Sunday, November 22, 2009


this month's issue of the atlantic has two intriguing articles on conservative christianity. the first is megan mcardle's entertaining account of becoming a dave ramsey disciple.

in the second article hanna rosin asks did christianity cause the crash? rosin's article specifically focuses on the influence that prosperity gospel churches have had upon first generation latino immigrants. her narrative points out that the largest concentration of new "prosperity gospel churches were build along the Sun Belt...all areas that were hard hit by the mortgage crisis." she goes on to note that "40 percent of all loans going to Latinos nationwide were subprime loans" and, perhaps more egregiously, "Latinos and African Americans were 28 percent and 37 percent more likely, respectively, to receive a higher-rate subprime loan than whites." based on those statistics alone, it is not surprising that "'hyper-segregated' urban communities were the worst off" when it came to home foreclosure crisis.

rosin's research is respectable and her portraits of the prosperity preachers - some of whom acted like absolute wolves throughout the crisis by taking cash kickbacks from mortgage officers for parishoner referrals or cutting out the middle man becoming bi-vocational a mortgage officer themselves - and their often earnest, God fearing parishoners were compelling. however, by the article's own note, only "50 of the largest 260 churches in the U.S." proclaim the prosperity gospel and i find it difficult to believe that these churches had an equal or greater influence on the crisis than the standard evangelical mega-churches which are often filled with aspirational middle-class congregants, conducted in highly leveraged buildings and hesitant to question our culture's economic mores.

i have no doubt that prosperity churches helped inflate the housing bubble, converted the few into nouveau riche and given false hope to many more. however, the evangelical church - of which i am a part" accounts for a far larger segment of our society (by some accounts 33 to 35% of the total population) and, i suspect, deserves a much larger portion of the blame for the economic downfall.


zapata said...

As somebody who attends a Latino pentecostal church in the sun belt, specifically the center of the bubble bust, a western suburb of Phoenix, I found the article right on point at many places. She strikes a nice balance of deep sympathy for immigrant aspiration and easy manipulation by predatory lenders. However, the vast majority of my latino, working class fellow church members are not feeling the same pinch as my mega-church attending neighbors and friends. I've puzzled over this a bit. I'm thinking that it might be because they did not overstretch on their home purchases to the same degree, rely on family networks to share the risk, and know how to fall back on hard work and a wide array of skills to cull together money in these tough times. Intriguingly, Marla Frederick ( and Peter Berger have challenged middle class evangelical critiques of pentecostal prosperity gospel churches (which are often, non-white and/or international) for not seeing the full orb of what these groups offer to poorer folks trying to make their way.

g13 said...

thanks for bringing up berger bran. insightful as always.

aaron said...

Is there evidence of anyone within these minority communities, who is of a different mind, e.g. another Gandhi, who sees the weaknesses of his people, and who makes it his business to combat that muddled way of thinking, that heresy?

g13 said...

i'm sure the contrarians are out there. i just don't know who they are.