Political Mercury

Dave Ramsey: America’s most relevant Christian?

by Douglas Burns


Christian-based financial advisor and radio host Dave Ramsey, a Tennessean with a front-porch-swing ease and a grab-bag of delightful Southern euphemisms, sounds an awful lot like a voice-recognition dead-ringer for comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

But instead of having you laughing about what makes a redneck, Ramsey captivates listeners with common-sense, unmistakably sincere money advice, most of it centering on debt and how to get rid of it.

I’m not much of an acquirer of things. I’m more interested in people watching in, say, a Super Wal-Mart than in filling a cart with “bargains.”

And with local financial professionals as friends, I was certainly not in the market for more advice. But a few years ago, on a drive across Nebraska, while messing around with my XM Satellite Radio, I stumbled onto The Dave Ramsey Show. (He’s on other stations in Iowa.)

It soon became clear to me that Dave Ramsey abhors debt in the way Rush Limbaugh hates Democrats.

Ramsey’s basic premise is this: billions in consumer debt and the rampant materialism it spawns has hamstrung many Christians financially, meaning they are incapable of using what resources they have (or had) to better the lives of others — perhaps the truest, most tangible expression of faith.

I listen to the show periodically while in the car and admit that I was drawn to it initially because of Ramsey’s wonderfully evocative use of the English language more than anything else. But after hearing him address caller after caller, and then going through some of his columns online, it struck me that Ramsey might be America’s most relevant Christian.

What’s holding back most good people from doing good things, from being better fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, is not the War in Iraq or whether two gay men down the street are getting married or the fate of abortion law in South Dakota.

It’s money, and the stupid use of it.

The Bible talks much about money and debt, notes Ramsey, also the author of several best-selling books on these topics.

Debt, much of it at the hands of the credit card companies, is eating Christian America, along with much of the rest of the nation, alive, Ramsey says.

Council Bluffs Methodist minister Marvin Arnpriester told me recently that he believes there is a disproportionate amount of attention placed on sexuality in America and not enough on poverty and how money is handled by people at all incomes levels.

“Jesus said more about people and their money and how they spend it than anything else,” Arnpriester.

This isn’t just about rich people like the fat cats and their Wall Street bonuses.

This is regular-folks stuff.

Ramsey’s mantra on-air is “live like no other so you can live like no other.”

He urges people to go on bare bones budgets for a few years, “beans and rice and rice and beans,” as he calls it.

Then Ramsey suggests people attack debts from smallest to largest, and undergo a “plastectomy,” the cutting off of credit cards from their lives, something that is easily done in the era of debit cards.

In Ramsey’s view, based on the admittedly limited number of programs and columns I’ve heard or reviewed, the only legitimate household debt in America is a mortgage. Everything else should be paid for upfront with planning.

The lifestyle changes it takes to eliminate debt Ramsey-style are actually steps to a more Christian, less materialistic way of living, because people are not going wild at Super Target with credit cards.

They are paying down debt and saving. They can’t buy, buy, buy to fill emotional holes in their lives, which forces them to resolve other issues.

I’m not saying you’ll agree with everything Ramsey says, as sometimes he gets into some arcane material or becomes too preachy about relationship issues.

But he’s dealing with the kitchen-table arguments that are plaguing many Americans.

In the end, what Ramsey talks about are matters far more relevant to Christians than anything coming out of the mouths of the publicly religious men and women who are increasingly populating our politics — in Iowa and nationally. CV


Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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