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SATURDAY, AUGUST 4, 2007
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Finding financial peace
Churches offering help on managing money; clergy seek to understand more

By Melanie B. Smith
msmith@decaturdaily.com 340-2468

Daniel and Samantha Speakman have an American dream of living well and funding college educations for their three children. But the Speakmans want to do it without owing money, which in today's debt-ridden culture seems unorthodox.

The couple said they've already paid down several thousand dollars of debt, following principles they've learned from broadcasts and publications by Dave Ramsey.

"It's amazing how much money people waste," said Daniel Speakman.

Daniel Speakman said a favorite verse related to money is "The borrower is slave to the lender."

Such concerns resulted in a bigger than expected crowd for a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course at Parkview Baptist Church.

Matthew Bass, minister of education, said he's surprised to have 122 people registered, including 30 non-members. The church is on Beltline Road Southwest.

"A lot of families want to do better in their finances, and of course, this is Dave Ramsey. There's that name recognition," Bass said.

Ramsey's radio program is on local stations and his column appears in The Decatur Daily.

The topic of faith and money is one that churches often view with fear and trembling. First, critics say preachers are always asking for money. Then there's Jesus' warning that people cannot love both God and money.

What are believers to do? On the one hand, they have to earn a living, take care of their families and plan for retirement. On the other, Scriptures instruct people not to lay up treasures on earth.

Trying to ease the tension between doing well on earth and for eternity, churches are offering more resources to help Americans handle money.

Bass said the main concerns he's heard from people registering relate to debt and retirement.

Ramsey teaches that better management helps people have more money to give away, both to churches and others, Bass said. But the potential for bigger offerings isn't Parkview's motivation, he said.

The main concern is to help families, he said, because research shows that financial troubles are a top reason for divorce.

Ramsey's Web site says 37 percent of marital problems stem from financial situations.

Clergy learning

Another approach to religion and money has a group of North Alabama ministers committed to a three-year peer learning project.

The Institute for Clergy Excellence, based in Huntsville, is overseeing a Birmingham group seeking to "dissect the mystery between faith and money," according to ICE reports.

Members of the group are United Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian clergy. Among them are former area pastors — the Revs. Bill Morgan, Rich Webster and Keith Elder.

ICE director Rev. Larry Dill said the group is new but has already delved into issues. The ministers visited the financial district of lower Manhattan in February.

Dill said group members explored the free enterprise system on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. They considered the conflict of faith and money while visiting Ground Zero, he said.

"If the attack on the World Trade Center was by religious fanatics ... in the center of world capitalism, we need to understand that kind of tragic conflict, the failure of faith and money," Dill said.

Stock Exchange employees were fascinated that members of the clergy wanted to come into their world but were stumped at how to study faith and money, he said.

Chasm?

Dill said there is a chasm between church and business, between Sunday and Monday. He said pastors are uneasy with their own and their churches' money and have difficulty helping close that gap.

"The seminaries do not prepare people well for this. Neither do denominations. ... What training there is within the denomination has to do with how to do an annual pledge campaign," Dill said.

The Faith & Money group's travel/study plan is still in the works, he said. Topics will include how religious leaders can become intentional and realistic handling their own money and how congregations "frayed with anxiety and guilt" over money can be transformed, according to ICE sources.

Layman interest

Meanwhile, some lay people want to make their faith and money management line up. The Speakmans said they are looking forward to the Ramsey course at their church. They said some people don't "get" their goal to become debt free. Samantha Speakman said even their 15-year-old daughter wished she had "never heard of Dave Ramsey." The daughter did recently get a car but not a new one, her mother said.

Parkview's 13-week course starts Monday. It is too late to sign up now, but Bass hopes to offer it again next fall. Numerous other local churches offer such classes.

Getting ahead

Barna Research found that 33 percent of born-again Christians in the United States say it is impossible for them to get ahead in life because of financial debt.

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