It's Time To Break the Money Taboo

The Bible has plenty to say about money. Why are pastors and religious communities silent about it?

(RNS) It's time to break the money taboo. The fact that we can't talk about our finances is getting us into trouble. Even in supportive religious communities, the taboo is so strong that our money matters are very rarely discussed.

I interviewed a family living in the suburbs of Orlando, Fla., who had gotten into nearly $100,000 of credit card debt and were driven into bankruptcy. They were too ashamed to tell any friends or family of their trauma. Even worse, they felt they couldn't confide in their pastor or any of the other couples in their close-knit weekly Bible study group. "We don't want to be viewed differently," the wife told me.

Their self-imposed isolation made the experience worse than it had to be. The family was sure they were the only ones in their community that had gotten into unmanageable debt and gone bankrupt. That only compounded their shame and loneliness.

The reality is that for every two couples who've gotten divorced in the past year, three families have gone bankrupt. Yet we can't tell who the latter are. We're too secretive about anything to do with money -- and not just debt and difficulties, but also wealth.

Psychologists call money "the last taboo" because it is so rarely discussed even in therapy. Yet as one psychologist put it, "The money taboo is a serious psychological problem because, though we do not talk freely about money, it is of major concern to almost everybody in America.


Spiritual advisers don't get closer to our money issues than psychologists do. They hear many details of people's private lives, but congregants are usually silent about their money concerns. "They'd be much more prone to discuss any issue or problem than their finances," says the Rev. Stephen Bauman of Christ Church United Methodist in New York City.

A sermon that talks about personal finance -- or even the taboo itself -- is rare. Why? The Bible itself doesn't treat money as a taboo subject.

Scripture has plenty to say about wealth, poverty, making money, giving it away, what is virtuous about having money, and also how love of it can be our downfall. Bauman reports that one-sixth of Jesus' words recounted in is the Gospels address money. Only the Kingdom of God, he says, is a more popular topic.

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Shira Boss
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