It Takes More Than a Recession to End Consumption
Investing in your best
Of course, this could simply be the death rattle of Americans' consumption habit. Nouriel Roubini, a Columbia University economist who predicted the market crash and the following recession, now says, "Things are going to be awful for everyday people. U.S. GDP growth is going to be negative through the end of 2009. And the recovery in 2010 and 2011, if there is one, is going to be so weak — with a growth rate of 1 percent to 1.5 percent — that it's going to feel like a recession."
Who knows, really, what the economic future holds? But of all the corrections needed — balancing the trade deficit, the budget deficit, consumer debt, and Wall Street excess — perhaps the biggest overdue bill is the idea that life isn't about "stuff."
It's encouraging to see churches, many of whom are themselves struggling, stepping up to care for those outside the congregation. In fact, says Allen Walworth, president of Generis, a church fundraising consulting group, "Churches that give themselves away and are clear that's what they're about find a much more resilient and committed support pool." On the other hand, he told the Los Angeles Times, "If a church just seems to be serving itself and protecting itself, it's going to fall off pretty quickly when people are making their own hard choices ."
I remember being in Seoul in October 2005 for Christianity Today. Churches there were still recovering from the Asian financial crisis of 1997. A pastor told me that when the country's currency collapsed, missionaries were forced to take a much-reduced level of support from their churches. Congregations were suffering from unemployment, so sending missionaries was doubly taxing — churches had more difficulty raising money, and that money didn't go nearly as far in overseas currencies. Still, this pastor said, the church doubled its missionary support, and missionaries accepted the reduced converted currency.
Investors say they make their money in bear markets. When money is tight, you focus on your best investments, which pay off in the following bull market. Churches have the opportunity, and it seems they're taking it up to do the same, focusing on what they do best — loving God and loving their neighbors.
Rob Moll is a Christianity Today editor at large.
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CT's earlier articles on consumerism include:
Buy to Be, Be to Buy | Sure, consumerism is bad. But we need to think about why. (Sept. 26, 2008)
Why the Devil takes VISA | A Christian response to the triumph of consumerism. (October 7, 1996)
Consuming Passions | One man's testimony from the First Great Mammon Awakening. (July 9, 2001)
Christmas Unplugged | Why spending less and turning off TV should be part of the church's mission to the world. (Dec. 9, 1996)
The Bobo Future | "Bourgeois bohemians" wield inordinate power over how we think about consumerism, morality—and faith itself. (July 25, 2000)
Trapped in the Cult of the Next Thing | If ever there was a cult that gave us stones when we asked for bread, this is it. (Sept. 6, 1999)
Keeping Up with the Amish | We evangelicals have made a too-easy peace with the inroads of consumer culture. (Oct. 4, 1999)
Shopping for the Real Me | Why nothing ever quite fits right. (Nov. 15, 1999)