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Lisa Keister has scanned the Bible and found nearly 2,000 verses in the New Testament that touch on the topic of money. It's those very verses that may be keeping many conservative Protestants from building up long-term wealth, she says.

Jesus warned his followers not to "store up for yourselves treasures on Earth," and later cautioned that it will be "hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven." Perhaps the best known is the admonition that "the love of money is the root of all evil."

According to data analyzed by Keister, a Duke University sociologist, the median net worth for conservative Protestants in 2000 was $26,000, compared to the national median of $66,200.

Why the gap? Keister says it may all come down to theology.

"The one big difference is the conservative Protestants' assumption that God is the owner of money and people are managers of it," Keister said. "They are doing with their money what God wants them to do with it, so that does mean that it is not sitting in their bank accounts."

Keister says a typical "conservative Protestant" might be a member of the Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, Nazarene and Pentecostal churches.

Keister's new article in the American Journal of Sociology, "Conservative Protestants and Wealth: How Religion Perpetuates Asset Poverty," argues that traditional views of money — it's God's, not ours — keep many Protestants from building a financial safety net.

While some struggle to build up their bank accounts, others, like Anne Thompson of Louisville, Ky., choose to give it all away in order to pursue what they see as God's plan for their lives.

Thompson, 43, gave up a six-figure salary in 2002 and quit her job to follow God's call to impact popular culture with a ...

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April 2008

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