Christian Debt Relief: Stewards of God?

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Observer Contributor
April 23, 2008

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Faith: Christian Debt Relief: Stewards of God?

Ever since the nationwide credit crunch came crashing into the nation’s lap, seemingly unexpectedly, a new brand of debt counselors ready and willing to help – almost – any American arose.

Most people are familiar with the traditional methods of debt relief: file bankruptcy or perhaps seek the help of an advisor who will help allocate funds.

However, this group of debt counselors now faces a new competition; one that invokes a higher power.

Across the country, new companies are being formed that preach the values of responsible money management and debt relief through teachings of the Bible.

“We offer spiritual guidance in addition to credit and debt counseling,” explains Mickie Horst, debt advisor for Debt Free Christian. “We encourage our clients in the way of the Lord.”

A quick visit to truly shows the breadth of this new phenomenon. Simply type in a couple combinations of telling phrases and find numerous responses. Key in the words “Christian debt relief” and get over 250,000 hits. Another combination, this time “Christian financial counseling,” will provide over 213,000 results.

The company with the most conspicuous presence in the Christian debt relief industry is by far Crown Financial Ministries, which is only fitting because its founder, Larry Burkett was the mastermind behind this new wave of financial advice.

In 1972, at age 33, Burkett became a born-again evangelical Christian, getting a job with a non-profit ministry called Campus Crusade for Christ. While on staff, his job was to oversee the financial affairs of the ministry, and it was here that Burkett formulated his ideas for money management through the teachings of the bible. Burkett went on to author more than 60 financial books, among them, How to Manage Your Money, The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couple and Debt-Free Living.

According to Rick Miesel editor of Biblical Discernment Ministries, Burkett strove to eliminate tensions between people over money issues while at the same time instructing them on how to solve current financial difficulties. By telling people God owns everything and that God is always watching over financial transactions, Burkett hoped to make people release their grip on their own view of the importance of money and that when dealing with it, one must always remain ethical.

Over time, especially with the ongoing credit problems, Burkett’s message has taken a turn toward fundamentalism and has now proliferated into numerous companies and advisors looking to capitalize on the Christian market that has around 2.1 billion consumers.

As evidenced by the number of results the Google search brought for Christian debt relief, thousands of new voices are now being heard by wayward Christians looking to anyone for guidance through financial difficulties. Any number of companies are ready and willing to serve the Christian consumer at a moment’s notice, provided that the caller is not in debt so far as to not be able to make an initial payment of $55 to Crown Ministries for the right to have their help.

The turn toward fundamentalism has resulted in the transformation from Burkett’s initial message of financial independence and responsibility into literal translations of Bible passages that were written thousands of years ago and often are symbolic or metaphorical.

Teachings of ethical transactions and respecting your neighbor’s dealings have been replaced by the quoting of Proverbs 22:7: “the borrower is a slave to the lender.” This transition into fundamentalism can be most likely attributed to these companies trying to convince the potential client to sign on with their service.

As Jan Hendricks of Christian Credit Counseling Service said when asked about her company’s solution to debt relief, “Our counseling service is based on Biblical principle. The Scripture says that a borrower is a servant to the lender and that you are a servant to the creditor who says where your money will go.”

She was also quick to point out that “tithes and offerings should be a part of a budget. You should never not give tithes or offerings when you make one because the Scripture says that Jesus blesses those who give [them]”

In the vast majority of cases, the services provided by the Christian companies are no different from their secular brethren; providing the exact same advice as other debt consolidation sites, just slapping the word God and religious imagery across their web pages, hoping to attract any one of the 2.1 billion Christians that may have debt troubles.

“There really is no difference between our programs and others,” admits Ken Lynch, credit advisor for Christian Debt Consolidation.

However, he quickly added, “We do the ethical and right thing, and most of the time Christian people are just more comfortable with other Christians.”

After continued interaction with several Christian debt management services, the tone remained the same: there is no obvious difference between the secular and Christian debt companies, just the added benefit of spiritual advising.

“We offer the same programs and guidance as secular services, but we are different in that we encourage biblically through tough times,” says Joe Larson, from Family Life Credit Services. “We are more spiritual than other programs. We establish a long term relationship with our clients; we even pray on the phone together.”

No matter the source of the advice, debt relief services have proved invaluable to myriad consumers, yet as these new companies show, there is still room to maneuver for that extra buck.

For further information regarding the principles of Christian Money Management, visit the Christian Financial Ministries’ Web site.

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