I believe that Christians are a generous people by nature and spirit. How can God-blessed people not be generous? Part of Christian-centered life is being willing to lend a helping hand. God’s Word admonishes Christians to be hard workers and understand the value of a day’s work. They’re generally not out there looking for a handout or a hand up. It’s that “early to bed, early to rise” mentality. I believe Christians thrive on waking up everyday with a purpose in life. They believe in that well-worn philosophy…give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat everyday the rest of his life…he might even invite you over for a fish fry. If a man is short on life’s necessities help him recovery his life and dignity.
John D. Rockefeller, one of the wealthiest men in American history, demonstrated that philosophy in both his spiritual and business life. He was a devout Baptist…a man who came to know Christ as a youngster and in adulthood would read the Bible daily, attend prayer meetings, and even lead a Bible study. He is said to have “possessed a form of calling in both religion and business, with Christianity and capitalism forming the twin pillars of his life.” [Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (New York: Vintage Books, 1998, pg. 51)]. Mr. Rockefeller considered making money to be a gift from God. He said that it was as if he was favored and got increase because the Lord knew that he was going to turn around and give it back. [Ibid, pg.55]. How much can a person who is broke give to support God’s work? Every aspect of business is meant to ennoble all people…owners, employees, and customers alike. Creativity and innovation make us feel alive and draw us closer to God, who is the ultimate Creator. It builds strength and stability no welfare check can deliver. Workplaces become important communities where people flourish as team members and friends. It also permits us to set an example for our kids and communities of the value of work.
Unfortunately we have some who would vilify those who work and are successful. They would claim that it is wrong to have some citizens with much and others with little. With no investigation into circumstances surrounding one’s riches or poverty, they would believe the only right act is to take from the ‘haves’ and give to the ‘have-nots’. I will now focus on one such effort to distribute ‘fairness’. The right to property is not a right to have someone give you property. It’s a right to acquire and keep property by your own productive efforts. In 2008 the government thought it could improve the lot of the poor Americans by making it easier for them to own homes. As we learned the ‘devil’ is in the details. There’s a difference between merely having property and disciplining yourself so you can acquire property, and we get nothing but trouble when we confuse one for the other. Compared to many other countries it is easier for us Americans to acquire property than in most other places. However, poorer Americans still have a difficult time securing a mortgage to buy a house. In a normal market to get a mortgage loan from a bank you would need a stable job with a big enough salary to make monthly payments; a good credit history; and enough money for a down payment. To a bank these are signs that you can repay a debt. A lender assumes that if you don’t have any ‘skin in the game’ you’ll be less motivated to uphold your end of the bargain. The riskier you are as a borrower, the higher your interest rate will be. A record of a good work ethic will help lower the interest rate. But what if less-than-ideal borrowers could get a mortgage loan? In theory wouldn’t such a loan help them and everyone else in the process? People take better care of homes they own rather than rent; they tend to take more interest in their community; they are more law abiding; they do more long term planning; they slowly gain an asset as they pay off their mortgage??? For this reason and without any proof and only emotion, our government put into place policies that made it easier for lower-income people to buy homes. Because of this the underwriting standards on mortgages had to be degraded to accommodate high-risk borrowers. Bankers used these standards to make sure loans they issue and maintain are safe and secure with interest rates to offset the risk of giving the loan. As a result we got the 2008 financial crisis. Several factors lead to the crisis. One was the Federal Reserve’s policy of increasing the money supply and keeping interest rates artificially low. [John B. Taylor,”How Government Created the Financial Crisis”, The Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2009]. There was also the government’s known tendency to bail out financial institutions that are deemed too big to fail. [Nicole Gelinas, After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street and Washington (New York: Encounter Books, 2009]. The major part of the crisis, though, was in the millions of risky ‘subprime’ mortgages that entered the system in the years leading up to 2008. Our government had been fiddling with the mortgage market since the 1930’s, mainly via the tax code. [Alyssa Katz, Our Lot: How real Estate Came to Own Us (New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2010]. Note: this is the same time frame when the liberals/progressives realized they could use tax money to impact their agenda. Then in 1977 came the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which requires all insured banks and Savings and Loans to make loans to borrowers at or below 80% of the median income in the areas the banks service. These financial institutions were subtly coerced to weaken the standards to evaluate loan applications. Then along came “Fannie Mae” and “Freddie Mac”. They were established to create a national market for mortgages. Enjoying ‘special favors’ from the government, they were able to borrow money at a lower interest rate than for-profit banks. Thus our government chartered “Affordable Housing Goals” that included lower income, risky loans. If loans by banks failed these two government establishments would buy the loan. As a result, the rate of borrowers defaulting on their home loans and their homes going into foreclosure was seven to ten times the rate of a conventional primes loan borrower. [James D. Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup, Dwight R. Lee, and Tawni H. Ferrarini, Common Sense Economics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010) pg. 48]. By 2008 about 27 million loans, half of all mortgages in the United States, were subprime or otherwise risky loans. [Ibid, pg.63]. This government established ‘housing boom’ didn’t provide households with more assets; it was nothing but more debt, debt that the US tax payer had to pay. Many retirement plans invested in these risky loan schemes and many employees saw their retire ‘nest eggs’ evaporate. Loans were being made to people that not only didn’t qualify under normal standards but to people with a track record of poor and irresponsible financial dealings. This is what happens when the best of intentions are not based on the principles of work but on the principles of ‘what can I get for free’.
Why does business matter to God? Because business displays some of His glory through humanity. When business is done right, it also brings glory to a country. Many of Jesus’ parables involved business:
Venture capitalists (Matt. 25:14-30)
Field bosses (Matt. 20:1-16)
Gem merchants (Matt. 13:45-46)
Small-business people (Matt. 13:47-50)
Day laborers (Matt. 20:1-16)
Wealthy entrepreneurs (Luke 12:16-21)
Widows living on small amounts of money (Luke 21:1-4)
Farmers (Matt. 13:24-30)
Middle managers (Luke 16:1-13)
CEO’s (Matt 24:45-51)
Regular employees (Matt. 18:31)
Hirings (Matt 20:1-16)
Firings (Matt. 21:33-44; Matt. 25:24-30)
Dishonest employees (Luke 16:1-13)
Risk- averse money managers (Matt 25:14-30)
Career advancement (Luke 19:12-27)
Debt forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35)
It would be nice to report that Congress learned its lesson and fixed the problem. Unfortunately, the official investigation was so politicized that millions of Americans now blame ‘unfettered capitalism’ and greedy fat cats on Wall Street. The Dodd-Frank Act that Congress passed after the crisis put severe restrictions on the market without solving the problems…which is what might be expected from a bill named after Senator Charles Dodd and Representative Barney Frank, the two politicians most responsible for pushing through many of the policies that led to the financial crisis. The same thing could happen again if the ‘give away someone else’s hard earned gains’ liberal politicians get their way. Financial stability has never come about through ‘redistribution of assets’. When politicians try to manipulate and short-circuit the market process by which property is acquired, they do far more harm than good. Much of our foreign aid goes to countries that stifle individual initiative and restrict private ownership.
With so much addressed about work by Jesus in God’s Word, might it not be worthy of an occasional presentation from the pulpit? Where is your church on encouraging responsibility in self maintenance? Is your church making it too easy to be irresponsible? Where else is the message on individual self responsibility going to be delivered if not occasionally from the pulpit? Next week we will continue to look at government efforts to curtail the religious foundations of this nation. As I recently read in a book on the Communist take over of Romania, a long time political prisoner commented,”Romania is not a Godless nation, it is a nation controlled by a Godless government”. Think about it! With elections coming up in November, are you doing your research on the candidates and finding out their positions on subjects that matter to God? Is your church willing to help with the distribution of faith based voter guides? Are you doing your part to make sure our nation is not controlled by a Godless government?
– Bob Munsey