home
RSS
What Dave Ramsey gets wrong about poverty
Financial advisor Dave Ramsey is also an evangelical Christian.
November 30th, 2013
09:59 AM ET

What Dave Ramsey gets wrong about poverty

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN 

(CNN)– Dave Ramsey is rich. And he makes his living telling other evangelical Christians how they can get rich, too.

Host of a nationally syndicated radio program and author of multiple best-selling books, Ramsey targets evangelical Christians with what he calls a “biblical” approach to financial planning, one that focuses primarily on the elimination of consumer debt. His for-profit Financial Peace University is billed as “a biblically based curriculum that teaches people how to handle money God's ways."

Much of what Ramsey teaches is sound, helpful advice, particularly for middle-class Americans struggling with mounting credit card bills. I have celebrated with friends as they’ve marked their first day of debt-free living, thanks in part to Dave Ramsey’s teachings and all those white envelopes of cash he urges his students to use instead of credit cards.

But while Ramsey may be a fine source of information on how to eliminate debt, his views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical.

Take, for example, a recent article by Tim Corley posted to Ramsey’s website. Entitled “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day,” the article presents some dubious statistics comparing the habits of the rich with the habits of the poor, including:

“70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.”

“76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.”

“63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.”

One need not be a student of logic to observe that Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.

For example, a poor person might not exercise four days a week because, unlike a rich person, she cannot afford a gym membership. Or perhaps she has to work two jobs to earn a living wage, which leaves her little time and energy for jogging around the park.

A poor family may eat more junk food, not because they are lazy and undisciplined, but because they live in an economically disadvantaged, urban setting where health food stores are not as available: a so-called “food desert.”

Critics were swift to point out these discrepancies and among the critics were some of Ramsey’s fellow evangelical Christians who also noted that, though the book of Proverbs certainly heralds success as a common return on faithful labor, nowhere does the Bible guarantee that good habits lead to wealth.

The writer of Ecclesiastes observed that "under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all."

And far from having contempt for the poor, Jesus surrounded himself with the needy and challenged the excesses of the rich. “Blessed are you who are poor,” he said, “for yours is the kingdom of God. … But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24).

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle," Jesus famously said, "than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

It’s hard for the wealthy to flourish in the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated because the economy of that kingdom runs so contrary to the economies of the world. It rewards the peacemakers over the powerful, the humble over the proud, the kind over the cruel, and those who hunger to do the right thing over those whose wealth has convinced them they already are.

Ramsey responded to the pushback with an addendum to the original post calling his critics “ignorant” and “immature” and instructing them to “grow up.”

“This list simply says your choices cause results,” he said, again committing the false cause fallacy. “You reap what you sow.”

The list, he said, applies only to people living in “first world” countries, where Ramsey believes economic injustices are essentially nonexistent. While the poor in developing countries are so as a result of external circumstances beyond their control, the poor in the United States have no one to blame but themselves.

“If you are broke or poor in the U.S. or a first-world economy, the only variable in the discussion you can personally control is YOU,” Ramsey says. “You can make better choices and have better results.”

America, he argues, has prospered as a direct result of its “understanding and application of biblical truths” which have led to “life-changing industry, inventions and a standard of living never known before on this planet.”

“There is a direct correlation,” he concludes, “between your habits, choices and character in Christ and your propensity to build wealth.”

For Christians, Ramsey’s perceived “direct correlation” between faith and wealth should be more troubling than his other confused correlations, for it flirts with what Christians refer to as the prosperity gospel, the teaching that God rewards faithfulness with wealth.

Ramsey’s particular brand of prosperity gospel elevates the American dream as God’s reward for America’s faithfulness, the spoils of which are readily available to anyone who works hard enough to receive them.

But such a view glosses over the reality that America was not, in fact, founded upon purely Christian principles (unless one counts slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender inequity, and Jim Crow as Christian principles), so we should be careful of assuming our relative wealth reflects God’s favor. (The Roman Empire was wealthy, too, after all.)

It also glosses over the reality that economic injustice is not, in fact, limited to the developing world but plagues our own country as well.

When medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the United States, there are systemic injustices at work.

When people working 40-hour weeks at minimum wage jobs still can’t earn enough to support their families, there are systemic injustices at work.

When approximately 1% of Americans hold 40% of the nation’s wealth, there are systemic injustices at work.

When the black unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as the white unemployment rate for the past 50 years, there are systemic injustices at work.

And throughout Scripture, people of faith are called not simply to donate to charity, but to address such systemic injustices in substantive ways.

The 17-year-old girl who lives in a depressed neighborhood zoned for a failing school system who probably won’t graduate because her grades are suffering because she has to work part-time to help support her family needs more than a few audio books to turn things around.

People are poor for a lot of reasons, and choice is certainly a factor, but categorically blaming poverty on lack of faith or lack of initiative is not only uninformed, it’s unbiblical.

God does not divide the world into the deserving rich and the undeserving poor. In fact, the brother of Jesus wrote that God has “chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him” (James 2:5).

God does not bless people with money; God blesses people with the good and perfect gift of God’s presence, which is available to rich and poor alike.

And that’s good news.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com. The views expressed in this column belong to Rachel Held Evans.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Business • Christianity • Ethics • evangelicals • Faith • Leaders • Money & Faith • Opinion

soundoff (2,294 Responses)
  1. jeff

    this uninformed lady is taking scripture out of context to make her point. and I like it how her main argument is on a piece NOT WRITTEN BY DAVE RAMSEY. also she is wrong about 'dave ramsey tells Christians how to get rich' -if she would read only chapter one on all of his books he clearly states that this is not a get rich scheme and the principles he teaches are also NOT NEW. just common sense.
    what a poorly and uninformed written article.. that's the problem with the internet; anyone can spout fictional information and pose as an authority on the subject

    January 28, 2014 at 10:59 am |
  2. BryonB

    You are deploying a classical straw man argument (you misrepresented Ramsey). He said, "There is a direct correlation between habits, choices and character in Christ and your PROPENSITY to build wealth."

    You then claim he is saying there is a direct correlation between your faith and wealth.

    Just wondering, did you look up what PROPENSITY means? It means an inclination or natural tendency to behave in a particular way. Very unprofessional to bash a statement when you clearly don't even know what he is saying (or worse you knew what he was saying and you blantantly misrepresented him).

    The other thing. Why did you use faith? He didn't say faith. He said habits, choices and character in Christ. I know people with good faith but poor habits and choices (so you're choosing of faith is hardly fair). I think you used faith because it worked with your agenda (tearing him down).

    Most of your disagreement with him came off of your misunderstanding/misrepresenting of this statement. When you properly interpret the statement you see that he is not saying doing A causes B, but that doing A makes B more likely to happen (he wasn't saying it was a causal link just a correlation).

    I could keep going on several different lines that are just flat out wrong, but I just choice the one that you started going off track with.

    January 27, 2014 at 5:20 pm |
    • beckynroger

      Choices? Character of Christ? We are to put on Christs character. Picking on people just because they are poor. I know I know he did it in a helpful way. Making sure he made the rich look smarter and wiser. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. psalm 34:18, The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. psalm 9:9 Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. prov 22:16, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:5 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? James 2:6 When the middle class no longer exists only then will people know.

      February 14, 2014 at 12:23 am |
  3. Tys'.

    Pt:2 You may have made it big. You may have made it to survive well. You may have made it to allow yourself and your family to eat out often. But sorry. Poverty is more diverse than you perceive. Poverty is a problem that falls upon us all and because you have a stationary home that you can come back to in comfort is in its own right a sign to the poor. They see you as wealthy, even if that home is a mobile one. Poverty is a problem of the whole nation. Poverty may not be fully 'cured', i recognize that but we have to acknowledge that there is something systemically wrong concerning poverty. I don't believe it can be fixed but i do believe even you sitting at your computer or smart phone can do something. My dvicd is to actually have a conversation with someone poor... better yet, a homeless 'traveler'. Ask them about their life and you might learn something. Please, learn something about this before you portray that which does not make sense. Also, thank you to the original post.

    January 17, 2014 at 2:29 am |
  4. meh130

    Why should one person working minimum wage for 40 hours a week be able to earn enough to support a family? Why not two people both working minimum wage for 40 hours a week? Why not one person working 60 hours a week? One person working 60 hours a week (40 hours regular, 20 hours overtime) at minimum wage earns 75% more than one person working 40 hours at minimum wage. The 40 hour week is a luxury, not a maximum. All those eevil 1%er corporate executives are working 80, 90, 100 hours a week. That real estate agent or sales person blowing out their number is working 70, 80 hours a week. That small businessman is working 90, 100, 110 hours a week.

    Multigenerational welfare is inexcusable in America. A child born into welfare has free food, free medical care, and free education. Poverty is not a human DNA trait, unless you believe someone is inferior due to their race or ethnicity, which apparently the political and religious left believe with all their heart and with all their soul.

    January 15, 2014 at 10:08 am |
    • TOM CORLEY

      That was just a great response. Thee are a lot of smart people on this blog

      January 15, 2014 at 10:23 am |
      • marco

        does anyone else finds it amazing that most right wing nuts worship Jesus, a Socialist Jew??? lol

        February 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm |
    • goodnews17

      Exactly what are you trying to say? Are you suggesting we make ourselves slaves to work so we don't get the tag 'poor'? For many, there is not even the opportunity to find work, let alone working long hours. There is something wrong with our economic social political systems that requires working excessive hours to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Our quality of life is heavily compromised if family life and personal interactions are sacrificed for the sake of earning enough money to 'live'.

      January 15, 2014 at 4:21 pm |
    • Paul

      Show me one minimum-wage earner who's *able* to work 60 hours a week even if they want to, and I'll show you a business owner who is out of their mind, and would probably crap their wealthy pants at that oversight. Most anyone making minimum wage is limited to whatever hours will max them out at a legal "part-time" position, because a full-time earner is many times more expensive to small business due to additional benefits that have to be paid.

      January 24, 2014 at 4:10 pm |
    • franz josef

      Are you sure? I work for a service manager at a dealership who works less than 40 hours a week and makes over 200K. The mega stores and restaurants are putting the little guy out of business. Can't work for ma/pa and then learn enough to start your own business. These greedy stores open 7 a week 24 a day. The small business owner could close on Sunday, but if you work at a gas station you gotta work on Sunday. And yes, a lot of these corporations are EEEEEEEEVIL. "The love of money is the root of all EEEEEEEEEVIL".

      February 1, 2014 at 10:49 pm |
    • allstondiaries

      A lot of people who are working minimum wage jobs are not going to get over time. Heck they can't even get 40 hours. These places will give a person 37 hours a week and will do everything in their power to make sure they don't work a second over. You can get two jobs, but try getting two places that will give you enough hours and be flexible with your other job. Also try living in parts of the country where there aren't a lot of jobs or better salaries. Yeah you can move, but that means leaving everyone you know and your entire support system. Poverty is real. Some people can get out, but it is hard and it takes a lot more effort to climb up the ladder as a poor person then it does for a middle class person. I know from experience. I was one of two people from my graduating class that has been able to make it out of poverty out of over a hundred kids. I worked full time and went to school and would go on a couple of hours a sleep a night and it sucked. I watched my friends work ten hours a week at most while I was skipping meals because I didn't have the money or the time. It is hard to justify that to a lot of people. Get off your high horse and recognize your own privilege.

      February 6, 2014 at 12:38 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.