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. lol??

    I have a couple of questions for all the wealth experts posting here.
    1)How do all the poor nations of the earth end up so well armed??

    2)In a similar vein how do the Servants at the DHS get fully auto M-16's when the Masters are only "allowed" the semi-auto version. That doesn't look like it will turn out well.

    December 2, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Doris

      "how do the Servants at the DHS get fully auto M-16's when the Masters are only "allowed" the semi-auto version"

      That's ridiculous. When was the last time you saw Tiger or Phil Mickelson's caddy pull a semi out of their bags?

      December 2, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  2. Brother Maynard

    So let me get this straigh"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)."

    Does that not encourage poor people to remain poor?

    Then Mr Ramsey, and his supporters, criticise the poor for attempting to attain the heirs of the kingdom.
    They manipulate bibile verses to support their position of financail freedom.
    It would be easier, and more honest, to just throw out the biblical variable and just teach financial responsibility.
    But then you could not cash in with the Xtian card.
    Mr Ramsey is just another Xtian P.T. Barnum.

    December 2, 2013 at 8:28 am |
    • Realitybites

      Mr. Ramsey doesn't have a problem with the poor. Apparently you are taking this tripe at face value and have never heard his show

      December 2, 2013 at 8:40 am |
      • Brother Maynard

        @ Realitybites
        So you are saying that the poor do not inherit the kingdom of heaven?
        or are you are saying that the bible is false?

        December 2, 2013 at 9:05 am |
        • Brother Maynard

          Just re-read my response, it really isn't an 'or' propsition.
          replace 'or' with '...'

          December 2, 2013 at 9:17 am |
        • lol??

          The A&A's are dyin' to know the secrets of the poor. Here's a tidbit:They know the strong man will steal their stuff if they have too much when they can't afford security (guards). Why bother??

          December 2, 2013 at 9:20 am |
        • Realitybites

          Mr. Ramsey doesn't have a problem with the poor. Apparently you are taking this tripe at face value and have never heard his show

          December 2, 2013 at 9:20 am |
        • Brother Maynard

          Realitybites sez ( again ) :
          "Mr. Ramsey doesn't have a problem with the poor. Apparently you are taking this tripe at face value and have never heard his show"
          So you are saying that the poor DO inherit the kingdom of heaven ?
          please respond

          December 2, 2013 at 9:25 am |
        • Realitybites

          No i am not reread my post

          December 2, 2013 at 10:21 am |
        • Brother Maynard

          Realitybytes sez
          "No i am not reread my post"

          I got that ... you really aren't SAYING anything

          I'll make it simple

          Do the poor inherit heaven ?

          December 2, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • BJW

      Try Mathew 25:14-15 (actually the whole parable).
      14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability..."

      This is a parable that speaks to how God wants us to handle his money. Us Christians believe it is all his. It speaks to being too scared to do anything with it. The servant that buried the money lacked initiative and understanding of what his master wanted him to do with his resources. I used to always struggle with this until it hit me that the masters money/resources/influence were not being put to work while he was away.

      The "poor" is our loose definition of what poor actually is. There are people with way less that have better lives becuase they understand what is important in life. Earlier I said that money is a measure of influence. That means it isn't the only measure of influence.

      December 2, 2013 at 11:15 am |
      • BJW

        I forgot to highlight "...each according to his ability..." That is where Dave comes in. He is helping us understand this part.

        December 2, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  3. rosa, b'ham al

    The people who follow Ramsey remind me of the Pharases in the temple that Jesus spoke out against. I bet they don't read that part of the Bible.

    December 2, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • BJW

      I encourage you to dig a little deeper. That temple that Jesus destroyed was way off base. They were misusing God's money. I believe they were casting lots (gambling). Nowhere in the bible is God or Jesus upset with people for managing resources accordinly. In fact it is very much the opposite. This story you are referencing actually strenghtens your oppositions stance.

      1 Timothy 6:10
      King James Version (KJV)
      10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

      Dave always highlights "LOVE" in this verse because money is amoral. So are bricks which build houses and smash windows.

      December 2, 2013 at 11:25 am |
      • BJW

        Entering the Temple, Jesus saw the money changers, along with merchants who were selling animals for sacrifice. Pilgrims carried coins from their home towns, most bearing the images of Roman emperors or Greek gods, which Temple authorities considered idolatrous.

        The high priest ordered that only Tyrian shekels would be accepted for the annual half-shekel Temple tax because they contained a higher percentage of silver, so the money changers exchanged unacceptable coins for these shekels. Of course, they extracted a profit, sometimes much more than the law allowed.

        As he cleansed the Temple of greed and profit, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56:7: "My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers." (Matthew 21:13, ESV)

        December 2, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
        • BJW

          credit for my previous post. http://christianity.about.com/od/New-Testament/a/JZ-Money-Changers.htm

          December 2, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
      • BJW

        I hope that my point is made when I say that bricks build houses and smash windows. They don't. They are used for those things. The same thing with money. It is used for three things (according to Dave and most); saving, spending, and giving. If those things are out of wack, it shows.

        December 2, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  4. humtake

    Just another person who tries to remove personal responsibility as a reason why people are successful. PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH SUCCESS. And I don't just mean success equated by wealth. I mean success as attaining whatever it is that makes you happy. Only YOU can attain that. YOU have to be the one who works hard, changes your habits, and do whatever it takes to attain your own personal happiness.

    All the author is saying is she is a typical Liberal who thinks people aren't responsible for the situations in life. When, in fact, people are the ones who are giving up their own responsibilities.

    December 2, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • rosa, b'ham al

      Sorry luck has everything to do with success. I am pretty successful and have a six figure salary but I known that my success is due to a series of accidents as is everything.

      December 2, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • RV

      Sounds like the musings of someone that's never had anything bad happen. Tell people that become paralyzed and require constant medical care due to a traffic accident that is not their fault, that they are responsible for their situation. There is a limit to what one can control in one's life. To assume everything gained or lost is due to one's own actions is to ignore the 6 billion other individuals that affect the situations one finds in life.

      December 2, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Obviously personal responsibility can be a factor but so is luck. Slightly off-topic but it does illustrate how much chance is involved in our lives – Paul Walker died as a passenger in a single-car accident; unless the driver were clearly intoxicated there is little Paul Walker could have done to save his life.

      December 2, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  5. Mike

    Bill Gates is filthy rich and an atheist. If there were a god the Bible speaks of, there would be no poor people.

    December 2, 2013 at 7:56 am |
    • lol??

      Is this a keyboard test??

      December 2, 2013 at 8:06 am |
  6. Anna


    December 2, 2013 at 7:46 am |
  7. Dee

    I have a quibble or two... and I have read several of the responses and nobody else has mentioned this ... this 40 hour work thing.. and I am not knocking the 40 hour work week.. I've not done it very often, certainly not enough to say one way or the other... but a lot of folks work until the work is done, parents, farmers, small business owners, business executives, the military, people who work for themselves... I've work two jobs at times .. there are folks who work until the work is done and there folks who work 40 hours and go home and wonder why they don't have the money the want and do have the bills they don't want. And there are folks who don't care what they do so long as they have a job and get paid for 40 hours and folks who only care about the job and would do it regardless if they got paid. The're folks who think 40 hours should give them the life they want and folks who think to have the life they want they have to work until they achieve it.

    The 40 hour work week is an arbitrary construct .. not unlike only going to church on Sunday , and just doing anything for the allotted hours only gets you so much... yes, absolutely, you have to have balance in your life.. but just running your life based on a schedule of so many hours for work, so many hours to parent, and hour for church and punching a clock to define your passions and priorities may not work for everybody . Some folks find a way to combine their beliefs, and passions , and priorities in what they do for money and what they do for love and then it becomes about the what you do and not the hours you spend doing it. And being rich is not always about money. And money isn't they only thing a job can provide.

    What ever the merits or mistakes of Ramsey's message and ministry might be... I think the author of this article has completely missed the whole point of living and is measuring Ramsey against a completely false yardstick. And truth be told .. I am not a big listener of Ramsey's... I have caught him on the Radio a few times, and I do mean a few, probably less than 10 times over the years.. what I have heard makes good sense, for the most part, to me ... but this critique article by Evans is not grounded in the real world I am familiar with

    December 2, 2013 at 7:44 am |
    • Mike

      The 40 work week is a construct, but its purpose was not to limit people from taking initiative, or to limit them. It was designed to keep employers from abusing their poorest employees, and it has done a fairly good job. It was also designed to strengthen family bonds and to provide time for the necessary but intangible things in a person's existence such as relaxation, the time to improve oneself, diversion, volunteerism, socializing, etc.

      Personally, in a country such as ours, living wages should be enough to live comfortably enough to only work 40 hours a week. In other words, I believe 40 hours of work at minimum wage ought to be able to provide the necessities of life— food, shelter, basic transport to a job, etc. Anything above 40 hours could be dedicated to improving your situation. Unfortunately, this is not the case even in the cheapest parts of the country. A lot of people work 80 hours a week just so their family can get by. This is what a lot of people seem to find so hard to believe.

      December 2, 2013 at 9:09 am |
      • Wally

        I have lived all around this country and have found that if I actually work 40 hours a week I can always pay for my rent, food, and neccessary bills. Either the federal minimum wage was enough or the states own minimum wage was enough at least for me to live on. I didn't have the nicest place or the best food or drive the newest car. I have supported a family of 4 working a 40 hour week making 6 dollars an hour which was quite a few years ago now I admit, but it is possible I didn't have great and expensive christmases and did not use credit cards or credit at all. I worked my way up, got myself in trouble when I thought I could "afford credit" hit rock bottom and then worked myself back up to a comfortable situation. Wealth is all about the choices we make, what is unfortunate is that some of the choices we make early before we ever have a chance to get ahead in life affect us for the rest of our lives. Teens not finishing school because they are having children of their own, working and trying to support a family, before ever getting their feet under them. We need to teach some of the prinicple in Dave ramseys class early in school. The most basic of which is if you can't afford it don't do it.

        December 2, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • BJW

      You do bring up a good point. I never thought of it like that. In all my years, I have limited myself based on this 40 hour concept. It has evolved from protecting people to them limiting themselves based on this noble idea.

      December 2, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  8. Rick Dye

    Perhaps Rachel could write an Editorial on the term Townies as it pertains to Bryan College and the community of Dayton. She did attend Rhea County High School, but one can be assured she grew up in a fish bowl due to her Father's affiliation with Bryan College. The lessons from Dave's comments are tied to choices. Perhaps if Rachel had come off the hill a little more often she might have had the opportunity to visit Fuller's Market on a Friday as the pay check to pay check crowd lined up for Gifford to cash their paychecks so they could buy a 12 pack and then dump most of the rest of their pay check into the illegal gaming machines. These people made choices to drink and play over rent and groceries.
    Choices. That is the lesson.
    Surely Rachel learned about choices at Bryan College, like don't mingle with the Townies.

    December 2, 2013 at 7:26 am |
    • Mike

      Perhaps she should write an article about Ad Hominem attacks instead of discussing the issues in the article.

      December 2, 2013 at 8:32 am |
      • Rick Dye

        Agreed. It is a subject for which she would be more qualified to offer an opinion. Rhea County is rural county about 95 percent white with a population of around 35k and a median house hold income of 35k. There is a great deal of poverty in this community and far too much of it is due to choice.
        I may be wrong, but I would wager Rachel seldom if ever visited the vocational classes at Rhea County High School. If she had she would have had the opportunity to meet some real life poor people. Young men and women with no realistic hope of going to college. Victims of the choices made by their parents and sadly far too many of them will repeat the poor choices made by their parents.
        I have also seen many folks break the cycle and it all comes down to choices. Sorry, but I give little credit to luck.

        December 2, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  9. JustWho

    does he think he is – God? What a bag of wind.

    December 2, 2013 at 7:21 am |
    • lol??

      Another keyboard test.

      December 2, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  10. tomcorley3954

    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).

    Matthew wrote the Parable of the Talents 25:14-30 to highlight the need to work with the gifts given to us by God. Those who do are rewarded by God.

    December 2, 2013 at 6:54 am |
  11. worldcares

    The concept of religion was to attain a selfless higher consciousness. You, obviously, took it to a more innovactive material level. You are a child of God and your spirit is part of him.
    Good luck with your endeavor.

    December 2, 2013 at 6:39 am |
  12. worldcares

    The concept of religion was to attain a selfless higher consciousness. You, obviously, took it to a more innovactive material level. Jesus would be proud.

    December 2, 2013 at 6:37 am |
  13. worldcares

    The concept of religion was to attain a selfless higher consciousness. You, obviously, took it to a more innovactive material level. Use common Christian sense to become rich.

    December 2, 2013 at 6:32 am |
  14. ChimChim

    Jesus was a poor man, so poor he didn't even have a place to be buried. Maybe it was all that junk food.

    December 2, 2013 at 6:31 am |
    • Laramie Road

      He also ate a diet of mainly fish and walked everywhere he went. So there's your exercise. And he probably read the Torah every morning. He was doing everything right acc. to Dave Ramsey, but he said "foxes have dens and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Sorry Dave, try again.

      December 2, 2013 at 6:37 am |
  15. worldcares

    The concept of religion was to attain a selfless a selfless higher consciousness. You, obviously, took it to a more innovactive material level.

    December 2, 2013 at 6:28 am |
    • bacbik

      Maybe the third post will be the charm for you?

      December 2, 2013 at 6:35 am |
  16. worldcares

    The concept of religion was to attain a selfless spiritual higher consciousness.

    December 2, 2013 at 6:25 am |
  17. worldcares

    I'm sorry but praying has nothing to do with greed.

    December 2, 2013 at 6:17 am |
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