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.
just one more in a countless line of scammers using a bronze age book of stories to squeeze money out of gullible fools.
it's been going on for 2000 years!
Not a fan when writers take a few peripheral quotes to try and make sweeping observations on the views of another...especially on issues so important as poverty. To what end? Just for a story.
If you're looking for a public figure who takes on all social and economic injustices in a political way, you're looking in the wrong place if you're looking to Dave Ramsey and you'll undoubtedly have a skewed perception of the value and impact of his teachings. His talent addresses a specific issue in America, as we each have talents that serve different purposes. Some people work with children, serve in the military, or save lives in an operating room. Dave Ramsey addresses a very BIG issue that is relevant to many Americans.
That said, his core focus around building financial stability and wealth IS caring for those less fortunate and using money as one way to take action and show such compassion and care. The focus of his challenge for Americans is not the self-focused "American Dream" as it's asserted in this article. It's caring for people.
I also take issue with putting Dave in the"prosperity preacher" camp. For anyone who has listened to Dave for any length of time knows that is just silly.
It's an opinion piece.
Indeed it is an opinion piece. But that does't make her assertions any less careless or the quotes any less contrived to support a some sort of personal agenda.
If systemic injustices is really the heart of what she is trying encourage people to respond to, there are far more authentic ways to approach the subject. People can detect hidden agendas and manipulative writing which is why,based on the responses I've read, the 'message of injustice' has fallen on deaf ears and hasn't incited much awareness or positive action.
Attacking a 'big name' in a desperate attempt for readership and notoriety is simply poor form - and doing so to a man who uses his gifts/talents to help people and further God's kingdom does NOT sit well with me at all.
Injustices are real in the world we live in, and bringing awareness to them and brainstorming solutions to help is a positive thing. Too bad this article fails at doing that. This author loses all credibility for trying to slander a good name just to gain notoriety and readership.
This is absurd.
Anyone claiming that Dave Ramsey is preaching his own prosperity gospel and that he only cares about the rich simply hasn't listened to Dave Ramsey. He preaches the fact that there are responsible and irresponsible ways to handle money and that there are consequences for people's monetary choices. He has helped millions of people with his wisdom, and at the forefront of his wisdom is generosity to the widow and orphan.
A majority of Evans's premise is a complete farce considering she misinterpreted his statement about the correlation between faith and and wealth. Let's reread what he actually said, “There is a direct correlation,” he concludes, “between your habits, choices and character in Christ and your propensity to build wealth.” He says there is a correlation between choices and wealth, not faith and wealth!
I'm sorry, but to me this just seems like another liberally ideological article from Evans where eloquence and ignorance trumps fact and logic.
this post, unfortunately, is very spiritually shallow and embraces the cult-ish belief of being poor is Godly and being rich is sinful. Putting Ramsey aside....Perhaps the problem here is that there are so few honest, good, followers of Christ who are millionaires. Maybe if we all spent more time earning wealth to GIVE and less time complaining about the world's injustices, we could really start to make a difference in this world. After all, what else is there to give – maybe other than time – except financial support to those in need? think of the difference Christians could make in this world if we all had the financial power and freedom to DO SOMETHING.
Ms. Evans' post is a little short-sighted to say the least.
Then maybe you should consider yourself a follower of Dave Ramsey and not Jesus. Because the writer is absolutely right Jesus surrounded himself with the needy and fought against the selfish practices of the wealthy. To claim otherwise shows that you are NOT indeed followers of Jesus and his teachings just the manipulation of his word for your own self serving reasoning.
Not sure how you interpreted my comments as the "manipulation of his word for [my] own self serving reasoning." Am I wrong to believe that I'd be in a much better position to help my fellow brethren if I could write a check on the spot, or donate money to a cause? Dave Ramsey is not the issue. Nor did I say we, as Christians, shouldn't surround ourselves with the needy. Your views are short sighted.
Dave Ramsey changed my family's future for the better. I don't know what this ladies issues are but blaming him is a foolish way to start your book campaign. What I love about Dave Ramsey's teaching and really the Bible's teaching is that you control your future. It's up to you and if you blame others like this lady wants to do or make excuses, you're going to always have a crutch slowing your stoping your future success. Grow up America, it's time to take ownership for your life. Be responsible. Be respectful. Thank you Dave and shame on you Ms. Evans.
But you DON'T control your future, Nick. That is an illusion from the Enemy, the essence of fleshly arrogance and lack of recognition of God's sovereignty.
Read James 4:13-15: "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.' But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil."
I really can't and don't need to elaborate on that. Nowhere in Scripture does God even hint that material rewards will come from following Him. It is a lie. Stop believing it.
This "ladies" contention with Dave Ramsey is outlined in her article. Her name is Rachel Evans (it's at the bottom of the post). She, like you, acknowledges Mr. Ramsey's efforts to help middle class families resolve their debt issues in a very effective way. The issue she, and I have, regards Mr. Ramsey's accusation that the poor are poor BECAUSE they eat unhealthy, BECAUSE they watch too much TV, BECAUSE they don't love to read, etc...
I heard his comments on the talk show episode she is referring to, and I agree. No matter how he tries to justify his claim that the poor 'get what they deserve' because of the choices they make, it simply is NOT biblical. There are no verses from the bible or 'spoken' by Jesus that even imply God's favor for believers will translate into material wealth. In fact, Ms. Evans even cites scripture that says 'the poor are blessed. while the rich are not'. Remember, one cannot serve both God AND mammon...
Mr. Ramsey's advise, from my many years of listening to his program, is best suited to families that make $50,000 to $150,000 per year. It's easy to tell a family to 'live within their means' when they make this much. But the average family income in America is well below this range! How can you tell someone to 'live within their means' when the family's income is $19,000 per year? Transportation costs the same for everyone, no matter how much you make. Living expenses cost the same, food costs the same... when you sit down and add up what a family spends on maintaining their household, you will see how impossible it is to 'live within your means' becomes, making only $19,000 a year.
The point is, Nick, try understanding what the working poor are going through first and don't rely on a cult of personality you have developed for Mr. Ramsey. Take his words to task. He may say good and right things, but it does NOT mean anything he says is good and right. And next time, try reading the article before passing judgment.... it seems a little un-Christ-like...
From Dave's "addendum":
"There is a direct correlation between your habits, choices and character in Christ and your propensity to build wealth in non-third-world settings. To dispute that or attribute hate to that statement is immature and ignorant."
So undeniably, Dave says you're immature and ignorant if you don't believe that there is a direct relationship between your "CHARACTER IN CHRIST" and your propensity to build wealth. In FIRST-WORLD countries, at least. If you're a Christian in a third world country, even if you have "CHARACTER IN CHRIST" that's off the charts, it bears no relationship to wealth, but in first-world countries, only the immature and ignorant can't see that it DEFINITELY DOES. So, what can be deduced from Dave's statement is that, for some reason which goes unexplained, your "CHARACTER IN CHRIST" will increase your chances of being wealthy in FIRST-WORLD countries, but it won't help your chances of being wealthy in THIRD-WORLD countries. What he doesn't explain is why God apparently chose to make CHARACTER IN CHRIST a causative factor in wealth propensity in FIRST-WORLD countries but not THIRD-WORLD countries. God said, "You live in America, you're a Christian with great "CHARACTER IN CHRIST", therefore I'm going to make you wealthy." But he said to the Ugandan Christian, "You live in Uganda, you're a Christian with great "CHARACTER IN CHRIST", but you shall not be wealthy. Why God made this arbitrary choice goes unexplained. But you're "immature and ignorant" if you don't accept his statement as truth.
I'm not religious, nor am I a follower of Dave Ramsey, but I do agree with his point of view on poverty. In fact, I was just saying the same thing this morning, he just said it more eloquently. The problem is that poverty is also a "culture" particularly in the U.S. (does not apply to non-Western countries as he said). Of course, we are speaking in **generalizations** so it's not OK to stereotype anyone individually. However, a big problem is that poor people (and I'm not referring to any particular race) in this country do not value education, hard work, etc. I've hired some people from lower-class neighborhoods thinking that they would want to work hard to get somewhere. Not so; they are sometimes the laziest people. It's no wonder they are so poor. I mean, think about it. If you grew up in this country, had access to a decent education, and you're not plagued by any physical impediments, are no longer in school or working to pay for school, and speak English as a first language, there is no reason you should be working at Wal-Mart at the age of 35. If you are, then you *probably* messed up a long the way. Not judging–I respect anyone who works hard for an honest wage. It's just that life is often about the consequences of your own decisions. If you end up poor, *many times* you have nobody to blame but for yourself. Of course, there are exceptions. And yes the idea of a level playing field is a myth. But personal responsibility should not be overlooked.
I have been through Dave Ramseys class & read his book on financial freedom. I think the author of this article may have skipped a few chapters. Ramsey teaches about how much of your "wealth" you are able to donate to others in need once you are financially free. He also discusses how the very basic biblical principle he is teaching on is to have no debt. This country is wealthy & those around me that are on government assistance see it as a way of life & not a temporary situation as it was intended. Those habits of wealthy people are true & are ment for you to follow to improve your own situation & not necessarily for you to become rich. While we're discussing the "rich" let's be clear that everyone has a different definition of what that means. I by no means feel that I am rich. I work 40t hours a week, had to pay my own way through community college & work minimum wage jobs until I got my degree. Even then, after graduation, I had to work holidays, nights & as much overtime as possible just to pay my bills. But after 14 years & making good decisions & lots of sacrifices, like not having cable or cell phones at times, I can now own my own home & cars. Dave Ramsey teaches about being independant & working hard, where there is a will there is a way. He, in no way, says anything about the "poor" being damned to hell or being less of a person, but poor is a choice, poverty is a condition. Just one more thing, I feed a family of 4, 2 of which are growing boys, on $75 a week & we eat no junk food & I don't shop at Wal-Mart. I use coupons & frequent Aldi. You can exercise anywhere, you don't need a gym. Health has nothing to do with financial situation, it's the mindset you have, not the money.
You bought a house in 14 years?
I'm growing weary of writers/bloggers gaining notoriety/attention by constantly criticizing other people. That seems to be the primary subject matter of postmoderns like Ms. Evans.
Oh yes. It's better to quash opinion. Sig Heil!
Are you upset because you don't have an emergency fund? It's gonna be hard for you if you keep writing bad articles.
Did you bigger to read the OP, idiot?
1% of the population holds 40% of the wealth. But these same people have 75% of the brains, and 75% of all the work ethic. In my view, the wealthy are the ones getting screwed over. They drag the rest of society along behind them and receive scorn and disdain in return.
Well they clearly can't have 75% of the brains. They clearly can't have 75% of the work ethic and even if that translated into work – they don't do 75% of the work.
...and as for the 20 habits on the website, he didn't come up with those. Oh, nor did he equate correlation with causation. Truly, your homework was poorly done.
...if you noticed, THATS WHAT THE MAJORITY IF HER CRITICISM WAS ABOUT. Ramsey's extreme bad taste at posting that list on his site. Sheesh.
Really? Where the Hell did you get those BS statistics? I've never seen Donald Trump get down in the dirt digging ditches.
Used to listen to his show. Mr. Ramsey offers very basic, but generally sound principles for those who know little about money management. I stopped listening the day this "Christian" called poor people "losers." Just didn't sound like something Jesus would say. He doesn't seem to "turn the other cheek" often, appearing to be very thinned skinned. If you've heard his show twice, you've heard everything the man has to say.
@Susan : Mr. Ramsey offers very basic, but generally sound principles ... I stopped listening the day this "Christian" called poor people "losers."
What do you call a person who has the knowledge, but refuses to apply the knowledge because "it is too much work"?
The poor fall into two categories – those without knowledge and the lazy. Case in point – a few years back a 'homeless' man who used a rope to secure his pants died. In his will, he left most of his possessions to those charities that helped him. It was more than a million dollars. This man didn't earn much (I think he was a janitor) when he was working. However, he applied sound money management principles to his life. So, this 'poor' man was a winner, but poor people who refuse to apply the same 'basic but sound principles' are the real losers. Its not because of their lack of income, but the attitudes they display toward self-discipline that makes them losers. No matter what kind of help they receive, they will always need more.
I have a friend who is poor because her son got sick and she spent all her money on his care (no healthcare). She is neither lazy nor lacking in initiative. I have another fried who is poor because she was a stay at home mom and her husband abandoned her. She is neither lazy nor lacks initiative.
I think the problem with Ramsey and the rest of his advocates is that you really believe that you are in control of your own life. Life throws a ton of curveballs and sometimes its just too much. The fact that you liken being poor to essentially being a choice shows your complete lack of understanding of the real human condition.
"In his will, he left most of his possessions to those charities that helped him. It was more than a million dollars."
Just curious, but what charities were helping out a millionaire?
She saw this anecdote earlier on this blog, and changed it from a poor washerwoman that left her savings to a black college to a janitor that left his million to the charity that helped him.
Methinks you have not studied Dave. First off, he's been poor. Dirt poor. And way in-over-his-head in debt. So I would venture to guess that he understands "poor" just fine. Second, he never, ever said that behavior guarantees anything. Indeed, if you go through Financial Peace University (which I teach), you will hear him say specifically that there is no guarantee. He teaches responsible money management – period. Part of that management is this thing called "giving". You know, like to the poor and churches and charities. I think you need to do a little more learning about what Dave teaches before you report on it, as a great deal of your reportage is inaccurate.
You don't have to live by a health food store to eat healthy, and you certainly don't need a gym membership to exercise. What a crap article. I am guessing you are going after Ramsey b/c he is an evangelical Christian, not because of his views on poverty.
Many overweight people are uneducated and lazy and live on Public assistance. Then they get an obesity related disease. This situation is, of course, wealthy people's fault.
You don't know what food desert means, do you? Go to any inner city and try to find a grocery store. Most are convenience store that don't have ANYTHING fresh in the store. Educate yourself before commenting.
You and your elitist views are part of the problem.
Yes I am an elitist... That gained an athletic scholarship for a bachelors degree and paid for grad school with the GI bill and going to Afghanistan. Now I work 60 hours a week. If elitist means educated and employed, yup. That's me.
Yawn. Don't believe you at all, sparky.
And why aren't there grocery stores in the inner city? Why is there such a thing as the "inner city"? You see, to dismiss personal responsibility is to multiply the problem with poverty. The truly needy are not what populates the inner cities. Creating a dependent class in order to have a political base is what crowds the inner cities and urban outposts. It is disingenuous to criticize Ramsey for advocating responsibility and also recommend that we care for the truly needy with the fruits of production that listening to Ramsey produces.
Look, if you don't know what RHE us talking about, it us equally as disingenuous fir YOU to be commenting, isn't it?
Rachel didn't do much research for this article. "Food deserts" are a myth. But it is a cool sounding phrase that makes one sound smart. When people study it, there are actually plenty of grocery stores around wtih healthy food options, even in poor areas. McDonald's just happens to be quicker, easier, and taste better.
Such an erroneous teaching. Thank God for this piece that shed light on the truth. A lot of Christians lack the basic and still the deep understanding of the Word of God. Concluding that you're poor because you're lazy is just not etched in truth and reality. We have well-diggers in my country Nigeria, and given the nature of their job, which requires them to dig into the ground hours and days, sometimes weeks before they meet water in the deepest part of the ground, they should be the richest people or their jobs should be classified as the highest paid in the world. But guess what? It's not! They are actually the least paid in every society.
Not sure what this has to do with Dave Ramsey. He has no problem with poor people or manual labor. His program is called baby steps and this program can help them like it can help anyone else.
They should charge more.
The notion that God does not provide a path that leads to prosperity is to take much of the Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes out of your Bible. While I agree that there is not some supernatural connection with wealth and Godliness, I also do not believe that being poor is to possess a nobility by simply being without. For most of the history of man, poverty is a result of governments injustice towards the subjects that our ruled by them. In the context of this response to Mr. Ramsey, it would seem as though those who have wealth are unfairly taking from some secret pool and guarding it so others may not benefit from it's production. This is simply not true. The American experience has been, up until recently, to make government as impotent as possible in regard to how an individual is able to benefit from the fruits of their labor and the actualization of the practice of virtue (liberty). While poverty does have a diversity of causes, I would say that those who are poor in this nation are so by the over influence of government and bad choices. So Mr Ramsey is not off in his comments in the aggregate. That does not mean that compassion and responsibility in the care of the poor is needed, to discount the role of responsible behavior is to multiply the problem.
I don't think they confused correlation with causation. At least Dave didn't. Nowhere in his article does he say that doing these things will make a person rich. It's simply a look at what the general habits of two economic class groups are. I know a lot of rich people who eat a ton of junk food calories and don't wake up 3 hours before work!
If you have taken Ramsey's short course, as I have, perhaps you would conclude that it provides very wise advise. And he ends the course by suggesting ways we can contribute to the lives of the less fortunate.
Many progressives today think the answer to helping the poor is to reduce "inequality" while conservatives want to reduce "poverty." Inequality can be reduced by bringing everyone down to the same level. Bill Gates helped reduce poverty for millions by creating the PC. In the process, it made him rich, which did not necessarily reduce inequality. Progressives would have probably grabbed his company after his first billion in profit, and chained him in the fields to grow corn and "reduce poverty." As it turns out, he is now using his billions to increase world health and food supply.
BTW, George Will has done research which shows that conservatives contribute a much larger share of their income to charity, as opposed to liberals. Liberal lawmakers want to pass laws to take from others to give to others. They then feel their obligation to the poor has been fulfilled, because they "gave at the office."
No way Jose, the fact is that they both have fallen victims to Panic.
We just need to ask help from Obamacare and we get healthy....
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.