The past several months have been marked by burgeoning financial anxiety in the U.S. and global markets, at the gas pump and grocery check-out, in corporate offices and at kitchen tables. As falling house prices and the subprime mortgage crisis have destabilized credit markets and stock markets, many financial experts seem as confused as the rest of us. New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt wrote in March, admitting his own befuddlement, “Raise your hand if you don’t quite understand this whole financial crisis.” One gets the disconcerting feeling that many major market players were like toddlers chasing after bubbles floating on the breeze, suddenly stunned and surprised to realize that bubbles will burst.
Some of us feel great fear as retirement funds nosedive or house values plummet, those ephemeral numbers on computer screens or in newspapers creating real uncertainty about our future. Others are caught in the undertow of the mortgage crisis or of personal debt, losing homes and cars and more. Others only know that they seem to be working harder, but getting poorer.
In focusing this issue of Sojourners on faith and personal finance, we are not offering quick fixes for current economic woes—if they exist, they are outside our field of expertise. Nor do we suggest simple pieties about how Jesus will make everything better. As Christians, in a deep sense we do think Jesus makes everything better, but he rarely makes things simple.
With finances, as with all topics, we have sought to root ourselves in faith: If “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), how then should we live in relation to our treasure and talents, even in this anxious time? We’re “marked as Christ’s own forever,” according to the rite of baptism; as such, we are not meant to be held captive by Wall Street or the Federal Reserve, by oil prices or mortgage rates. How does such freedom translate into daily habits and long-term planning? If all we have and all we are comes from God, how do we respond to that divine gift with grateful hearts and generous spirits—not just when the offering plate comes by, but also in how we spend, save, invest, and give our money each and every day?
IN THIS ISSUE we look at how you can turn your money toward service to God and others in a variety of ways, including handling household expenditures, talking to your kids about money, socially responsible investing, advocating for economic justice, and getting radical with your charitable giving.
One of the underlying themes that ties all these articles together is that we can rarely “go it alone” when it comes to keeping money issues in balance. French theologian Jacques Ellul named money as one of the principalities and powers—a spiritual force that can be as small as our desire for more possessions when we know we have enough and as massive as out-of-control global markets or a predatory debt industry.
It’s not too dramatic to say that prayer and fasting are often called for when it comes to dealing with money—but also vital are honest conversations with family and friends, research, sharing of ideas, and mutual care and challenge. Thoughtful Christian community helps us resist personal temptations to greed or fearful hoarding, supports us materially and spiritually when financial hardship strikes, helps us act to correct unjust economic structures, and can be a source of inspiration, strength, and wisdom as we seek to put our money where we want our heart to be.
Julie Polter is an associate editor of Sojourners.