EDMOND, Okla. — In a gloom-and-doom economy, Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey fashions himself as a prophet of hope.
Part stand-up comedian, part economics professor, Ramsey built a multimillion-dollar business by dispensing simple financial advice: Live on a budget. Don’t spend more than you make. Start an emergency fund.
Get out of debt and stay out of debt.
RNS photo by Erik Tryggestad
Christian financial expert Dave Ramsey prepares to address live simulcast near Oklahoma City, Okla., on April 23. His advice is gaining interest amid the economic crisis.
One of his favorite Scriptures is Proverbs 22:7: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”
Now, with the nation in what Ramsey characterizes as “complete freak-out mode” over the recession, the faith-based approach he touts seems to be resonating even more, he said.
“I would not say that business is booming during the recession, but this economic downturn has made people realize that now is the time to turn their financial life around,” the 48-year-old money-management expert said in an interview.
As evidence of the significant interest in the one-time bankrupt real estate salesman who turned around his financial life based on biblical principles, consider the scene at an Oklahoma City-area megachurch April 23.
About 1,500 people showed up at Life Church that evening to hear Ramsey give a history of capitalism and explain why he believes the economy will survive the current woes.
But the crowd that saw the syndicated talk-show host in person was far from alone.
His free, nationwide “Town Hall for Hope” meeting was simulcast live to more than 6,000 churches, businesses and military bases — 10 times more venues than Ramsey initially thought might participate, he said.
“The one thing America needs right now is hope,” Ramsey said. “All we’re hearing in the news is how bad things are, and no one is talking about hope for the future. The truth is, fear is running rampant in America today, and people are making bad decisions based on that fear.”
Ramsey said he almost bought into the fear himself. But then he prayed.
“I talked to my dad and the fear left me,” he said, referring to God. “Fear is not a fruit of the Spirit.”
Ramsey’s message: “Hope doesn’t come from Washington. Hope comes from you and me. Hope comes from God.”
Three times zones and roughly 3,900 miles from Oklahoma City, Ted Manolas and fellow church members watched Ramsey on big screens in Chugiak, Alaska, northeast of Anchorage.
“You could say that I’ve joined the Dave Ramsey cult,” joked Manolas, director of finance and administration at The Crossing Church at Birchwood, before the simulcast began.
As a result of Ramsey’s teachings, Manolas said, he paid off all his debts — including his home.
The Alaska church has taught Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University,” a 13-week video series, to more than 150 families, Manolas said.
Nationally, 750,000 families have completed the course, according to Lampo Group Inc., Ramsey’s Brentwood, Tenn.-based company, which has more than 200 employees.
Lampo is the Greek word for “light,” referring to the passage in the Gospel of Matthew calling for Christians not to hide their faith.
Ramsey’s fans — who swear off credit cards like alcoholics do beer — include listeners of his daily radio show carried by more than 400 stations and his nightly cable show on Fox Business.
Ramsey is not without his critics. Some financial experts take issue with what they consider to be his overly simplistic notion of becoming financially secure. Others question how he can charge people already in debt for most of his live events and online resources.
But Chris and Tami Burke of Edmond, Okla., said Ramsey’s common-sense approach helped them eliminate more than $23,000 in debt.
The advice they received from Ramsey was worth every cent, they said.
Now, the couple that attends Life Church drives used cars and gives more money to church.
“In the past, many people were just blowing and going, just spending a lot of money,” said Chris Burke, a hospital administrator who arrived more than an hour early to hear Ramsey speak. “Now, more than ever, you have companies downsizing and people losing their jobs. … So, now’s a better time than ever to really look at your finances and really buckle down.”
Organizers insisted that Ramsey’s 90-minute event was no political rally, nor an investment seminar.
Nonetheless, the self-proclaimed capitalist — an outspoken critic of the federal bailout of big business — spent considerable time railing against Washington politicians and offering his advice on everything from the real-estate market to the disadvantages of investing in gold.
Despite the serious subject matter, he sprinkled his comments with homespun humor.
“When things were going really good, any idiot could make money,” he said. “Even a turkey can fly in a tornado, y’all.”
Concerning President Obama’s call Thursday for a new credit-card law protecting consumers, Ramsey said he used “plastic surgery” to deal with the debt he racked up with Visa and MasterCard.
“I legislated the credit-card companies that were in my life with a pair of scissors,” he said.