ABC Casts Stones at Evangelical Financial Advisers

Heaven forbid Americans should follow Jesus's principles about finances.

ABC World News Sunday's story about “Faith and Finance” featured anchor Dan Harris's skeptical remarks about Biblical financial principles, bolstered by attacks on Biblical financial counseling by a religious expert and a financial expert.  ABC failed to bring in any experts to support the sole evangelical financial counselor cited.

Harris kicks off the Sunday Spotlight on “Faith and Finance” by sowing seeds of doubt about the effectiveness of Biblically based financial counseling.

HARRIS: As the economy slows, more people are expected to turn to a very old book for financial advice. The Bible. Tonight, we shine the spotlight on the growing field of evangelical financial advisers. They have helped thousands of people, but there is a rigorous debate about the quality of their advice, both financially and theologically.

Why dismiss the Bible because it is a “very old book?”  The issue is whether its principles are valid, not whether they're contemporary. 

Harris moves on to clips of casually attired Crown Ministries financial counselor Howard Dayton, who asserts that “the Bible contains practical principles on how to handle all of our money,” specifically 2,350 verses “dealing with money and possessions,” and that “15 percent of everything Jesus Christ says has to do with it.” Dayton's key verse and principle, according to Harris: “the borrower is the servant to the lender,” so people should get out of debt as quickly as they can.

Once he has established Dayton's central principle, Harris moves decisively to knock it down.

HARRIS: But this is one place where Dayton's Biblical advice runs counter to the advice of most financial advisers.

Immediate cut to Lewis Altfest, in a gray, pinstriped suit with diplomas on the wall behind him, identified on-screen as “Financial Adviser.”

ALTFEST: You can be financially responsible and still have a significant amount of debt. As long as you can deal with it on a monthly basis you're gonna be okay. 

Dayton's point, however, is not that being in debt is automatically irresponsible, but that you're better off not being in debt in the first place. Would Altfest disagree?  We don't find out from ABC.

On to the religious critics of evangelical financial counseling. 

HARRIS: Some religious scholars have a different problem with evangelical advisers like Dayton. They say he's turning the Bible into a how-to guide for maintaining your middle class status. Not at all what Jesus had in mind.

This objection seems more in the mind of Harris than the scholar he interviews, Emory University professor of preaching Thomas Long.

HARRIS: In fact, the Bible teaches that if you follow Jesus, you can expect a lot of problems.

LONG:  If you follow Jesus, you can expect to have a life like Jesus, which is a life full of rich communion with God and others, but also a life of conflict and danger.

Harris apparently believes that Christians who apply Biblical principles to finance are illegitimately trying to avoid problems.  Would Professor Long say that Christians should ignore Jesus's extensive teachings about handling money? Harris doesn't ask.

Harris suggests that the goal of evangelical financial counselors is to teach people to maintain “middle class status.” Here, Harris clearly misrepresents Dayton.

Harris himself says “Dayton teaches all your money is on loan from God, and he urges everyone to give 10 percent to their local church.” 

Does that sound like someone preaching selfish materialism? 

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.