By / Aug 3

Apple has recently announced that it will include “apple pay later” in Apple Pay when it releases ios 16 this fall. “Apple pay later” is part of a growing trend among companies to offer buy now, pay later payment options. Analysts estimate that at least $100 billion in transactions annually are paid with buy now, pay later, and this amount is predicted to dramatically increase within a few years, with some analysts predicting that this amount could reach between $1 trillion and $4 trillion within a few years. Because buy now, pay later is such a widespread phenomenon, it is important for Christians to be aware of its effects on low-income individuals. 

What is buy now, pay later? 

Buy now, pay later allows consumers to purchase products and pay for them in installments over time. Consumers often pay for items in four installments over several months, rather than paying for items all at once. Buy now, pay later is, essentially, a short-term loan that allows people to purchase items they may not be able to afford if they had to pay for them all at the time of purchase. Buy now, pay later does not cost more than traditional payment methods if consumers make their payments on time. These “loans” can be used to purchase necessities, household items, and technology, among other items. 

However, while credit card companies check credit scores prior to issuing loans, buy now, pay later does not. Thus, these programs are particularly attractive to people who have a low credit score or who do not have a bank account, which are more common among low-income individuals. Studies show that a large percentage of users are young people, who may not have a full understanding of debt and who tend to have lower incomes. 

Why are buy now, pay later programs predatory toward the poor?

Buy now, pay later programs encourage people to spend more money than they otherwise would. A 2020 survey by Cardify.ai, a data firm that tracks consumer spending, found that nearly half of buy now, pay later shoppers increased their spending by 10% to over 40% when they used buy now, pay later instead of a credit card. Another survey of 6,500 adults found that around half of people who use buy now, pay later worry it will lead them to overspend, and 57% of people who have used the program have regretted purchasing an item because it was too expensive. This is particularly troubling in light of the fact that a disproportionate number of low-income individuals use this method of payment. 

While buy now, pay later does not cost more than traditional payment methods up front, it often charges high interest rates and steep fees for people who are late on payments. Unlike credit cards, buy now, pay later is not heavily regulated by the government. Consequently, it is not required to clearly state late fee policies and is not prohibited from issuing interest rates above a certain amount. These exorbitant fees and high interest rates can trap low-income individuals in a cycle of debt. 

Evidence also suggests that people are likely to be late on buy now, pay later payments. A study by CR Research, a market research agency, found that over half of buy now, pay later consumers have fallen behind on a payment. Additionally, a 2020 study by Cornerstone Advisors found that two thirds of consumers who were late for a payment lost track of payments and paid late, despite having the needed money. This high rate of late payments is due in part to the complexity of the service and difficulty of keeping track of required payments. It also points to the reality that many low-income individuals may be forced to take on more debt to make these payments and that these programs are targeted toward young people who disproportionately overdraft. 

Consequently, buy now, pay later is predatory toward the poor because it disproportionately attracts low-income individuals, often involves very steep late fees that are not clearly advertised, and can make keeping track of payments difficult. It can trap low-income individuals in cycles of debt. 

Can buy now, pay later programs be helpful?

If people make careful and informed decisions about when to use buy now, pay later, it could serve as a helpful budgeting tool for those with limited resources. People may be able to purchase items that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. And if buy now, pay later programs reduced their interest rates for late fees and more clearly advertised their late policies, they could be beneficial to low-income individuals. Regulations to ensure that these criteria are met would reduce the risks associated with these programs.

Why should Christians care about this issue? 

Christians should care about the rise in popularity of buy now, pay later programs because Scripture is clear that we are called to seek justice and care for the poor. “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). High interest rates on these loans are unjust and harmful to the poor, so supporting reasonable regulations on their excesses is a way to promote justice in our society. Additionally, Christians are called to love our neighbors. Opposing predatory lending practices is one way that Christians can live out this call to love. 

Scripture strongly condemns usurious and exploitative lending practices. Recognizing the dignity of every person extends to business and financial relationships as well as interpersonal ones. As the Southern Baptist Convention affirms, “God is opposed to those who take advantage of the weak, poor, and vulnerable” and “predatory lending fails to respect the dignity of the person created in the image of God and interferes with human flourishing.” For this reason, Southern Baptists are opposed to predatory lending practices that target financially unstable persons. Any lending practice that intentionally uses and exposes vulnerable individuals is unacceptable and should be strictly regulated by government protections. By being aware of the pitfalls of buy now, pay later, Christians can support policies that are beneficial to their neighbors and more effectively advocate for the poor. 

The ERLC is committed to strongly opposing exploitative lending practices and is working to support regulations and legislation that would stop these practices that are harmful to our neighbors.

Sources:

By / Sep 13

Even as a child, I was fascinated by the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Where I lived, it was the only regular religious programming on television, and on it, I found a tawdry mix of the familiar and the different. It was commonplace in the sense that several of the preachers were preaching end-times sermons with big charts like I had seen in my church but very different in other ways. The personalities looked and dressed differently from the people at my church. I remember a lot of phone numbers being flashed on the screen, allowing people to call in their prayer requests or their credit card numbers. But the most fascinating person on the screen was always Israeli televangelist Toufik Benedictus Hinn, better known to the world as Benny Hinn. 

Benny Hinn is famous for large miracle crusades and collarless suit jackets. For millennials, he gained newfound fame and notoriety for a viral video that combined clips of him “slaying people in the Spirit” with the song “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” by heavy-metal-band Drowning Pool. Underneath all the pageantry and theatrics was a theology of health-and-wealth—the “prosperity gospel” or Word-Faith movement. In sum, the Word-Faith movement teaches that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and blessed and that even God is subordinate to the laws of faith that govern the universe. God cannot bless you until you speak blessings into your life by your words of faith. When you give your “seed of faith” (i.e., your money) to prosperity teachers, you can receive a manifold blessing in return. While this “gospel” of prosperity is attractive to the undiscerning and untutored, it more closely resembles New Age philosophy than the gospel proclaimed by the apostles.

God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies is a close-up, insider’s account of the prosperity gospel movement by Costi Hinn, the nephew of Benny Hinn and the son of Canadian megachurch pastor Henry Hinn. In this autobiographical and theological book, Costi details the luxurious lifestyle he had growing up, moving from crusade to crusade with his father and uncle. Costi was an heir to a multi-million-dollar ministry empire with a lot of perks: private Gulfstream jets, European sports cars, lavish gold-plated hotel rooms, expensive meals, and shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive. Following the lead of his famous family members, Costi had begun his training as a member of the next generation of prosperity preachers. That is, until he realized the prosperity gospel paraded by his family was a false gospel contrary to the one Paul preached (Gal. 1:8).

Like other evangelical books on the subject, Costi does eventually detail the historical roots of Word-Faith in the New Thought movement and traces them to the present through figures like E. W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin, and Oral Roberts. Costi offers sound biblical and theological criticism about the “gospel injustice” surrounding the prosperity gospel. He also paints a biblical picture of health and wealth that resorts to neither of the errors of prosperity theology or its mirror, “poverty theology.” But Costi only arrives at these criticisms after describing his journey as someone thoroughly convinced and seemingly “blessed” by adherence to these ideas. With brokenness and humility, he writes about the deceptive doctrines which still keep his famous family from coming to biblical faith and about the great grace he encountered despite losing everything he had to follow the Jesus of orthodoxy.

The remarkable thing is while we who are evangelicals often caricature prosperity televangelists like Benny Hinn as deceitful charlatans, Costi paints them in a much more sympathetic light. He condemns their unbiblical teaching and materialistic practices, but he paints them as men who really and truly believe they are receiving the God-given benefits of their theological system. As Costi became more and more exposed to the money-making mechanisms of the ministry and the effect they had on the underprivileged who followed the ministry, he wrestled with conviction from the Holy Spirit. At first, he attempted to rationalize these prayer-for-money exchanges with proof-texts and the seemingly critic-proof theological architecture he had been taught. Later upon closer study and reflection, he discovered what he initially feared to be true: that this movement was not of God.

Those who lovingly spoke the truth into Costi’s life made a far greater impact than those well-meaning “noisy gongs” or “clanging cymbals” who harassed him because of his family name.

Even as someone who has studied the Word-Faith movement for years, this book gave me some much-needed perspective about ministering to those affected by it. Costi tells horror stories of mistreatment by those who eagerly and ungraciously told him his family members perpetrated a false gospel (something Costi eventually would come to believe himself). There is a place for corrective polemics directed toward erroneous doctrine—and Costi’s book is, in fact, an exercise in that—but many of the tactics of theological shock jocks and social media polemicists would not have won Costi out of heresy. He knew of these things and was repulsed by them. They did nothing to draw him closer to Christ.

Instead, the turning points in Costi’s life came through the personal relationships God brought into his life: a professor who taught him how to read the Bible in its original historical contexts; a baseball coach, who taught him about the sovereignty of God; his future wife, who showed him grace and patience in the midst of family turmoil when she refused to participate in the antics of her new family’s ministry; and a pastor, who pointed him to sound teaching by challenging Hinn to read John MacArthur’s commentary on the Gospel of John.

In that great chapter on love, the apostle Paul said, “If I . . . understand all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Costi’s conversion story brought Paul’s words here to life. Those who lovingly spoke the truth into Costi’s life made a far greater impact than those well-meaning “noisy gongs” or “clanging cymbals” who harassed him because of his family name. Those who were "dogmatic about certain truths" but "flexible and patient with those who were stuck in their ignorance" made the most significant impact, like his pastor friend, Tony.

Costi closes the book with constructive and practical advice on how to reach people who are deceived by false gospels. He does not encourage proud, mean-spirited, and confrontational evangelism centered around winning arguments and making people look foolish. Instead, he talks about gentle, prayerful, humble, and loving conversations that can compel people out of darkness.

I pastor in an area saturated by Word-Faith churches. Many of the members of our church live in the same neighborhood as one of the prominent TBN personalities. Over the years, I have criticized his "ministry" and theology and even made jokes about his luxurious lifestyle and private jets from the pulpit. But reading Costi’s story, I was convicted of my own insensitivity toward people who were caught up in prosperity gospel doctrine. Costi provides a much-needed reminder that the people who live in these movements are not just detached, heretical ideas, but embodied persons loved and valued by God even if they are deceived by sin and falsehood.

This gospel-centered resource will be valuable for both those inside the movement and those outside of it. Costi speaks truthfully about theological error but graciously speaks about loving people out of it. I highly recommend this book.

By / Jun 29

They once rattled in pockets and paid off purchases. Now they’re routinely tossed to the ground and trampled underfoot. Some voices have even proposed doing away with them altogether. At a cost of 1.4 cents to mint per cent, the copper-plated zinc coin bearing Lincoln’s image is, the thinking goes, too costly and too inconvenient.

Put simply, the penny has fallen on hard times.

The old maxim, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” adapted from the treasuries of Benjamin Franklin’s wit and wisdom, fell out of mass circulation long ago. Now, it seems, the 2.5-gram one-cent piece is more nuisance than worth.

At least that’s what many think.

Picking up pennies

I’ve written before about our culture’s collective affinity toward our smartphones. We might do well, I suggested, to take our eyes off our hand-held screens from time to time and gaze elsewhere, lest the world around us and the God above us pass us by without our recognition. One might call our surf-and-scroll addiction the looking down problem. Count me guilty.

But count me guilty too of looking down, past the glossy glass in hand to the gritty ground below, while pounding the pavement from one destination to the next. The shine (or dullness) of my shoes is not my interest. Instead, I’m looking for the discarded, overlooked, trampled down penny.

Seldom does a day pass when commuting via Washington’s Metro rail transit system, or walking the corridors of the capital’s Union Station, that I don’t spot a penny on the pavement. Since the first of the year, I’ve stumbled upon and picked up more than 200 pennies (yes, I keep count). At this penny-a-day pace, I’ll be worth a Starbucks venti gingerbread latté by Christmas. Well, maybe.

But my years-long habit of rescuing homeless pennies is not some innovative means to add to my Christmas cheer. Nor, like the misguided pursuit of others, is it a hobby in hopes of finding “fortune” or “good luck.” It is instead, for me, a spiritual exercise.

Let me explain.

Minted by the Master

When I spot a penny on the ground, I’m reminded that the supreme God of the universe cares for every human life, small and insignificant as society may deem any one person. Jesus himself pointed to the penny, one of the smallest denominations in first century Palestine, to convey this rich spiritual truth.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” he asked. “And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29–31).

Consider, too, the psalmist’s declaration: “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap….” (Ps. 113:4–7).

As I reach down to pick up pennies from the beaten path, my mind reflects upon this remarkable truth. I’m reminded that every life is sacred and created in the Imago Dei—the image of God (Gen. 1:27). I remember that the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills is the same God who picks up the common—the marred, the tarnished, the sin-stained. The God Who Sees does not pass over anyone. None of the world’s 7.4 billion people escape his eye. None go unnoticed. All, in his eyes, bear inestimable worth.

He bends down from the throne of heaven to behold the unlikely and the unlovely. He reaches down to the least and the lost, the lowly and the lonely. He lifts the lame and lightens the load of the heavy laden.

In other words, he reaches down to you and to me. He sets us at liberty. And he does so through the condescension of his Son.

I pause and thank God for such grace.

His was a cost not measured by shekels or weighed in gold. The child of God, I recall, has been ransomed “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).

He fashions his redeemed sons and daughters into something quite uncommon. He remakes the middle, the core—the heart—to a pure composition found in the righteousness of his beloved Son, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phi. 2:7). And in God’s eyes, that prized, purchased possession—minted by the Master—is shiny and new, even as marks on the face shall remain.

It’s a math that doesn’t add up. It’s an incomprehensible calculus, an unfathomable formula. It sounds too simple and defies all logic.

I praise God, penny in hand, for such a math that makes no sense.

And I remind myself that we, the picked up and purchased, are to seek to do something of the same.

Replicating the Master

Abraham Lincoln’s imprint on the face of the penny, beginning in 1909, is, I think, fitting. The 16th president recalled, at Gettysburg, that ours is a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He affirmed the dignity of every man, woman and child. At a time when millions living on U.S. soil were regarded as less than humans, the great emancipator stood in their defense. He reminded them, and the nation, that they bore the stamp of God just as much as anyone else.

In short, he reached down and picked them up.

When we peer down at the thrown out penny, we too can think about the disenfranchised and discarded among us. We can remember the unborn and the aged, the infirmed and the impoverished, the immigrant and the imprisoned—all those routinely denied, by many, the recognition of their God-given intrinsic worth.

Then we can seek to pick them up. We can, in that moment, lift them in prayer to the Father and ask what part we might play in heeding their plight, in helping them find liberty. The “poor in the dust” and the “needy in the ash heap” need no stroke of good luck. All of us, as image-bearers of God, share a need one and the same: a lift, out of our helpless state, from above—from a friend, from a neighbor, from, ultimately, a Father.

We can fixate on the penny’s year of mint, offset in relief to the right of Lincoln’s profile, and lift a word of praise for something good that comes to mind from that particular year. Or, as the case may be, we can offer a petition that God would bring about some good, for his glory, out of some evil that overtook a person or a nation that year. The Father to the fatherless is, after all, the One who brings light out of darkness (2 Cor. 4:6) and sets the captives free (Gal. 5:1).

Riches beyond measure

Admittedly, I hope we don’t do away with the penny. As long as one-cent pieces are around, I’ll keep my eye out for them, covered in dirt and trampled underfoot, and pick them up as a reminder that the Maker of heaven and earth cares for and stoops down to the least of us. And, if need be, I’ll find a bigger bowl to house my growing collection of adopted coins. An ever present reminder.

Indeed, a penny saved may well be a penny earned. But a penny found is, by my accounting, much more: an opportune occasion to consider the lives among us and the Lord who loves us. What better moment to recount the God to be praised, the Savior he raised and our lives that he saved!

To be sure, the once-lost but now-found coin is not a stroke of good luck, but a good gift from a faithful Father. And therein yields a treasure that cannot be weighed in copper and zinc, or silver and gold.

If only we will take the time to stoop down.

That’s just my two cents, anyway.

By / Nov 23

“Black Friday has gotten out of hand,” said Jerry Stritzke, president and CEO of outdoor retailer REI, referring to the day after Thanksgiving when retailers heavily discount thousands of products. He told his 12,000 employees to “get outside” on a paid holiday instead of “spending it in the aisles.” “We’re closing our doors,” Stritzke declared, because “success goes beyond money.” Should it define our holiday, too?

America shops with the same gusto it downs turkey. Last year, the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, which includes Black Friday, saw sales of $51 billion. Retailers can earn up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during this holiday season. And while Black Friday is a decidedly American invention, other countries are adopting similar retailing rituals. China’s Alibaba recently announced a Singles Day in November, raking in $1 billion in its first eight minutes of sales.

Black Friday is a fairly recent holiday. Philadelphia policemen in the early 1960s were the first to use the term to describe the post-holiday crush. Yet, even as late as 2001, Black Friday never reached more than the fifth spot on the list of America’s busiest shopping days. But by then, the day’s brand was fast becoming reality, reinforced by the media covering long lines and desperate shoppers.

Evangelical Christians are not immune to standing outside in the cold, pre-dawn hours. But a holiday for consumerism can seem to blur virtue with vice. Indeed, there is much to be celebrated in its ritual and giving, but also many snares and misplaced priorities. Christians should find two hopes and two warnings in Black Friday.

Two benefits of Black Friday

1. Black Friday is a holiday, and holidays are rituals in remembrance. These are the times when we set aside our normal routine to celebrate or commemorate a moment of significance. Our holidays are like the stones of Joshua, set by the River Jordan as a steady reminder of God’s providence amid the passing seasons.

But Black Friday is in no ordinary season. It is a time when Christians celebrate the greatest gift ever given: God’s son, Jesus, born in a manger. The Magi, upon seeing the baby, fell on their knees and worshiped him; “they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” We remember God’s greatest gift through our giving, doing as the wise men did. The heated cars and cold lines of Black Friday, the wrapping and unwrapping of Christmas—these are our rituals to remember what we have received.

2. Black Friday initiates giving, and in so doing we humble the almighty dollar in love. Money is a blessing from God. All too often, though, we are tempted to make money our master. This cannot be true for us as Christians. Rather, as 1 Timothy 6:18 describes, we are “to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share.” Black Friday sets off a holiday season marked by charity. “Black Friday may have its warts,” Chris Horst reminds us, “but let’s not forget the reason for the Black Friday season.” The shopping isn’t meant for us, but for others. Done rightly, Black Friday spurs us on toward love and generosity.

Two warnings about Black Friday

1. Black Friday harbors disordered loves—snares on the path to the register that lead to emptiness. We live to love, and what we love determines how we live. Discerning our responsibility toward created things and loving them rightly is a central challenge in life. Seeking satisfaction in what cannot satisfy is to fail in this moral quest. Rightly ordered love is virtue; disordered love is vice.

Our problem isn’t that we love shopping on Black Friday, but that we are tempted to love shopping in the wrong way—that is, to make us happy. Finite things cannot satisfy the human desire for the infinite.

2. Black Friday is a religious holiday for consumerism, a time of communal worship observed at the mall. For many families, this shopping holiday is a major tradition and a time of social bonding on the order of church or, in the case of some, a military squad. In the jostling crowds, there’s almost a religious fervor. Shoppers are armed with a worldview centered on acquiring more and more things for the self’s own good. “I shop, therefore I am.” Our sacrament is the credit card swipe.

These secular pieties offer uplift, but they also impact our real worship and families. Indeed, as shoppers arrive earlier and earlier on the day after Thanksgiving, retail workers are being stolen away from their tables to feed our own desires. Christians should approach with caution those things that offer a false hope.

What are Christians to do? Celebrate Black Friday as a joyous ritual of communal generosity. We can be happy and loving in our buying and giving because we know they are not the ends. Our hope isn’t found at the bottom of a shopping bag. The value of our souls far exceeds the value of any created things.

Black Friday without Christ is little more than vanity. What does a man gain for all his efforts, otherwise? When you step away from your Thanksgiving table and prepare for a day of shopping, remember how God has so generously gifted you. Orient your buying toward others. Love them rightly as Christ loves you, shopping in wisdom and humility on Black Friday.

Note: The views expressed here are his own. 

By / May 27

Republican State Sen. Del Marsh introduced what has to be the worst piece of gambling-related legislation in the history of Alabama in early May. Marsh, who is president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate, flip-flopped on what observers thought were principled stands against legalized gambling and became its chief proponent. 
 
More importantly, Marsh is using the power of his office to lead efforts to have Alabama legalize a state lottery, approve full-blown casinos and form a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians that would make American Indian gambling activities a permanent part of state life. 
 
Any one of these proposals is controversial by itself. That all would be considered at the same time would have been inconceivable until Marsh’s surprising and disappointing announcement. 
 
The catalyst for the proposal is Alabama’s economic crunch. State government is underfunded and has been for years. The Legislature has filled the income gap with borrowing and one-time funds, but those sources have been exhausted. 
 
With no other place to turn Gov. Robert Bentley proposed increasing certain taxes but Marsh and other legislators are so scared of any new taxes that the governor’s proposals could not even get a committee hearing until the legislative session was more than half over. 
 
Financial burden
 
Instead Marsh and others purpose gambling as the fix for the revenue shortfall. They would prefer to balance the budget on the backs of those least able to pay rather than adopt a fair and just tax system. Lotteries place the financial burden on the backs of poor and working class people rather than on capital and corporations. 
 
Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter David Cay Johnston points out that 11 states already raise more money per person through lotteries than they raise through corporate income taxes. That is not the direction Alabama should go. 
 
Economist Richard D. Wolff added, “Simply put, lotteries take the most from those who can least afford it. Instead of taking those most able to pay, state leaders use lotteries to disguise a regressive tax that falls on the middle and even more on the poor.” 
 
For example Lenoir County, N.C., is one of that state’s more economically depressed areas with 23.5 percent of the population living under the poverty line. Yet in 2010 enough scratch-off and lottery tickets were sold to account for $423.92 worth of purchases for every adult in the county. That is more than twice the state average of $200.11. 
 
The California Budget Project reported that in 2007 “the poor, nonwhite, urban and less educated spend a higher portion of their income on the lottery than other demographics.” 
 
A 2008 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found “a large portion of lottery profits come from people who receive some financial subsidy from the government, suggesting the lottery profits from those with the least disposable income.” 
 
One out of 4 children in Alabama already live in food insecure homes. One in five seniors in our state is food insecure. Poverty is above the national average. Surely the state Legislature can find a better policy to solve the state’s financial woes than to prey on these people. 
 
A state-sponsored lottery is one of the cruelest and most callous proposals the Legislature could make. A study by the Opinion Research Corporation for the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association found that 38 percent of those earning less than $25,000 annually believed the lottery is the solution to accumulating wealth. Perhaps that is why David Just, behavioral economics expert and director of graduate studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said, “We find there are big jumps in lottery purchases when the poverty rate increases, when unemployment increases or when people enroll (in) welfare.” 
 
Unlikely odds
 
When the odds of winning a Powerball jackpot, according to The Mathematical Association of America, is one in 175 million, is that what state government should be promoting?
 
Should state government be like a sideshow huckster trying to separate hard-earned paychecks from its citizens? Should Alabama’s government encourage get-rich-quick schemes over the proven disciplines of work, thrift and responsibility? 
 
And what could be more callous than the state’s powerful decision makers purposely manipulating the vulnerable of society in order to avoid having to shoulder a fair and just portion of the expense of government? 
 
The casino proposal is equally misguided. Casino gambling cannibalizes the economy. That is because casinos divert spending that would have gone to buy cars, clothes, food and other goods and services. 
 
A year ago when the New Hampshire Legislature rejected building a casino in the Granite State, Paul Davies, the Maggie Walker fellow at the Institute for American Values, said, “Public policy built around inducing residents to gamble away their hard-earned money is a bad way to fund the government.” We agree.
 
Promises of gambling income are always exaggerated. In 2009, Ohio residents were told four proposed casinos would generate $1.9 billion in annual tax revenue for the state. The actual revenue for the first year was $839 million — off by more than $1 billion. That is a big “oops.”
 
That says nothing about the social problems ranging from increased criminal activity to suicides. In Gulfport, Miss., suicides skyrocketed 213 percent in the first two years after casinos opened there. In nearby Biloxi, suicides increased 1,000 percent in the first year alone. 
 
Why would Alabama want to start something that is declining nationwide? In Atlantic City gambling revenues are down more than 47 percent since 2006. Casinos are closing. Others are filing bankruptcy. In Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Louisiana and other places the reports are the same — gambling revenue is declining with no stop in sight.
 
Marsh’s bill also places new casinos at the Birmingham Race Course, VictoryLand in Shorter, Greenetrack in Eutaw and the Mobile Greyhound Park. At least three of these facilities have been convicted of breaking Alabama gambling laws, some multiple times. Why would the state reward these lawbreakers with a casino site even if the proposal were adopted? Rewarding lawbreakers with casinos would be the wrong signal to send about the results of illegal conduct.
 
Sen. Marsh’s proposals are based on flawed economics. They are based on bad public policies and are unworthy of responsible legislative leadership like he has provided in the past. Senate Bill 453 embodies values contrary to the Christian faith. This bill is a threat to the welfare of the state of Alabama and should be soundly defeated.

Originally published here.

By / Nov 26

My husband and I like traditions. Part of it is owing to my own family’s love for all things familiar, but the other part is that we just enjoy doing fun things together. We like to celebrate, and like many Americans, we like Black Friday.

Yes, that is correct. We are some of the many crazy people who venture out on the biggest shopping day of the year. We scour the newspaper ads the day before, while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We make our list and check it twice. And we love every minute of it. Before we had kids, we even got up at hours of the morning that no one should be awake just to find a deal. Now we wait until our kids get up to face the crowds (although my husband is not opposed to going out by himself in the wee hours of the morning). But we still are avid Black Friday shoppers.

If we are honest, some of our enthusiasm over Black Friday is owing to our interest in seeing what craziness is out there (or in my husband’s case, his love for a good deal). But the biggest reason we endure the crowds and the crazy is because there is nothing like being able to finish your Christmas shopping before December even arrives.

Avoid Black Friday?

There are many reasons Christians might avoid Black Friday shopping. Perhaps the most compelling one is the rampant consumerism that seems to dominate all things Christmas in our culture. Black Friday has turned into Black Thursday, Black Wednesday, and Black All Night Long. Some even boycott stores that stay open on Thanksgiving, in protest of the perceived greed that drives many retail stores to forego the Thanksgiving break and get right into the Christmas spirit.

And I’m with them on the problems of greed and consumerism. As Christians, we know that Christmas is about so much more than getting everything on our wish list, getting the best deal, and fighting with another customer for the last toy on the shelf. The Christ of Christmas puts to death the greed and consumerism that so easily entangles us this time of year.

Embrace Black Friday?

But as one who enjoys partaking in a little Black Friday shopping, I hope to offer a different way to think about this day that doesn’t involve boycotting, fighting for toys, or coveting what we cannot have or cannot afford.

Black Friday shopping can be a form of good stewardship. While my husband loves getting a good deal, his purpose in seeking deals is not for bargain’s sake. He wants to steward our money well. He knows we have been given a set amount of resources, and he wants to multiply those resources in a way that honors God and serves others. Black Friday shopping can serve this purpose as well.

Perhaps getting all of your shopping done early enables you to truly focus on the Christ of Christmas, this is good stewardship of time. Perhaps saving a few dollars on your Christmas presents affords you the opportunity to give extra to a missions organization or a friend in need. This also is good stewardship of your finances.

Black Friday shopping can be a way to love your neighbor. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31). Nowhere do we see overt self-love like we do on Black Friday. But, as Christians, we have the Holy Spirit, who enables us to respond differently to the frenetic pace of the holiday season. Black Friday gives us the opportunity to love our neighbor by treating those around us differently. When the pressure rises to fight for a new gaming console or push someone aside in frustration, we can die to our own selfish desires for the next big shiny thing. We can treat our neighbors like we would want to be treated, with love, kindness, and patience.

But we also can love our neighbor in a less obvious way this Black Friday. We can love our neighbor by buying stuff. Boycotting stores for their holiday practices only hurts the men and women at the checkout counter—the very ones who need jobs the most this Christmas. By heading out to stores with open wallets, we can love the workers by keeping them in business.

Black Friday shopping can encourage a healthy spirit of giving. All of us have been given an abundance from our heavenly Father. He delights in giving good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:11). He lavishes his kindness on us in Christ (Eph. 1:7-9). As image bearers, we get to experience a small (and broken) taste of this joy when we also give gifts to those we love (2 Cor. 9:7). Because Black Friday can be a day of stewardship for Christians, it also can be a day where we have the resources to buy the gift our loved one so desperately wants or needs.

Black Friday shopping doesn’t have to be all about greed and consumerism. It doesn’t have to be about excessive spending and fights with people over the last flat screen television. It can be a time for Christians to live differently than the world around them—to be in the world and not of it. And on a day that is so often overshadowed by the sins that so easily entangle all of us, that could be good news this holiday season.

By / Oct 20

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have devised a new scheme for fleecing their residents—it’s called Monopoly Millionaires’ Club. When we think of a club, we usually think of some kind of gathering in which people meet together to accomplish some common good. This club, however, is not a club at all. It’s the latest deceptive marketing campaign to entice people to give up some of their money for the empty promise of easy riches.

This latest multistate lottery effort joins others, like Powerball and Mega Millions, already actively promoted across the country with one goal in mind: to take as much money as possible from desperate people in order to fund the bottomless pit of government spending.

Altogether, 44 states plus the District of Columbia now have their own lotteries. On top of that, these states participate in various multi-state lotteries. When lotteries were reintroduced in the states in 1964, they were limited to the individual states that started them. That initial misguided venture into government-sponsored gambling has produced what is now a massive system of wealth redistribution, principally from the poor to the middle class. It is established fact that the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on lotteries compared to other income groups and that the states’ lottery revenue tends to benefit higher income groups. That sucking sound from people’s pockets is caused by the nearly $70 billion they spend on lottery tickets every year.  

Now the states have another lottery. This one is called a “millionaires” club. At least the creators are being honest about their marketing message. This latest form of irresponsible government-sponsored gambling is upfront about what it is dangling in front of its “customers.” This lottery isn’t masking itself as a little entertainment, nor is it wrapping itself in a cloak of public good, like education funding, or anything else so noble. It is appealing to covetousness for material gain and escape from desperation. The name of this game says it all. It promises to make the player an instant millionaire. He can join the “Club” of the wealthy. For some, the game offers a chance to have all the things they want if they’ll just buy a ticket, or better yet, many tickets to increase their odds of winning. For others, the appeal is a chance to escape the despair caused by poverty.

Our state governments are losing sight of their biblically-mandated goal of serving the public good. Scripture says government is God’s servant (Rom. 13:1-7). Its divine mandate is to reward good and punish evil. How can it possibly be good to be engaged in a massive scheme to profit from greed and desperation and to hurt the poor in the process? This hardly sounds like what God had in mind for government when he appointed it as his own instrument on earth to help humanity fulfill its purpose.

By sponsoring gambling, our state governments have now become part of the problem its citizens must overcome rather than a partner to help them flourish. Because state governments have chosen this path to their own easy riches, their citizens are more impoverished. After all, most of them will lose. The game is designed for them to lose. That’s the only way the states, the stores, and the operators get their cut. In the end, the poor, who saw their ticket as their way out, feel more hopeless; and the greedy, who imagined all they were going to buy, feel more resentful.

State-sponsored gambling is a national embarrassment. It’s disgraceful that so many of the people we elect resort to the regressive nature of gambling rather than the hard work of promoting and empowering the public welfare through responsible governance. We need our elected leaders to demonstrate courage, not cunning, in solving our problems.

It is my prayer that we will soon see a wave of responsible citizenship across this country that will rid our governments of this predatory behavior. The citizens rose up nearly two centuries ago to end the national disgrace of lotteries. They can do it again. May God help us return our governments to their divinely mandated calling—for our good and his glory.

By / Feb 20

What if every member of your church tithed? How much more ministry could your church accomplish? For most churches, the circumstance of universal tithing is a pastor’s dream, but it is beyond the power of a pastor to accomplish it by any means other than running off most of the non-tithers in the congregation.

I know someone who could accomplish that impressive feat for your church without running off any of your church’s members. Who, you ask, is this stewardship wizard? Dave Ramsey? No. I’m talking about your state legislators. What if your state government were to pass a law taxing every citizen without exception and forwarding that money to the church of each taxpayer’s choice?

This is not a hypothetical situation. In Virginia in 1779 Patrick Henry (yes, THE Patrick Henry) proposed exactly such a law. Baptists did not gleefully rub their hands together while they imagined the largesse soon coming to their church coffers; they opposed the bill and defeated it. They realized that state involvement in the funding of churches was a violation of their principles of religious liberty and would eventually result in the state’s taking more than it would ever give them.

Temptation of that nature did not go away in 1779, and that kind of wisdom has never been needed more than today. The worst church-state court decisions of my lifetime have all given me something that I wanted. I’m opposed to the abuse of illegal drugs. In Employment Division v Smith the United States Supreme Court upheld Oregon’s laws criminalizing the use of illegal drugs—laws that I want to see upheld—by setting aside an important legal doctrine, the “Sherbert test,” upon which American citizens had depended for ongoing religious liberty.

I’m also opposed to racism. In Bob Jones University v United States the Supreme Court penalized a private religious school for its policy of denying enrollment to students who supported or practiced interracial marriage—behavior that I think deserved to be penalized—by empowering the Internal Revenue Service to judge whether tax exempt organizations are “at odds with the common community conscience.” Bob Jones University was standing at odds with the community’s conscience in a reprehensible way. But sometimes the very reason why our nation needs churches is so that they can stand at odds with the community’s conscience. For example, the very ruling that enables the IRS to revoke the tax exemption of those who forbid interracial marriage today would have enabled governments a century ago, had it been in place, to revoke the tax exemption of those prophetic few who endorsed it.

After it survived the Limmat River, Newgate Prison, Bedford Jail, and the Boston Commons, the movement to secure universal religious liberty had eliminated all doubt about its pluck. Persecution can never be so fierce as to quell the yearning for liberty. But sometimes, whether Greeks or governments are bearing the gifts, the friendlier foes are the more formidable ones.