An article in the New York Times verifies what many of us suspected: economic downturns are good for certain churches. The paper notes that “evangelical churches around the country… have enjoyed steady growth over the last decade. But since September, pastors nationwide say they have seen… a burst of new interest…”
There seem to be two main reasons for this. As one pastor told the paper, “When people are shaken to the core, it can open doors.” The article also discusses an economist who sees the increased attendance as more related to economic concerns: churches provide a safety net, and people without jobs aren’t busy on Sundays.
The article mentions “Good Sense,” a church-based financial management program. A downloadable document reveals some of the details. It praises “avoiding consumer debt and saving for the unexpected” — good advice — but it also advocates greater political control of the economy, demonstrating yet again that evangelicals hardly advocate economic liberty as a rule. The document states:
On a macro level, increased regulation of certain sectors of our financial markets, about which some have warned of excesses for some time, will become reality and will hopefully prevent repeats of the abuses that have led to the situation we are in now. Capitalism must have moral restraints and while those can’t be legislated, regulations can at least make it harder to do wrong and easier to punish those who do.
Most significantly, we are reminded that earthly treasures can succumb to rust, moths, thieves and to economic upheavals and that it is our treasures in heaven that are safe for eternity.
This also shows the tension within the Christian movements for financial planning. I’ve heard claims that God wants us to be rich, that the Bible counsels hard work and the prudent accumulation of wealth. Yet the stronger Biblical strain is egalitarianism and the call to renounce wealth. One televangelist told the Times we’re living in a “time of fear and greed.” Yet this fails to distinguish the “greed” of political manipulations and wealth transfers from the self-interest of free markets and individual rights.
Thus, the evangelical movement offers two conflicting messages: be responsible in how you accumulate wealth, but realize that wealth doesn’t matter relative to an eternity in heaven.
I did find this line from the Times humorous: “At the Life Christian Church in West Orange, N.J., prayer requests have doubled — almost all of them aimed at getting or keeping jobs.” Yes, all we need is a divine stimulus package.