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 (2,299 Responses)
  1. children of Israel

    Please name the person in the Holy Bible who actually called himself a Christian? Romans 11:1

    November 30, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      God is not a Christian, or so I'm told.

      November 30, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
      • EnjaySea

        God isn't a Christian. He's a Scientologist.

        November 30, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  2. ThirstyJon

    Ramsey gives people a way out of poverty.

    Rachel Held Evans gives people excuses and the fallback of blaming "the system."

    So... Hopefully people will ignore Evans and listen to Ramsey.

    But I doubt it.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • Big Daddy

      Pretty sure more people will follow Dave's advice. Once we got out of debt following Dave's simple plan it was amazing how much more we were able to give to others. We always gave 10 percent, but now it is more like 15-20 percent.

      November 30, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  3. Cadien

    Capitalism and Christianity are diametrically opposed. This is not a problem for me, however, because I don't claim to be a Christian.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • ThirstyJon

      The Revelations of God through the Bible invented "free market prosperity."

      Christianity is not opposed to free market.

      "Capitalism" is a loaded word these days, so I have no idea what you meant by it.

      November 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
      • ME II

        "The Revelations of God through the Bible invented 'free market prosperity.'"

        How exactly do you figure that?

        November 30, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
        • ThirstyJon

          Google "Christian Foundations of the Free Market" or something like that. You might be fascinated with what you find.

          December 14, 2013 at 1:44 am |
        • ThirstyJon

          Here is a juicy one: http://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-10-number-3/how-christianity-created-capitalism

          And no, I am not Catholic, but I am fascinated by the general influence of Christianity as a whole on liberty and freedom economics.

          December 14, 2013 at 1:47 am |
  4. jo

    The point of DR's article post was not to provide fodder for judging the poor. He's in the self-help/motivational business. You look at the list and think about whether any of the suggestions might improve your life if you were to implement them. If one or more won't work for you, you'll know.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  5. NelsonLeonard

    Bravo, Rachel. I support most of your statements. I am doing OK financially but I have also been plain lucky. Some aren't through no fault of their own.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  6. children of Israel

    Name the people that control the world food supply to be bought and sold. Name the people who are in the charge of the world's water filteration systems. What people own all the ultilites, deciding who gets electricity. What group of people forceably decide what mass land you can live on. Who determines what school lessons should be taught to the children. The slogan we the people is a brainwashing tactic to null you alseep. Religion is what divides us from one another, did Christ have a religious belief? Nay, he told us to worship God and pray to Our Father I AM. Will this wicked satanic kingdom survive? When Christ YASHIYA brings his kingdom the new Jerusalem down from heaven into the earth.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  7. Meg

    Excellent article. Dave Ramsey's envelope system is so ridiculously easy that a five year old could figure it out. But evangelical Christians have all the answers about every facet of life, so it comes as no surprise that Mr. Ramsey has taken a nickel and dime idea and made himself the god of finance. How about a raise in the minimum wage instead of self help seminars?

    November 30, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  8. David

    The only thing that does not generate jobs is real estate. At some point, all the land in the world will belong to 100 people. All the rest will be using all their income to pay taxes and rent to those select few: FEUDALISM! At that point, BIG BANG will happen again and those 100 families will be slaughtered by the poor. Then will come COMMUNISM. It is a CYCLE.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      No relationship to reality

      November 30, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  9. Julie Smith

    THANK YOU Rachel for noticing what others (including myself and other people in my FPU class) noticed. Much of what Dave speaks is truth...whenever he references the bible. However, we know that actions speak louder than words. And, looking at Dave's ACTIONS (one example is his new house) speaks volumes. The Pope lives in a small apartment...Mother Theresa lived in a hut...(her priority was feeding starving people). Thus, sadly, Dave is still focused on the wrong things in life. If he truly wanted to HELP people get out of debt, he'd offer his advice for free...like Jesus did. He surely has enough wealth by now...He reminded us of Solomon...wisdom and wealth abound...but in the end...he missed the whole point of life...i.e. giving and serving others (not himself).

    November 30, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • jo

      He does offer the advice for free. Three hours a day, five days a week on the radio and archived on the internet. The paid class offers some advantages which cost money to produce. If advertisers were not paying him to do so, be sure he would not be able to afford to get so much help to so many people.

      November 30, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
      • ME II

        Wait is it for "free" or does he get paid for it?

        Oh, you mean it's free for you to listen to him on the radio. Do you turn it off during the commercials?

        November 30, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • sus

      Really???? Dave sends ppl through financial peace for free. He gives his books away for free. You can listen to his advice on the radio...for free. He gives to charities. Why should he not be able to enjoy his success while helping others?? He does radio, television, seminars, and has rental properties. The man works his butt off and employs many people. To say he should live like Mother Theresa or the Pope because he uses the bible as a reference to living debt free is silly.

      December 1, 2013 at 6:02 am |
  10. jayflay

    ramsey is basically a con man like elmer gantry and his only claim to fame is that he has perfected his con game to the extent that he is rich and famous.....however he is no less of a sleazeball con man snakeoil used car salesman.....

    November 30, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • Meg

      Exactly. What next? Monopoly, Dave Ramsey version? Here's a stat he didn't mention. 100% of the craziest Christians know 150% of how we should run our lives.

      November 30, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • matt3579

      Dave Ramsey is a great resource for people to assist them with getting out of debt. After that, he is not the greatest resource. Consult financial planners instead. Dave's advice on how to increase your wealth often relies on heavy assumptions in regards to illogical and unrealistic rate of returns.

      November 30, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  11. Daniel

    The main thing wrong with Dave Ramsey is that he is a Christian. Until you eliminate ignorance and egoism you WILL NOT realize the truth about all of existence. The Babble and other fairy tales are just that...fairy tales for those afraid of what comes naturally to every sentient creature in existence. He should be taken off the air. He is a liar and a hypocrite.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  12. Spatty

    Ms. Evans is an opportunist using D. Ramsey's name to advance her ill-informed opinions. D. Ramsey advises all who will listen about how best to handle money that you are blessed with. It is about using what you have in a conscious way to best SERVE GOD's plan for your life. Even if you are an atheist his principles on handling money will work. Get out of debt, stay out of debt, and Live like no one else so that you can Give like no one else. It isn't about building vast amounts of money but the way you handle what your given and to God be the Glory. Life is very unfair but if you have less debt you also have more opportunities to even out the unfairness that is inherent in this world. How can you help others who suffering when you are drowning in a self made debt swamp?

    November 30, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • Observer


      God literally has everything in the universe or can create it. Why does he need our money?

      November 30, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
      • EnjaySea

        He puts all the money he receives on his Starbucks card.

        November 30, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • AtlJack

      What part of these Biblical quotes or Jesus's compassion for the poor is "ill informed"?

      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).

      Like most phony Christians you ignore the essence of Christ's teachings and worship money and power. And the Republican Party is a perfect place for you.

      November 30, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
      • john

        You need serious help!

        November 30, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • LeonTo

      Putting aside any medical disability that someone may have, no matter how you put it, there is only one reason why people are poor and that is "Ignorance"

      November 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  13. David

    Ramsey gives me nausea. So do the lazy but complaining poor. To hell with all of them!

    November 30, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  14. Paul

    Nice article–and very true. I do like a lot of what Dave Ramsey has to say, but he doesn't walk on water.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  15. Reality # 2

    "R. Evans went to Bryan College where she majored in English Literature. She received her Bachelor of Arts in 2003. And somehow she is now a biblical exegete. Give us a break!!!

    "Ramsey was born and raised in Antioch, Tennessee. He was a 1982 graduate of the College of Business Administration at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. At the age of 26, through his brokerage firm, Ramsey Investments, Inc., he built a rental real estate portfolio worth more than $4 million and became one of Tennessee's youngest brokers to be admitted to the Graduate Realtors Insti-tute.[6]

    Ramsey's success soon came to an end as the Tax Reform Act of 1986 began to have a negative impact on the real estate business. One of Ramsey's largest creditors was sold to a larger bank, which began to take a harder look at Ramsey's borrowing habits. The bank demanded he pay $1.2 million worth of short-term notes within 90 days, forcing him to file for bankruptcy relief.[6]" Give us a break again !!

    Considering the credentials, why are we being subjected to the thoughts of these two unqualified individuals?

    November 30, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • Dave & Buster

      As if you are qualified to comment on anything, Copypasta? I've seen your posts. You're not.

      November 30, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • matt3579

      Dave Ramsey is very open about his bankruptcy. It is because of that experience that he chose to do what he does now – trying to assist people with getting out of debt and not having to go through the same thing he did.

      That being said, not everything he says applies to everyone, and not every teaching he has is for everyone. It's best to find out the best practices for yourself instead of using some system carte blanche and realizing that sole authority in one rigid system will probably not get you anywhere.

      November 30, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  16. Jax

    Sounds like Miss Evans has a poverty chip on her shoulder because as typical media do, she really exaggerated the truth in this story. Excuses. That's what "unsuccessful"' people have. I don't care if you're rich, poor or what. You either want it bad enough to get it or you don't. Period. I could be a lot more successful than I am and I don't blame anyone but myself. I'm complacent because it's easier. I try all of the time to do more. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it's NO ONE else's fault.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
    • Sara

      If the word "fault" is even part of your vocabulary you don't understand how the world works. Fault is for people too lazy to understand the complex interactions that make us who we are and hold us together as a society.

      November 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  17. morrissey53

    When you go into a gas station, is it the rich or the poor that are in line buying lottery tickets, beer and cigarettes? Which class gives more in charitable donations? Ramsey's advice is designed to "victims" into victors that have attained their freedom.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
    • Sara

      Hmmm...rich people give away more money. Shocking! And poor people spend money on lottery tickets, beer and cigarettes while rich spend it on Las Vegas, fine wine and trips to Europe. Your observations are astounding.

      November 30, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
      • MennoKnight

        As part of the upper 20% of earners I don't spend a dime on lotteries, I don't buy any alcohol or tobacco, I loath Vegas, all my holidays revolve around camping in my 1984 Jaco tent trailer (we do love to drive far distances though), I have never left North America (only Canada and US for me) and I give 15-20% to the poor.
        (I do have a number of older dirt bikes though.)

        November 30, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
        • doobzz

          Bully for you, what's your point? "Well, I know I'm a million times as humble as thou art."??

          November 30, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • David

      You think $5 lottery ticket or cig is going to get them out of poverty? You think they are poor because they buy those?? Those are the intoxications you rich imposed on the poor to keep them at bay! Without cigs, beer, lottery tickets or religion the POOR WOULD REVOLT AND KICK YOUR RICH BUTTS!

      November 30, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  18. Just live your life simply


    November 30, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  19. Rick

    Blah blah blah

    November 30, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
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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.