A Reflection on Hanna Rosin’s article for The Atlantic
Read the entire article at The Atlantic – Did Christianity Cause the Crash?
When I was 19 years old and still a fervent fundamentalist believer, I found myself in dire need of a car. The old clunker I had driven in high school had suddenly given up the ghost, just as I was planning to go off to Bible school, several states away. I hadn’t yet received any scholarship offers from the school, and I didn’t want to borrow any money, so I was trusting that God was going to give me the means to have an education. I knew that I would have to work part-time to support myself while in school, and I began to worry how I would be able to make the whole college thing work without any transportation. In fact, I didn’t even know how I was going to get myself back and forth to my part-time job at a local shoe store. So I began to pray. I asked God to provide me with a car and a job so that I could go to school and learn to do his work.
What happened next seemed like an answered prayer – a miracle, if you will. My boss at the shoe store asked me if I would postpone college for a year or two and help him open a new store about an hour away. He knew I had just lost my car, so he offered me a signing bonus that could serve as a down payment on a new one – a new car! I had asked God for any old car and a part-time job; he was giving me a brand new car and a retail management job – wasn’t God amazing? Still, I was unsure if this was the direction that God wanted me to go in – hadn’t I prayed for hours and felt that I should go to Bible school? So, I put out a fleece before God. I reminded God in prayer that I didn’t have any credit whatsoever, and that I was pretty sure I couldn’t qualify for a car loan. However, if I was indeed approved for the loan, I would take that as a sign that this was what he wanted for me at this time in my life – new car, decent job, college later.
I was reminded of this story as I read Ms Rosin’s article about how the prosperity theology espoused by many Charismatic/Pentecostal churches may have contributed to the biggest housing crisis in the last 100 years or so. Her story focuses especially on Black and Latino churches, and how some of the poorest members of American society were and still are being told that God wants them to be rich – but they’ve got to have the faith to get started themselves. Over the past decade of easy money, this often meant going out and buying a house that seemed out of reach, trusting that God would bring in the extra dollars needed to make the mortgage payments. In fact, I would go so far as to say that – at least in the Christian circles I’m familiar with – this is the only way to make financial decisions. Pray, seek a sign from God, act on that sign.
Wouldn’t it be better if a Christian trusted his afterlife to his faith, but made his financial decisions based on evidence? Even if we believe that God wants us to be rich, wants us to have that new house or new car, how can we be so sure in our belief – in our interpretation of God’s sign – that we are able to act against all sound financial advice? It would be interesting to know – but impossible to find out – how many people bought houses this way, signing a loan with payments they knew they’d never be able to pay without divine intervention.
In my case, no financial crash ensued. I got the loan, bought the car, and the job I started allowed me to earn enough money to make the payments. But I didn’t go to school that year, or the next. In fact, it would be nearly a decade before I would be able to start my education. When I think of the lost income potential that long delay may have cost me – well, that’s the topic of a future post.