A little background info: A few months back Allison and I took Dave Ramsey's "Financial Peace University" course at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, FL. We were greatly entertained by his video presentations, we had a wonderful group leader and group members, and we came away from the experience with a new, fresh set of eyes to the world. Since the class we have treated money in a very different way, being unbelievably careful in our budgeting. I strongly recommend the course for anyone with money woes as it appears to me to be the best thing going for getting out of debt, saving for retirement, and becoming financially peaceful instead of financially and persistently worried.
But having said that, a story.
I spent the last three years of my life studying Scripture, homiletics, liturgics, exegesis, evangelism, and more at what major portions of the Christian world might call a "liberal" seminary: Duke Divinity School. Duke's seminary is far from overtly liberal, but that's a story for another day.
There is, however, a persistent and common theme among many of Duke seminarians' worldviews. Many who attend Duke's Divinity School (not all, just many) see significant problems with the economic status of this country. Without entering into my best impression of Michael Moore, I'll suffice it to say that Capitalism, as it is practiced in the United States, seems contrary to much of Jesus's teachings about caring for the poor. Capitalism seems antithetical to our command to care for the poor. Capitalism, as they and I see it, exemplifies and glorifies the successful ones making generalizations about the less successful, generally resulting in a lower quality of life for the less successful. Capitalism is economic survival of the fittest and fundamentally less compassionate than other systems.
Due to poor judgment (I guess) and a genuine interest in the financial woes of this country, I make a regular habit out of listening to Dave Ramsey's podcast. For the most part, The Dave Ramsey Show consists of callers who call in and either 1) need advice on a business or how to get them or a friend out of debt or 2) a family or individual celebrating their new debt-free life with a "debt-free scream". (I'll admit to getting teary-eyed on more than one occasion at the debt-free scream after hearing the story.)
Every once in awhile though, The Dave Ramsey Show features a belligerent and angry Dave Ramsey who counters any new measure President Obama has made. Or, if he's feeling greedy, any movement of the Left. Dave takes it upon himself to show his listeners how "stupid" (yes, he uses the word frequently) Obama's "socialistic" ideas are. To Dave, socialism has no virtues. Spreading the wealth has no business with he hard-earned money.
Dave started into a rant one day about how people asking for higher wages in minimum wage jobs don't deserve a higher pay--their economic value isn't high enough. He drew a distinction between a person's inherent and economic value. While the human has value, the market dictates someone's economic value (and therefore their paid wage). It's free market, capitalistic jargon at its best.
I struggled here.
Someone's economic value is completely separate from their value as a human? The two are not related or interact at all? Is the proper response to the poor a lesson on their economic value? Is that how Jesus responded?
So I posted this tweet when I got out of the shower (I listen to his show in the shower):
I literally didn't even get dried off completely before Dave responded.
I was caught off guard here as I didn't expect Dave to respond. I wondered if Dave and I were referring to the same "Word." I was imagining he meant the Word Became Flesh. Intrigued, I pressed on.
I was lost now. There was no way he and I were reading the same Bible. The Bible I read points to a God who came in the form of a man, in the form of broken humanity, to redeem humanity in new life through death and resurrection, to teach God's children how they were to be, and to present a Kingdom that was unlike any other. Jesus's ministry on earth dealt largely with compassion toward the poor and healing of their often sick and diseased bodies. Never once did Jesus say, "You know, you're poor. And you're poor because your economic value isn't high enough." This just wasn't clicking for me.
Note: I threw in the bit about giving because I thought we could find common ground. Dave's class encourages students to build extravagant wealth and then GIVE like no one else. Dave's class encourages his students to cut down their lifestyle to an affordable level, he says, "Live like no one else so that later you can live and GIVE like no one else." I was attempting to throw him a good and helpful bone.
For what it's worth, I believe the Parable of the Talents to be about discipleship in growth of the kingdom, not a study in economics (though he's not the first person I've seen point to it as an economic lesson and I doubt he will be the last).
And that was that. Dave, I'm assuming, added me to his increasingly popular "blocked" list. I can no longer follow him and I assume that any @reply to Dave's account will go unseen when coming from my account. One short seemingly harmless conversation in which a student of Dave's decided that he didn't quite agree with Dave and Dave decided that he never wanted to hear from that student again. A relationship ended over a disagreement and nothing more.
I learned two things:
- If you disagree with Dave, you're no longer a friend of Dave.
- Dave doesn't even believe what he says he believes.
Regarding #2, to close. Every single time a caller calls in to Dave's radio show and asks how Dave is doing, his go-to response is the same: "Better than I deserve". If Dave is really doing better than he deserves, how can he be so territorial with his own money? He's unwilling to live in a society where the poor can be helped by society at large.
The gospel writers put it this way when they quoted Jesus, "You can't serve two masters...You cannot serve both God and Money." Dave is attempting to do both. But in the process, he's devoting to one and disposing of the other. Just as Jesus predicted.
UPDATE: Due to overwhelming and unforeseen interest in this post, I've been fortunate to receive some copy editing from a good friend, Mat Hotho. If you're rereading this article and things seem smoother, thank him. Thanks to all who have been interested; I greatly appreciate your support and critiques.