Thursday, January 24, 2008

Financial Peace, anyone?

Okay. I confess! The reason I went to Southland Christian Church (see last post) was for a luncheon given by Financial Peace University.. encouraging pastors to offer Dave Ramsey's program to their congregations. Don't know about Dave Ramsey? You will. With the pending recession, more and more folks in our congregations are going to "hit bottom" financially, and many will need encouragement, help, and inspiration, because we are going to have to change!

Now: if you are debt free, use cash only, and are prepared for retirement, read no further. But, if you, like the average American, have 5,000 to 50,000 dollars of consumer debt, buy almost everything with plastic, and have very little in savings, you might consider a radical ovehaul of your relationship with money. Dave Ramsey is just one of many gurus out there. But he is the most wildly popular (national radio & TV shows, huge publishing enterprise) because his program works. I am convinced, but I know I shall have a hard time convincing many UUs.

Here's the kicker: Dave's program is very Christian. It's taught almost exclusively in Christian churches, and all of its materials include Biblical references and trinitarian, even evangelical, language. For me, it's okay. I attended non-UU seminary, attend a 12 step program, have worked extensively in interfaith and anti-racist groups that include conservative Christians, and hey, I live in Kentucky. Hence, I am able to overlook, translate, or tolerate portions that bother me.

My partner church minister's reaction was fascinating. Transylvanians, especially those in villages, don't have the problems Dave solves. Since most are not employed (they practice sustainable agriculture), and those who are employed make perhaps $100 a month, the vast majority of our Unitarian cousins in Transylvania don't have mortgages, credit cards, or car payments. Still, these things are creeping into the Romanian economy, and Bela learned a great deal.

But he was angered that Ramsey chose to use God as a vehicle for his message. It's fairly clear that 1)Ramsey is himself a devout Christian and understands things in those terms and 2) churches are a fantastic marketing vehicle for his product: books, tapes, CDs, and much more.

Still, if we could lay cynicism aside -- just for a moment -- we might see that financial peace is a spiritual quality, one that UUs could also use. The basic principles are not in conflict with our beliefs. My husband and I are taking the class now, at an all-Black, Seventh Day Adventist church. Our relationship with money and with one another has improved dramatically. We have replaced despair with hope and aversion with fascination at how we can work together to reach our goals. Now I want to find out how Financial Peace can be made humanist-, Jewish-, Buddhist-, or agnostic-friendly. I'm guessing I am not the only one!

Finally -- maybe most exciting for clergy-types and church leaders: Dave teaches folks to give away a chunk of their money to charity! He believes that we should give first, then save, then pay bills. I am convinced that our congregations are full of folks who could, and in many cases, wish they could, give so much more to our good work and to sustaining and promoting our faith. Financial Peace type classes could address that, while bringing tremendous benefits to those we serve. Stay tuned!