Moneychangers in the temple?

daveramseyThe Associated Press had a fascinating look Dave Ramsey, a finance guru. What's the religion angle? Well, apparently one of his major markets is Christian churches. And he mixes Christian teachings with his message of living debt free and saving money. Jay Reeves penned the piece which is full of information, particularly for an AP piece. Here's how it begins:

With the economy gasping for life last spring, about 1.3 million people gathered in 5,600 churches nationwide to behold the nation's leading prophet of personal finance.

Televised live from a church in Edmond, Okla., Dave Ramsey's infomercial-style "Town Hall for Hope" was a masterful mix of inspiration, humor, advice, marketing and the Bible from a man dressed in jeans, dark jacket and an open-collar shirt.

"Hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit," Ramsey told a nationwide audience that included the Fox Business Network, available in 50 million homes. Later: "The Bible says the diligent prosper."

At its core, the 90-minute show was a millionaire preaching to a struggling flock, and it raised anew the question of whether Ramsey's hugely profitable, tax-paying business -- which he describes as a ministry -- fits with Jesus' teachings.

The piece goes on to quote a variety of people but that central question in the paragraph above is never really broached. One man, for instance says Dave Ramsey's business is an unholy alliance of business and church:

"It's not a ministry. To me, it's an insult to the word," said [John] Hoffman, who lives near Logan, Kan. "It would be nice if it got out of the churches and got into the mainstream."

Ramsey doesn't deny mixing religion and business, and he doesn't apologize for getting rich doing it, either. Business is a ministry, he says, and good ones prosper by serving people the way God wants them to.

"Worship is work-ship, so I don't separate work from ministry," Ramsey said recently at his headquarters in suburban Nashville, where he does his syndicated radio and cable TV shows. Bible verses, crosses and photos of Ramsey decorate the building.

Normally I love it when reporters just quote people and leave it at that, but I feel like both of these quotes could have used more context or explanation. For instance, it would be helpful to know why Mr. Hoffman thinks it's an insult to describe Ramsey's business as a ministry. I'm curious if he has the same view I have on the matter or if he approaches it from another angle. Unfortunately, it's not explained.

And I generally think jargon should be avoided in quotes. The phrase "worship is work-ship" makes no more sense to me than its inverse -- it would help if the reporter could explain it.

The article includes a lot of details about Ramsey's business and his back story. Some of the religious details are incredibly helpful, such as when we learn that Ramsey is building off the financial teachings of John Wesley and adding a 'no debt' clause. But other times there are these quotes with too little context or substantiation:

"It was a way to make money instead of deliver a message," said [T.J.] Graff, whose Internet-based business sells truck supplies. "I think it's no different than the money changers in the temple if you want to go biblical."

Dave-Ramsey Again, and I say this as someone inclined to agree with this quote, it would be nice to know why Graff is saying this. And while there is a quote from two other laypeople saying they don't mind his wealth (which we learn about in detail), a bit more from theologians would be nice. Not to beat a dead horse here, but this quote made me want to know more:

Alexander Hill, author of "Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace," said churches can inadvertently become a tool for marketers as they try to help members through a tough economy.

"I think it's fine for churches to provide services for the congregants, and that can be profit or nonprofit," said Hill, president of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry based in Madison, Wis. "It's the potential confusion that is a concern."

Confusion about what? Whether the job of the church is to save souls or checking accounts? Or what? I share Hill's concern so I want more meat on this quote. Even if I didn't share his concern I would want to know a bit more about what, exactly, could be the confusion.

Still, even though I'm quibbling here, it's a really interesting story and one of those that make you realize how much religion news may be missed by the mainstream media. You have tons of people who seek or follow Ramsey's advice and yet there's very little coverage. I don't necessarily think it needs to be so adversarial to be interesting, but it's a great topic for a reporter.

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