic pressures, voting with their empty pockets.

As we know, money talks.

Consider the following realities:

  • The American savings rate hovers in negative numbers. (Source)
  • While salaries in the United States rose substantially in the United in the period 2000-2004, that wealth was almost entirely concentrated in the top one percent of wage-earners (household incomes of $300,000+/yr). That one percent saw a 19.8 percent increase in their income over the period. The other 99 percent? A 3 percent increase—not even close to keeping pace with 3 percent year-over-year inflation. (Plus, recent analysis of 2005-2006 shows a continued widening of the salary discrepancy.) (Source)
  • Consumer debt continues to rise. As of August 2006, Americans have never carried greater debt. (Interestingly,  those numbers backtracked a bit in September. I suspect people smelled trouble on the horizon. Perhaps that further proves Election Day results, especially since Republicans polled better against their Democratic opponents before September.) (Source)
  • For the first time since records began, highly educated Americans saw their earnings potential decrease in 2005, demolishing the accepted wisdom that more education translates into higher salaries. (Source)

While some debate that the negative savings rate ignores overall wealth, the information becomes even more dire when factoring in leverage and who holds investment wealth.

Many Americans leverage their home equity. With housing prices falling in almost every state, that leverage only eats away wealth and consumes retirement savings, compounding the problem. In addition, overall wealth incorporates investments, and again, that top one percent controls 93 percent of all investment wealth. (Just wait until those rich Baby Boomers start retiring, too, and begin pulling their money out of stocks.)

Given the rich are getting richer, what does the economic news tell us of the average family? For starters, the typical worker watched upper management prosper, while his or her real world dollars lost buying power. I know many people in their peak earning years whose companies reported record income, yet watched helplessly as their employers eliminated bonuses, cut back on insurance compensation, and froze or reduced cost-of-living increases.

I can't speak for you, but in our area in the last year alone, the cost of consumer goods skyrocketed. The box of cereal I bought last year for $2.29 is $2.99 now—a 31 percent increase. Broccoli cost $1.59 last November, but $1.99 a year later—25 percent more. Our electric company raised area rates 30 percent. And don't get me going on gasoline. I paid $1.59/gal. in the summer of 2005 and almost a dollar more now.

One doesn't need a PhD in mathematics to note that no one out there's received a 35 percent cost of living increase in the last year! Increasingly, middle class folks like us watch helplessly as our incomes buy less and less.

Five years ago, I knew several families where dad worked and mom didn't. I can't think of a single one like that now. While the unemployment figures look strong, do they merely reflect more families forced to put both parents to work to keep pace? If more women enter the job market (primarily in low-wage retail or service industry jobs) just to make ends meet at home, that puts a damper on much of that ecstatic job info, doesn't it?

My mother-in-law told me a new Wendy's opened in her small town. To her shock, most of the employees are over forty. Is working at a fast food restaurant the goal of people in their peak earning years? If so, we're in deep trouble.

In March 2006, I asked readers about their financial stability. More than sixty replied, about half via personal e-mail, the others through comments. Almost universally, people under 35 were better off at the end of 2005 than in previous years. That's to be expected, since many of them are young marrieds with both spouses working and few (or no) children. But the real shocker—and almost all these replies came through personal e-mails—concerned the state of people over forty. Many were far worse off than just five years before, having lost jobs (often multiple times) or  relegated to underemployment, compromised financially in what many consider peak earning years. Those tales broke my heart. I understand that kind of pain and what happens when the Church has no response—and none on the horizon, either.

And in the end, that's what this post is all about. I just completed a series on community , and I believe that our churches must start working toward some kind of money pool to help fellow congregants who fall on hard times. With so many families' money highly leveraged, and the reality that the middle class is fighting a losing battle against rising costs, something needs to be done on a macro level to fix some of the financial injustices people face today.

But the pulpit is silent. Sure, you'll hear about Ron Blue or Crown Financial stuff from time to time, but they only address individual issues. Who in the Church in America speaks out against the real problem, our broken system? 

Sure, we Americans spend too much of our incomes. But if the middle class continues to erode, it won't be a matter of spending too much on a consumeristic lifestyle. The real problem will be how to cope when curtailing excess spending simply won't halt the slide. You can shave expenses down to the bone, but when the bone's gone missing…

All it takes is a minor recession, I think. Or Ford or GM collapsing. With so many precariously perched families with no savings, high credit card debt, loans taken against homes of decreasing value—it won't take much.

Church, are we ready? Truly?

Time to wake up and start preparing for that day. It's coming faster than we think. 

UPDATE: I only got to see this last Saturday's Wall Street Journal late Monday evening. A front page story shows that Democrats running on anti-free-trade, anti-offshoring, and anti-outsourcing platforms crushed their Republican opponents in North Carolina, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. This further proves my theory that middle class voters smarting from job losses and inequities in the economy voted with their wallets, not with an eye toward Iraq, terrorism, or any other topic.

UPDATE II: Some who have read this post knee-jerked and assumed I was a Democrat or some other kind of liberal. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, I consider myself a pure conservative in that I believe in conserving what God values. I hold to many of the ideas espoused in Rod Dreher's book, Crunchy Cons. Also, I have a dim view of most political parties, Republican or Democrat. Both have sold out to special interests and forgotten the average American. Lastly, I firmly believe that politics is not the answer; the Kingdom of God is. The sooner American Christians realize this and start living it, the sooner we'll see many things come to pass that we're now foolishly hoping politics will give us.

36 thoughts on “Politics, Economics, and the American Church

  1. Gaddabout

    Dan, You know my history. We became a one-income family but not by choice. The biggest reason I got into real estate is I knew I could never buy a house on a Reporter II or even a Senior Reporter’s salary. The dividing line seems to be somewhere around $70,000 a year, and that’s in Phoenix where housing prices are still somewhere below the national average for metropolitans (but probably somewhat higher than rural Ohio). It means teachers, policemen, civil servants — they can’t afford to live in the communities they serve. How’s that for cultural disentigration?

    • When we lived in Silicon Valley, the people who worked in jobs that made less than $30/hr. often commuted from two hours away (one way). How does the Valley operate if the guy that works at the grocery store in the Valley has to live two hours away? You’ve got to believe that sooner or later he’s going to bail for something closer to where he lives, especially if he’s paying close to $3/gal. for gas on that kind of commute!

  2. The Hungarian Luddite


    Thoughtful, pointed observations.

    My wife’s employer changed our insurance for next next year. 9.00 more per week to 38.00 per week. Raised the deductible from 300.00 to 2400.00 (oh but they funded an 800.00 Medical Savings Account) Stopped paying for all prescriptions but a handful of drugs.

    If we had had this same insurance this year our family would be almost 5000.00 further in debt.
    And of course…….no raises any time soon.

    I was in Wal-mart the other day…….the falling prices signs are everywhere………I told the cashier that prices are NOT falling in Wal-mart but rather are going up. Little things. Orange juice 2.98-3.18 Post Raisin Bran 2.50-2.75 Potatoes-almost 5.00 for 10lbs. All this adds up.

    Does anyone wonder where it all ends? What happens when you simply run out of money and can’t make enough? I am in no way implying God does not care for his own because HE does but I do wonder……….

    • Luddite,

      I have severe allergy problems that appear to be getting worse. The only two medicines that alleviate the problem are considered non-formulary by our insurance provider. This means that despite paying almost $400 a month for medical insurance, I have to float another $100 a month to buy those two drugs. Unable to do that, I simply live without and pay the consequences.

      That doesn’t feel really good; you know what I mean? I’ve been saying no to medical treatments that insurance no longer covers (or covers inadequately), meanwhile the CEO of United Healthcare received a stock bonus of $1 BILLION. That kind of money would go a long way to paying the medical bills of thousands of people denied insurance claims, wouldn’t it.

      Sick. Sick and wicked, too.

      But the very idea that we’re slowly spiraling downward hurts. We took my son to see the circus this year and it cost nearly $200 by the time it was all said and done. We simply can’t afford to do things like that anymore.

      I’m beginning to understand the disenfranchised now. I can see how it happens. You meet a homeless guy on the street, a guy who was once up, but is now down, and your brain can finally process how he went from a small house in the suburbs to sleeping under a bridge. It can happen to any of us in an instant.

      If the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, can we expect any better? God informs us that He’ll provide food, clothing, and shelter. What He doesn’t say is whether that’s filet mignon, Versace, and a McMansion, or something substantially less “riche.” Some people would vehemently disagree with me on that point, but I can’t escape it. I know too many people who love God with all their being, better people than I am, but who are barely scraping by. We try to help them the best we can.

      We’re eating less healthy food of late. I still buy organic milk so my son can avoid all the antibiotics and growth hormones (boy, do we have some awful stories from other parents we can tell you), but it’s $7.50 a gallon in the nearest grocery store. That hurts. We used to eat salmon because it was even cheaper here per pound than chicken, but we can’t afford to buy fish anymore. We like fish; it’s good for you. We can’t afford it when it’s $6+/lb., though. And though I firmly believe that what we eat is important, we can’t swing it like we once did. That’s hard. Really hard.

      I was in a Quiznos the other day with my son. We were out running errands and needed lunch away from home. I had a $1 off coupon for a sub at Quiznos, but a footlong sub cost almost $10! That’s insane to me.

      And my Congresswoman wants to put a nuclear waste dump up the road from us because it will “bring jobs to the area.”

      Stop the world, I want to get off.

  3. Dan,

    I see where you are coming from, but as a pastor I am called to preach the Word. The Word talks a lot about personal finances, but I don’t see much that speaks to national financial issues. Do you have particular passages in mind? If so, I would love to be able to study them. Maybe your next post could be a manuscript of a sermon that you would preach on economics.

    Most evangelical and fundamental pastors are preaching to their congregations to “vote their convictions, not their pocketbooks!” Are you saying that we should vote otherwise? The emphasis among conservatives as been the moral issues – abortion/euthenasia/stem cell/etc. Do you think we should be putting more emphasis on economics?

    I’m not being critical or sarcastic. I truly would like to know more about where you are coming from. Thanks.

    • Don,

      As a pastor, being a person who “pastors” others doesn’t just relegate you to preaching, does it? A pastor is a lot like a shepherd. And a shepherd doesn’t just feed the sheep. He has to keep them well in other ways.

      Our churches need to have people who tend the community and help keep it strong and vital. Watching over others and keeping the people in the church aware of the needs within is an important role. If the pastor’s not overseeing that to some extent, someone else must.

      A pastor shouldn’t do it all. I think there have to be a few great Christian minds out there who aren’t pastors, but who can speak to economic justice issues on a national stage. But where are they? Perhaps this is the failure of the pastorate in that pastors are given all the credentials in the eyes of many, while the laity is “just there.” But pastors, as you noted, can’t do it all, despite the fact that we seem to want them to.

      As to voting, I’m realizing we can’t be one-issue voters. We’ve tended to set up certain moral issues as “great evils” that must be fought, but then we tend to ignore other evils, too. If we vote in candidates who despoil the land, care more for business interests that leave their constituency out in the cold, rob from the poor to give to the rich, and so on, aren’t those evil, too? If a candidate says he’s anti-abortion, but he’s also for strip mining, sending US jobs overseas, promoting companies that exploit child workers in poor countries, and sponsoring bills that promote food manufacturing laws that squeeze out organic farmers who are trying to better the quality of food we eat, and on and on, I don’t see how I’m voting for a truly moral candidate. Just because he’s against abortion (which Republicans have done nothing to overturn in the 23 years since Roe, actually), is that the SOLE reason I need to vote for him/her? If so, that truly stinks. I’d rather not vote for him OR his opponent if that’s all I’m voting for. Life is more complex than voting for someone just because they support one issue that I care about.

      Christian philosopher Doug Groothuis was telling people on his blog to vote Republican on the same issues you mentioned, but that issues like illegal immigration don’t matter as much as say, fighting terrorism. I disagreed because reducing those issues down to their basics doesn’t cover reality well enough. If a terrorist detonates a dirty bomb and kills a thousand Americans and hurts thousands more, that’s actually no different than hospitals going bankrupt because of unpaid bills left behind by illegal immigrants. That’s happened in several regions of California and Texas. The loss of those hospitals has resulted in many countless deaths and thousands of others suffering.

      See, we can’t think so simplistically. The issues are more complex than our rhetoric. Reducing people to solely voting a couple issues diminishes our entire governmental system. Wilberforce helped eliminate slavery in Britain through a series of concessions over time. But we’re putting people into office who are failing to concede anything on hot button issues so they can win the war in the long run. And our ridiculous obsession with one or two issues is one reason why we can’t win the battle through small concessions. We’ve made it all or nothing. That mentality has gotten us, for the large part, nothing. If anything, it’s polarized the other side to be even more virulent on their opposing issue. That’s why our government has come to gridlock.

      Could I ever vote for someone who supports abortion? Never, because I think that someone who supports it is capable of supporting all manner of evil. However, that doesn’t mean that I’ll support a candidate who runs his pro-life stance into the ground, as if it’s the only thing he thinks about. We need deeper people than that, and it’s time we conservatives start asking more of our political candidates. I’m tired of having to choose between the lesser of two evils all the time. Like I said on Groothuis’s blog, it gives me no pleasure to be forced to choose between a thief or a deviant.

      As for what I believe, Rod Dreher’s recent book, Crunchy Cons, encapsulates most of my political bent.

      • Dan,

        I really appreciate your thorough response. You said, “Watching over others and keeping the people in the church aware of the needs within is an important role.” I completely agree! I also agreed with your comments on voting and the related issues. I am still missing the help I was looking for in preaching economic issues. I understand that we must help, encourage, shepherd, etc. but where do we go biblically to teach and preach some of these economic concerns. I admit I am very ignorant when it comes to economics. I am planning on reading the books you have suggested and reviewed, but I am not there yet. I will keep reading. Thanks for your always insightful evaluation.

    • I’m not sure about financial issues on Macro scale, but there is much to be said concerning God’s heart in regards to the poor, needy, and how to deal with the issues that cause poverty.

      First and foremost is the constant of justice. Psalms, Proverbs, the prophets, and the pentateuch spoke often of the need for judges to make fair decisions and to dispense justice. Just rulings, especially in civil law, can rectify many of the issues that lead to poverty. Injustice, especially towards the poor and the stranger, was often stated by God through the prophets to be among the reasons for the various destructions and defeats of Israel.

      Poverty and it’s effects are dealt with in the Law by addressing the issue of allowing gleaning, and also in stating that certain areas of the crop remain unharvested, to allow the poor to have something to eat, and also to allow them the dignity of working for their food. These were not handouts. The poor had to glean, thresh, and grind the resulting harvest. The issue of leaving some of the harvest for the poor also applies in our machine age. Productivity and efficiency have led to many of the causes of povery and how wealth is distributed in our modern age. Some of the reasons that 40 and 50 year olds are flipping burgers has to do with computers and how they have revolutionized the workplace, not only in manufacturing, but in the the intellectual fields. As one waitress told me in Idaho, “there are a lot of cooks with doctorates here.”

      What we consider “important work” is rewarded with higher paychecks. The news from Wall Street has it that the brokers there are making huge bonuses this year. Considering that these bonuses are ultimately being paid for by those with 401k’s and IRA’s, it calls into question just how “important” these people are. If one man can “earn” a billion dollars, what does that say about teachers who get $30k a year? Which leads us back to justice.

      Finally, the New Testament shows a “better way” in the construct of the church body. Frankly, personal wealth did not exist in the first century church, the story of Ananias and Saphira should be sufficient warning to all who would cling to wealth at the expense of truth. (Though I must say that they were not killed because they held back their wealth from the Church, but because they lied about the total.) How we would build on that in the 21st century is a huge issue, simply because we have constructed so many walls around our concepts of wealth and how money and society intertwine.

      How all this affects our financial systems on a national and international level is problematic, simply because we are not a part of a Theocracy, and so should not impose God’s will on others who are not believers. But we can lead by example, and by conviction convince others to join us. From standpoint of outsiders, the issue is making the world a better place for all, creating an equitable and just society, and getting rid of poverty, and the sicknesses and death that come with it. But from the perspective of the believer, we are merely doing the will of God: Loving others as He loved us.

      • David,

        The Church must offer an Economy of the Kingdom. But where are the people who understand this and can lead us in it?

        Instead, we concede to an economy that has none of God at the core of it. Think about that for a second. What part of a Christian’s life is supposed to have none of God at the core of it? Yet that is how we live if we fail to pursue an Economy of the Kingdom.

        Thanks for the astute post!

      • David,

        Thanks for your help. I agree that the Bible speaks generally about justice and our concern and care for the poor. We do need to think through these issues and some of the Old Testament passages seem to be very helpful in this area.

  4. Diane,

    The book you are referring to is “What’s the Matter with Kansas” by Thomas Frank. I just ordered “Myth of a Christian Nation: and I look forward to reading it.

  5. Diane Roberts

    Last year I read a book whose title escapes me, except it had Kansas somewhere in it. This is a secular book and was written by a liberal writer, but I thought it brought up some excellent points. The whole thesis of the book was why Kansans would vote Republican, and conseravtive Republican at that (read that to be Sam Brownback), while the Republicans were decimating both workers and farmers in that state as elsewhere. I believe this is arising from not thinking things out well, and also an idolatry of the Republican party. Currently I am reading Greg Boyd’s “Myth of a Christian Nation” which really explores this in more depth. And Dan, you’ve just gotta read Boyd’s book too.

  6. Doc

    Certainly we all (myself included) could do a much better job of stewardship with the profligate riches with which we have been blessed. And we should call employers to behave in a Christian manner towards their employees, and behave in said manner if we are employers.

    Othewise much that I read here displays ignorance concerning Biblical standards of government, family, neighbors, and church. Nowhere in the Bible is it suggested that the purpose of government is to take money by force from one group of people and use it to pay for food, clothing, housing, or medical care for another group of people. Those are the duties of famiies, neighbors, and churches. Government was designed by God for certain purposes, and that ain’t one of them. Anyone who calls for government to do such things b/o ‘Christian’ principles either does not take the Bible seriously, is not really a Christian, or is grossly mistaken about what the Bible has to say on the matter.

    If the church had not abdicated her responsibility to teach principles of Godly government, we would not be in the mess we’re in. The lack of acknowledgement of said principles has led to the vast over-regulation and taxation by our government (still less than in many nations, praise God), which causes the high prices of medical care and many other items, and fewer opportunities for employment across the board (altho’, thanks to Bush’s relatively minimal tax cuts [which we’re about to lose, thanks to the shortsighted electorate] our economy is booming compared to others).

    To take just one example, if there were no government regulation in the form of Medical Practice Acts and the FDA, medical care would be so cheap and plentiful, there would be no health care insurance crisis because no one would bother with health insurance, anymore than they buy plumbing insurance. I would be living in a double-wide, and be a much happier man, since my patients would all be able to afford the medicines and specialized care that they need, and it would be so cheap that churches could provide the appendectomies and antibiotics for the few unable to afford even the vastly lower prices. And no 6 month Canadian waiting lists, either.

    Government should mainly stay out of the way of economic activity, other than to punish theft, guarantee titles, and similar protective activities. Anything more hurts the poor more than anyone else, the very people the liberals claim to want to help.

    Multiply that by almost every other industry in the nation, and it becomes a testimony to just how powerful an economic engine we have. Despite all the sand we’re throwing in the gears, it’s still chugging along. And able to provide us with a military that has the greatest disparity in power between it and the next rank of nations the world has ever seen, for all we’re too wussified to actually use it even against an openly declared enemy who has hit us repeatedly and threatens to do so again.

  7. Doc,

    I am absolutely saying NOT ONE THING about the government picking up where the Church left off. They shouldn’t. If anything I’m saying the Church needs to wake up and start dealing with this growing issue before we get caught sleeping—again. In fact, all I’m saying about politics here is that I believe people voted Republicans out as much for personal economic issues at a local level than any global issue (like the Iraq War). Senator Mike DeWine in OH lost primarily because he’s done nothing to help the state economically and didn’t even seem to mention it during his campaign. Ohio voters removed him for it. I believe other Republicans lost for similar reasons, not only in Ohio, but in other states that are not doing well. Yes, the economy’s going great for those making $300,000 or more a year, but the middle class is getting hammered. What’s worse, is that some of them don’t even know they’re slipping.

    In my extended family, we all agreed to cut our Christmas spending down to next to nothing. In years past, that was not the case. But we’re all getting hammered. It’ll be interesting to see how Christmas spending goes this year. Among the people I’ve talked with, they’re all cutting back.

  8. It’s interesting that reading the 5th chapter of Exodus reminds me so much of modern life. If we little people get a little uppidy, the taskmasters add on the work and reduce the pay, and we have to run faster just to stay in place. If we still a little too uppidy, Pharoah takes away the straw and adds more inflation, and our paychecks buy less and less. If we’re still uppidy, well, Pharoah threatens to off-shore our jobs, and we’re down to cleaning toilets at Wal-Mart. And so it goes, on and on.

  9. ccinnova

    I live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC and I heard very little of what’s been discussed here come up in our Senate campaign. Instead, the campaign mostly focused on gaffes and invective, some on the part of the candidates but much of it flowing from the media.

    I don’t know what part, if any, the economy played in local voters’ decisions as it was hardly discussed during the campaign. On the surface, this area seems to be thriving, with the defense buildup and government spending on homeland security helping the area recover from the dot-com bust. Beneath the surface, however, there are signs of distress. A single-income family can’t afford to buy a home unless that income is well into six figures, and rents have increased substantially over the past year. We’ve endured an influx of immigrants, many of them illegal, into this area. This influx is causing considerable strain on housing, education, health care and law enforcement. Traffic is miserable and property taxes have soared. Everyone I know who has retired in recent years has left the area because they can’t afford to stay on a reduced income.

    In southern and southwestern Virginia, the economic picture is much more grim with the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs over the last decade. I’m sure the economy played much more of a role there.

    While the economy may have played a greater role than portryed in the election results, I’ve yet to see the Democrats come up with any realistic solutions. The Washington Post, a partisan Democratic newspaper, has called for raising taxes and redistributing income, but the moribund economies of the Western European welfare states stand as a testament to the failure of such policies.

    I suspect the influence of the prosperity doctrine may have something to do with the failure of the church to address such issues. Once discredited following the televangelist scandals of the late 1980’s, the prosperity doctrine has made a comeback after being repackaged by preachers such as Joel Osteen who downplay the lordship of Christ while preaching the virtue of success.

    Thanks, Dan, for a thoughtful post, and I apologize for the lengthy comment.

    • ccinova,

      Yeah, the Fairfax County area is the eastern equivalent of Silicon Valley, so I know what you’re talking about.

      We got priced out of the Valley, too. Housing increased at 20-25% year over year, but our salaries sure didn’t. We moved into a tiny 2-bedroom apartment ($1,800 a month!) in Sunnyvale in 1996 and the 1600-1900 sq. ft. homes (with no yards to speak of) in our area were going for $320,000. When we left in May 2000, those same homes were $550,000. Great for anyone who owned one, but we’d never own one at that rate, so we moved back to Ohio.

      I know what you mean about property taxes, too. I’ve read horror stories about modest homes that increased so much in value that the people who lived in them were forced to abandon them because the property taxes ate them alive. While that sounds good to some extent, what with the increased value of the property, if everyone’s property increased in a similar way, where do you move to? You’re still priced out, even with the gains you made from your home’s sale. The only hope is to move to a far cheaper area, but what’s “far cheaper” anymore? My wife and I live in a dirt cheap area, so we’d have no idea where to go that would be cheaper if anything happened to our place here.

    • One last thing…

      People vote hope. They hope candidates follow through. As long as candidates promise change, people will vote hoping that the change comes. The Democrats made the most “change” promises. We’ll see if they keep their promises to fix the economy and employment problems they said they would.

      If the past is any indicator, we shouldn’t hold our breath.

  10. Since you just ran a series on community noting how churches have often fallen short in helping their own, I think it’s worth considering a connection between individual prosperity and personal generosity. Proverbs 11:24 says, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.”

    It’s proverbial; you can’t apply it across the board like it’s one of the laws of physics. And “gains even more” doesn’t mean name it/claim it or hundredfold return obviously. But when I was on the “haves” side of the ledger, I found the proverb to be true because God honored my faith in his provision.

    Now that I’m on the “have not” side, and have been for a while, I see how one illustration in the parable of the sower applies. The seed sown among thorns stands for those “choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” (Lk. 8:14)

    On several occasions, I have seen this immaturity clearly. When presented with needs that they are capable of meeting, I’ve seen people avert their eyes, etc. like middle school students slumping down in their chairs hoping the teacher will call on someone else.

    I don’t want to sound indifferent to anyone’s financial problems, but it seems to me that this will be an issue for a long time, until we mature in understanding God’s will about provision and possessions. I’m sure for many it will mean a significant shakeup in attitudes toward many of the things that have become the norm for an American middle-class lifestyle.

    • Dave,

      I think the 10% tithe idea (that I believe was tossed out with the coming of the New Covenant) is largely responsible for the stinginess you document.

      I believe that the New Covenant calls for 100%. Everything we have is in play for God at all times, and nothing should be held back.

      Of course, that idea works best in a real community that is covering each other’s backs. The problem with making 100% work comes when not everyone is on-board with the idea. When everyone agrees, it works. When a majority aren’t, inequities form because some people are always giving, while some are always receiving.

      Trying to get a church to live by the 100% tithe is really hard because as long as those inequities exist, our crazy American idea of fair play starts people balking and momentum gets lost.

      Still, 100% is the way it’s supposed to work. That doesn’t mean you give everything away, but it does mean that God desires us not to hold onto anything except Him.

  11. The Hungarian Luddite

    I think we should question the notion that the Bible is a handbook for secular government. How far do we want to take that notion?

    We need government that is lead by moral, ethical people who will act in the best interest of the people they serve.

    Doc, I say this kindly, you are guilty of what you charge others……superimposing their theory of government on the Scriptures. And then taking a swipe at us liberals 🙂 Many of the things you say have merit but having merit is not the same as Biblical authority. Perhaps you could list for me just exactly what those Biblical Godly principles of government are?

    We become dangerous people when we start using the OT as our plan for government. We also become neglectful people when we assert that only Romans 13 is the God’s guiding principle for government.

    When Israel threw off theocratic rule and clamored for a King God gave them what they wanted. From that time forward God’s people have been under secular rule There is no going back and there is no hint in the NT that we should.

    We are NT, New Covenant people. The ethics and morals of the NT are clear and we are to walk in them as followers of Jesus. This does not mean that the OT has no value. It does. It is for our example. It is profitable for instruction, for adding depth to the NT teachings. But, once we make the OT the rule and standard we are on dangerous ground. Then, we must accept all the OT commands. And of course, no one, but a rabid theonomist does that. No, most of us pick and choose from the OT the commands we like or the ones that prove our point. (like tithing. All us preachers looovvee tithing)

    • Far from using the Bible as a model for government, we are called on by Paul to “mind your own business” when it comes to secular morality, by taking that concept to it’s logical end, secular governance. Our moral judgements are reserved for believers only, and then only vetted through the scriptures. We have no business telling non-believers how to run things, simply because we are living in two different worlds.

  12. If government were the answer, then I would say cut corporate taxes and regulations, and institute a flat personal income tax. Then raise the minimum wage to a more livable wage. After that, privatize Social Security with investments in stocks and bonds. Force people to save for retirement.

    More government is not the answer, of course. Samuel prophesied that to Israel when they demanded a king (1 Samuel ch. 8). So what is? More community, more responsibility. This extends beyond the usual understanding of the Church taking care of her own.

    I do not know much about investing, but I do know that this economy is very good…for those who invest. Many Americans will not save, much less invest. Those who invest get ahead. Those who do not (for whatever reason), will not. They rely on their incomes and benefits to get by. But incomes and benefits seem the last to rise in any rising economy. Indeed, incomes and benefits often are cut to improve the economy…for investors.

    Are investors consciously snubbing the little guy to fatten their wallets? Some are. However, much of the investment market is driven by the mutual fund, which is run by computer model. Many not-so-rich Americans are invested in mutual funds, and they do not pay much attention to what their funds own as long as the funds make returns on investments.

    How the funds react to the market can be explained simply, in my layman’s opinion. If Brand X’s profit drops, then its stock is sold off. It hardly matters what Brand X’s product is. Often, Brand X stocks do not pay dividends, either, so the only way to earn money off the stock is by buying and selling it.

    The business cycle then operates like this: Brand X introduces some new product or service, and the market is excited. The stock goes up. Brand X hires more employees at higher wages and benefits. Then the product or service must remain hot in order to keep expanding the business. Once sales level off (or, worse, drop off), employees are laid off, wages and benefits slashed. This keeps the profits up until there is no more fat to be trimmed to augment flat or dropping sales. Brand X’s stock falls. Brand X cuts back more and operates until better days arrive (whether that means they find a new hot product or service, or whether current products or services become hot again), goes into bankruptcy, or is acquired by another company.

    This seems elementary, but key factors are missing in my above explanation of the business cycle: community and responsibility. The shareholders, often ignorant about their investments because the investments are buried in mutual fund paperwork, have little to no personal connection to Brand X. They feel no responsibility for Brand X’s product, service, sales, or employees.

    In the past, owning stock in General Motors, Ford, General Electric, AT&T, etc., was a point of pride, even if the stock’s price was not doing all that well. Am I wrong? People liked to hold the stock. Now it seems owning stock is just a numbers game. Who cares what Brand X sells and how many people are employed there?

    As for housing, because so many people have not invested over the years, their key investment is housing. Most Americans will do anything in their power…from imposing ridiculous rules on neighbors to moving away from minorities to opposing beneficial development to you name it…to keep their property values high. Their investments are not diversified, so their only hope is the resale value of their houses.

    How can the Church address this lack of macro-community values and responsibility? I am not sure. Some people have proposed micro-scale economies to benefit tight-knit communities, but in my opinion, these often fail because Jesus said the poor will always be with us (John 12:8), and as the book of Proverbs says, “All the brethren of the poor do hate him: how much more do his friends go far from him? he pursueth them with words, yet they are wanting to him” (Proverbs 19:7). Micro-economies often fail because some in the economy will become or remain poor, while others live comfortably or grow rich, and it seems too much for the well-off in the economy to bear the burdens of those poor nearby them who keep asking for help.

    So I may have no applicable answer at this point in my life, but I recall some of my favorite Proverbs on this matter:

    “He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding” (Proverbs 12:11).

    “Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment” (Proverbs 13:23).

    “He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough” (Proverbs 28:19).

    • Michael,

      The quarterly investment cycle plays a large part in the problem of business today. That model pushes expediency above all things since shareholders do not think in the long term. They want their profit now. For this reason, business is progressively working in boom and bust cycles. That irresponsibility bears no mark of true Christian practice and Christians should, therefore, be holding companies to a better standard.

      I also disagree with you (vehemently, in fact) regarding investments. The sad truth is that most of us do not have access to the kind of insider fund management that actually makes money. When you look at the types of investments that truly pull down respectable figures, those investments are limited to institutional investors or the guys who can plop down $100,000 without thinking about it.

      The financial investors we used over the years all had outstanding credentials backed by solid numbers and superb track records. But they weren’t insiders. As a result, we got killed in the last bust cycle. Our advisors has no better information than we did. They did great in an up market, but died in a bad one.

      But that top one percent of wage earners didn’t succumb like we did because their advisors operate outside the bounds of “the little guy.” They’re right in there in the halls of power and they know trends the average advisor never gets to hear until it’s already too late.

      The Wall Street Journal used to pit a chimp tossing darts at company names versus the average financial advisor. The chimp won–handily. What this says about the way we middle class people go about investing is damning.

    • Michael-

      I’m not so sure that a micro-economy fails because “the poor will always be with us” so much as that is not what we were called to be as the body of Christ. “Go out into all the world..(and while you are going) make disciples…” is the clarion call. We can’t do that while inwardly being a microcosm.

      What seems to be the greatest obstacle to living truly free lives is our desire to grasp hold of financial security, forgetting that it is God who is our security. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is written by Paul at the end of a discussion regarding wealth and security. He learned how to live in plenty and want. We need to learn as well. Our present financial situation may be one of the lessons.

  13. Dire Dan: “The chimp won†“handily.”

    If that doesn’t make someone think there’s something fishy going on, then I don’t know what would.

    The Punishment of America will continue…but first a word from our sponsors.

  14. For the benefit of Don Fields (and others) I wanted to suggest a couple of books that deal with issues that usually only get soundbite treatment on the evening news. The first is by Senator Byron Dorgan, Take This Job and Ship It, which helps explain why middle-aged people are working fast food jobs (their factory jobs went to China, etc.) Yes, there are some passages that sound like partisan talking points, but it still provides a way of understanding some of the huge changes that have taken place in our economy. And it’s quick reading.

    The other is Perfectly Legal, by David Cay Johnston, that explains how inequities are built into the tax code. God isn’t a Republican or Democrat, but we know that God loves righteousness and justice, and that’s how many of these issues ought to be viewed, IMO.

  15. Pingback: Terra Extraneus » The Middle Class Trap: Part 1Should We Feel Sorry for the Middle Class?
  16. Chooselife

    Again I find posts on this blog fascinating and insightful. I wanted to make a couple points (or raise a few questions):

    On the issue of government’s role, we must keep in mind that we are the government. When the government makes promises, we are making the promises and expecting future generations to fulfill them. I was reading a selection from Gene Epstein’s “Econospinning” on Social Security and Medicare and he referred to the public’s lack of understanding about how entitlements work and used a metaphor to explain them in a nutshell. I’ll modify it a bit: Imagine your father willed you a $1 million at his death but that money was to come from your own income. So the grandmas and grandpas who benefitted from economy expansion and nice pension plans will be getting paid by the grandchildren who not only inherited their debt but are loosing their jobs to outsourcing to fund the older generations’ investments. And those from poorer households still have to pay the taxes but may get no inheritance (housing, etc) from them to offset it.

    On the issue of the Church, I (25-year-old female) have been raised largely in a prosperity-driven Church (meaning most of the churches I attended from age 13 up believe God wants prosperity and good health for all Christians). Now I am finding it VERY difficult to break from this thought pattern that when God moves he gets you a better house, a better job and position within the church (instead of, for example, the motivation to boldly sell those things and move to a poorer neighborhood to serve the community– a move, that ironically, many see as a “special calling” from God). An issue I am finding is because many in the church don’t understand how economics works (or heavily tout the “deserving righteous” vs. “to hell with the wicked” dichotomy) we make decisions on how we spend our money in a vacuum and only thinking of it in spiritual terms. We think of the winners and not the losers and are willing to compromise for the sake of money. How did Ken Lay get to where he ended up? Why do we think our buying a house on a zero down 30-year mortgage is a sign of God’s blessing as opposed to a desperate move by banks and builders to sell inventory and a lack of God’s view of debt by us? Just wondering…

    Christians spend a lot of time worried over finances but until we are willing to let go of that and spend more time thinking about the Gospel and other peoples’ needs we will continue to be where we are.

  17. Pingback: Terra Extraneus » THE MIDDLE CLASS TRAP: PART 2Who's in the Middle Class, How Much Do They Make — and How Much is Left Over?
  18. I understand your concern, I’ve counseled over 200 workers seeking retraining over the last few years. They’re treated like cattle first by their former employer and then by the government!

    Though I’m not from Ohio, I read Ken Blackwell’s book and I believe he had some great ideas to revitalize the state. Too bad that someone with no ideas got elected.

    I’d like to see a nationwide Christian Non Profit Credit Union created that worked with local churches to 1) teach biblical economics, 2) lead people to Christ, and 3) help them escape pay day loans. Still working on that project!

    I look forward to reading this again when I have more leisure. Thanks for getting this discussion started.

    • M.L.,

      Ken Blackwell’s a great man. He’s smarter than most politicians, he’s a true conservative, and I’ve supported him ever since he was a city councilman in Cincinnati.

      Blackwell had no chance to win. Besides the GOP scandals in this state, the Ohio GOP treated Blackwell like the enemy because he stood against the party when they were trying to hike taxes and generally act like a bunch of imbeciles. As a result, they blackballed him and threw almost no support to him in his run for governor. The whole thing makes me sick.

      Then again, Blackwell’s campaign staff were incompetent. And I mean that. I’ve never once thought to work for a political candidate, but I was fully committed to Blackwell. Yet every time a Blackwell campaign team member called, all they wanted was money. I offered to go door-to-door, hand out promotional material, and do anything the campaign needed done. Despite at least a half dozen conversations with Blackwell staff, not only did I get no response to my offers volunteer for the campaign, I didn’t even got bumper stickers or yard signs sent to me.

      Just incompetent. As a result, I never plan on volunteering to help another campaign in the future. I’m done. Even though I fully support Blackwell, I won’t offer to volunteer for his campaign again.

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