I came across yet another promotional post touting the virtues of Financial Peace University. For those who may not know, it’s a financial system created by self-appointed money guru Dave Ramsey. Among his many tenets are the eschewing of any credit cards and the belief that people should simply “pay for everything in cash.” No one is a fan of debt. So superficially, it all sounds fabulous. But when one recognizes the multiplicity of situations and life circumstances people may find themselves in, it is easy to see that his approach might not work for everyone.
Many of his students swear they’ve achieved the eponymous “financial peace.” And it’s not unusual for people to find something that works for them and consequently become compelled to share it with others as the answer (see also: CrossFit, veganism, etc.). So, while some of Ramsey’s advice can be helpful, it becomes problematic when his methodologies are touted as a one-size-fits-all gospel. Many of his devotees proselytize that his teachings are not just best for themselves but that it’s downright unchristian to manage one’s finances any other way. It’s deliberately marketed to congregations that way. Wrapped in Christianese, the program is sold to churches to sell to members under the promise of economic success. It’s a little too akin to multilevel marketing for my taste.
My first introduction to Financial Peace was as a young associate pastor. My mentor pastor was gung-ho about Dave Ramsey and wanted everyone to participate! Although I still deeply respect my mentor, he was mistaken on a number of points. Similarly, during my tenure as a youth pastor in one congregation, I was encouraged by my senior pastor to invite an extremely conservative speaker renowned for guilt-tripping young people who listened to music that used certain instruments. I knew little about the pastor’s ministry when I extended the invitation and I implicitly trusted my senior pastor’s wisdom and insight. But when the speaker came to the church, I regretted it immediately. In the aftermath, I spent a long time with my young people untangling errors planted during the presentation. That music extremist’s stance was not unlike things I’d heard preached when I was a young person. It wasn’t uncommon for well-known ministers to rail against the evils of syncopation.
There’s a multitude of theologically problematic lessons I recall from both church and school. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard one or more of these yourself! Many Adventists were taught that our guardian angels refused to enter movie theaters. But if these were such dangerous places, it seems like exactly where a guardian angel should accompany you! I also remember being implored to pray silently to prevent Satan from listening to our thoughts. That teaching totally disregards the validity of the wide variety of prayers we see in the Bible, several of which include crying aloud. It also calls into question our own practices of group intercessory prayers. Wouldn’t it mean that praying corporately makes us more vulnerable to demonic attacks? But most disturbingly, this teaching reveals an unwittingly harmful point of view about the comparative power of Christ and Satan.
Despite the fact that so many of these ideas fall apart when examined even slightly critically, they are sometimes difficult to purge from our minds. Logic aside, these beliefs remain entrenched, often because they were introduced to us by people we love and respect. Our teachers, parents, and pastors promoted these lessons. So it can be hard to reject what we’ve been taught because it may feel like a rejection of those who taught us. Nevertheless, it’s imperative that we reevaluate the perspectives we’ve held for so long. This goes for some of our scriptural interpretations as well.
There are a number of traditional understandings that many of us unquestionably support. We cling to them because we revere those who taught us. In a previous article, I touched on the defenses we employ when we harbor an unwillingness to examine evidence. We are purportedly “people of the Book.” And some of us mock adherents of other faiths for blindly following their leaders without applying critical thought. Yet Adventists fall prey to these same tendencies far more than we care to admit. We hesitate to pull on the threads of some precepts for fear our entire belief system will unravel. But if it is that fragile, it deserves to be unraveled. Truth that can’t withstand scrutiny is not truth. And if our devotion to teachers or our anxiety about disturbing the familiar is what keeps us from critical thought, then we set ourselves up to be tethered to error.
I am an imperfect person. I strive to grow daily. There are things I sincerely believed and preached in the past that I’ve changed my views on. I also know that over the years, I’ve cultivated relationships with many members who’ve said they’ve been blessed by my sermons. I love my church families and they have shown love to me. But I pray their love for me is eclipsed by their love for truth! I have always strived to hammer home the LeVar Burton philosophy: “You don’t have to take my word for it!” I would hate to think anyone is reluctant to scrutinize some teaching just because I was the one who taught it. I hope the people I’ve pastored are committed to being lifelong learners—and unlearners—even when it’s uncomfortable.
Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD, is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a clinical neuropsychologist. She is president of the Society for Black Neuropsychology.
Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found by clicking here.
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