Is the financial collapse a sign of moral collapse?

Conservative evangelicals believe that the crisis on Wall Street is the direct result of the moral crisis on Main Street.

Ed Stoddard, writing for Reuters, explains:

The narrative goes roughly like this: the “collapse” of the traditional family, widespread divorce and a “permissive” culture have led to a disregard for personal responsibility.

A culture focused on instant gratification — through the overuse of credit cards to buy consumer goods, for example — has also lost other “traditional values” such as thrift and hard work.

“You can’t have a strong, vibrant society when you don’t have strong, vibrant families. It’s a crisis of commitment, it’s a crisis of responsibility,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobby group with strong evangelical ties.

“If you don’t live up to your responsibility you are going to see that in the broader culture. You see this on Wall Street,” he told Reuters.

It is a view that has been echoed by other conservative commentators, on Christian radio stations and on popular “Talk Radio” programs.

“To spend more than you’ve got is not the way we brought up our kids … You have a whole credit industry that grew up around people wanting what their parents had without working 20 years to get it,” said Gary Ledbetter, spokesman for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

The immediate significance of this narrative may show up in the House of Representatives on Friday when they vote on the latest version of the financial “bailout/rescue” package passed by the Senate last night.

The next place this narrative may show up is in the voting booth. It remains unclear how conservative Christians and evangelical Protestants will react to McCain’s support of the package, even though they’ve been energized by his pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Tying “values” to economic problems is one way that religious conservatives can keep some focus on the “culture” issues they have long fought over as public attention is riveted on Wall Street, job security and house prices.

Upholding “traditional” values which they say have been under assault since the 1960s informs much of their outlook, ranging from their opposition to abortion and gay rights to a professed aversion to heavy debt loads.

“Although debt is not a sin, it also is not a normal way of life, according to Scripture … debt is a dangerous tool that must be used, if at all, with extreme caution and much prayer,” says the conservative evangelical advocacy group “Focus on the Family” on its web site.

While, at first blush, it may appear that the narrative of moral decay leading to credit frenzy appears to co-exist nicely with the views of, say, the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is not so simple. Long ago, these same preachers conflated their theology with a politics that valued deregulation and embraced unfettered capitalism.

“Essentially the Christian Right did not do serious biblical reflection on economics, it just borrowed its model from the Republicans,” said David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta.

“Conservative Christians who accepted the unregulated free market ethos must bear some of the responsibility for its consequences,” said Gushee.

Washington Post: Evangelicals see moral decline in Wall St. woes.

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