Across America, hundreds of thousands are walking away from their homes-unable to make mortgage payments. Defaults and foreclosures are skyrocketing, as housing prices continue to decline. As a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the economy is being hammered, credit markets around the world shaken. Before it is over, sub-prime defaults may reach two to three hundred billion dollars, and trillions may be taken out of the economy.
Few of us will escape the repercussions-which leads to at least one important challenge: How do Christians behave in tough times?
If you believe the "prosperity gospel" preachers, you need not worry; just pray, and God will shower you with blessings. Too many believers (like the rest of the culture) equate Christianity with the good life and the blessings of consumerism. Clearly, we have forgotten that Christianity has always been countercultural, thriving not in times of great prosperity, but in times of moral or economic bankruptcy.
For example, after the barbarians sacked ancient Rome, missionary monks from Ireland saved Western civilization, establishing monasteries, copying and preserving the Bible and other classic works.
Then, as I have written in my new book, The Faith, there is the example of the Christians in the third-century Rome, when plagues swept through the cities. The wealthy, including doctors, escaped to their country estates, abandoning the poor to their fate. But Christians, who believed each human is made in God's image, risked their own lives to care for the sick. Many succumbed to the plagues themselves — but the Church grew strong on the witness of their sacrifice.
The result was that Christianity became the faith of the Holy Roman Empire, not because Constantine wanted it to, but because he could not resist it. Roman women flooded to Christianity because the Church gave them the dignity and respect due children of God — something pagan Rome denied them. And the same thing is happening today in the global South, where women are flocking to Christianity because church leaders are convincing men to stop spending their time in bars and stay home.
The sub-prime mortgage crisis happened in large measure through moral failures. Wall Street invented mortgage-backed securities, which meant lenders could pass the risk of mortgages to anonymous investors. Mortgage lenders, who should have known better but were greedy for high commissions, lent money to people with shaky credit; house prices kept soaring, so it did not matter. Investors and lenders got wildly rich. Then the bubble burst.
In the wake of the crisis, some of our neighbors are going to lose their homes, and all of us are going to see our homes decrease in value. A failing economy affects millions more.
Christians should view these tragic events as a chance to demonstrate the compassion of the Church, helping neighbors who may have lost everything. We ought to be a witness to the world that when times get tough, Christians can be counted on to be merciful. Remember the Church in Acts 4: Members shared everything with others in need.
The sad fact of human nature is that many of us never seek God until a crisis is upon us. Right now, there are millions of Americans staring down the barrel of financial ruin. When they ask where is God in all of this, I hope they will see Him in the loving acts of the body of Christ.