Did Christianity cause the crash?

There’s a fascinating and disturbing new article by Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic that wonders if popular Christian teaching about money and finances contributed to the recent economic crash.

I’ve read many critiques of “prosperity theology” over the years, and tend to agree with claims that it’s a dangerous and unbiblical twist on the Gospel message. And most of the critiques I’ve read have focused on the phenomenon’s theological merits. But what are the real-world results of applying prosperity theology to your life? Are you more likely to take out a mortgage you can’t afford? Are you more likely to live beyond your means? The Atlantic piece finds some evidence that there’s more than just theology at stake:

More recently, critics have begun to argue that the prosperity gospel, echoed in churches across the country, might have played a part in the economic collapse. In 2008, in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Jonathan Walton, a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside, warned:

Narratives of how “God blessed me with my first house despite my credit” were common … Sermons declaring “It’s your season of overflow” supplanted messages of economic sobriety and disinterested sacrifice. Yet as folks were testifying about “what God can do,” little attention was paid to a predatory subprime-mortgage industry, relaxed credit standards, or the dangers of using one’s home equity as an ATM.

In 2004, Walton was researching a book about black televangelists. “I would hear consistent testimonies about how ‘once I was renting and now God let me own my own home,’ or ‘I was afraid of the loan officer, but God directed him to ignore my bad credit and blessed me with my first home,’” he says. “This trope was so common in these churches that I just became immune to it. Only later did I connect it to this disaster.”

The article also points out some truly disturbing instances in which banks and churches collaborated to pitch “financial empowerment.” The article is worth reading in full; it does not leave one feeling very positive about the prosperity gospel, but it does give adherents a chance to defend their beliefs.

After you’ve read the article, I also recommend a follow-up post at the Kruse Kronicle blog which cautions that Christians shouldn’t pin all of the blame on prosperity teaching. Mainstream churches too have failed to help Christians discern and follow Biblical teachings about money and finances.

What do you think? Does the church bear any blame for Americans’ poor financial habits and the economic crisis that continues to exact its toll on millions? What could or should the church be doing to help, now that the crisis is here?

5 Responses to “Did Christianity cause the crash?”

  • Donnie McLeod says:

    If Christianity could see that it can take the lesson of Judas, a selfish jerk, it could create a better business models, communities with better quality of lives and more wealth.

  • Terrence Deagle says:

    No, Christianity did not cause the crash. However, I believe this economic depression (which is what we’re really in)is punishment from God. The bible says that it is the leadersip that causes them to err. We have put our faith in “Wall Street” and our so-called leaders are leading us down a path towards a modern tower of Babel called the New World Order. This final civilization can only lead to the demise and destruction of the entire world. But, God is going to intervene before we get to this point.

  • Noreen Janzen says:

    There is a dangerous theological thread that runs through all Western evangelical Christianity…the idea that we are in the “end times”. That has huge implications for all of us. Why take care of the earth? We can just trash it because it won’t be around much longer anyway…”End times.” Or why should we bother with working at peacemaking in places like the Middle East? Let them wage their wars…the sooner the “end times” will come to pass. Why bother with financial restraint? God wants to bless us abundantly here, and then up to heaven we go for more riches. Credit makes WAY more sense in that case than saving up for things.
    You can see how for secular society Christianity has some scary implications!

    • Cylar says:

      There is a dangerous theological thread that runs through all Western evangelical Christianity…the idea that we are in the “end times”

      Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t. (You have to admit that Israel’s sudden reappearance only fifty years ago is one prophecy that’s hard to ignore.) I have always thought, however, that being in the “end times” shouldn’t affect the way you live your life, serve God, or conduct your affairs. Jesus directed us to “keep watch, for you do not know the hour or the day,” and so our job is to keep all of God’s commands, doing what we’ve always done as servants of the King, right up to the very moment Jesus actually appears in person. Sitting around debating what being in the “end times” might mean for our lives is probably a waste of time. God’s directives are the same whether we are or not.

  • matt webber says:

    Noreen’s comments are a good example of what you get when you cross a christian belief and a secular mindset. Many Christians do believe that we are living in the end times, if they are true followers of Christ however, they will not see it as an excuse to act irresponsibly but an inspiration. They should also know, despite what prosperity gospel preachers may say, that the abundant blessings promised in the Bible have nothing to do with money or material things. God promises to give his people what they need in order to accomplish his purpose for them. This may not sound so great but the abundant blessings come in spirtual and emotional form to those who follow the will of God and have proven themselves to many to be better than anything money can buy. The end may be near, but none of us know when it will be, so as a Christian I will continue to do my best to serve the Lord and look forward to the day I can see his face.