Meet Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey, minus the faith

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A decade ago, as a Tennessee-based religion and enterprise writer for The Associated Press, I profiled Dave Ramsey.

I opened my 2003 story this way:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A chorus of cheers filled the Cornerstone Church’s arena-style sanctuary as Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey snapped a pair of metal scissors.

The crowd squealed with delight as Ramsey sliced a credit card in half.

“It’s called plastic surgery,” joked Ramsey, whose syndicated radio talk show airs daily on 160 stations.

Ramsey, 42, spent the past decade building a multimillion-dollar business by dispensing to the masses simple financial principles: Live on a budget. Don’t spend more than you make. Start an emergency fund. Get out of debt and stay out of debt.

It’s advice people crave. His financial how-to books have sold 2 million copies. “Financial Peace University,” a 13-week video series offered at churches, military bases and offices, will reach an estimated 75,000 people in 2003. And he’s written a money management curriculum used at 250 high schools.

I wrote about Ramsey again in 2009, covering his appearance at an Oklahoma City megachurch for Religion News Service.

Again, Ramsey’s faith figured prominently in my story:

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 on Thursday (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.”

The private company that Ramsey founded in 1992 is called The Lampo Group. Lampo is the Greek word for “light” as referenced in Matthew 5 of the New Testament. If you go to the “About Dave” page at DaveRamsey.com, Ramsey touts The Lampo Group’s mission statement as not just lip service but the company’s mantra:

 ”The Lampo Group, Inc. is providing biblically based, common-sense education and empowerment which gives HOPE to everyone from the financially secure to the financially distressed.”

After that long-winded introduction, here’s my question for GetReligion readers: Would it be possible for a major newspaper to profile Ramsey without mentioning his Christian faith? Until a couple of weeks ago, my answer would have been an emphatic no. Then I came across a profile that — amazingly — accomplished that feat. (Talk about a holy ghost!)

Would you believe that said faithless profile appeared in Ramsey’s hometown newspaper, The Tennessean? Written by a reporter who normally covers the music industry, the story avoids any mention of religion. The top of the report:

When Sarah, a 28-year-old Atlanta woman, found out that her parents had forged her signature to receive a student loan, she called someone she trusted for advice on how to clear her name.

“Is there any way I can get my name taken off of this?” Sarah asked.

Exasperated, the voice on the other end of the line responded, “Good gosh. Financial child abuse.” The speaker told Sarah to file a police report if her parents didn’t repair the damage in a month.

It’s that kind of tough love, mixed with familial nurturing, mixed with financial advice, that people like Sarah, a recent caller into “The Dave Ramsey Show,” have come to expect over the past two decades from the voice on the other end of the line, show namesake and financial guru Dave Ramsey.

More than 8 million people tune in every week to hear the Brentwood-based radio personality dole out homespun financial advice, the kind prudent grandmothers gave and that generations built on credit have ignored.

Tough love. Familial nurturing. Homespun financial advice. But no biblical principles?

Ramsey has been known to quip, “Stupid is not illegal.” I won’t characterize The Tennessean’s exclusion of religion from this profile as stupid. It may just be that I’m not smart enough to understand it.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Cheryl Bacon

    This really doesn’t surprise me. I completed the Financial Peace class at church a few years ago and on occasion have heard his radio show. The videos made virtually no religious references and I can’t recall hearing any on his radio programs, though I’m not a regular listener by any stretch. I think those who know the inside of Ramsey’s story can’t help but know its spiritual background. But my sense is that Ramsey has opted to “mainstream” in the same way that many Christian music artists have done. He’s taken his message and principles public for financial gain and taken the principles with them, but doesn’t name them as Christian. That’s not intended as criticism. He still does a great deal of good. But as a casual listener to Ramsey who is probably fairly typical of the bulk of his audience I just haven’t gotten a lot of religion from him.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      Thanks, Cheryl. Good analysis.

      I can’t imagine, however, that a newspaper would write about a Christian music artist who has gone “mainstream” without mentioning the Christian roots. (Then again …)

      It’s interesting that Ramsey “declined to be interviewed for this report.” That makes me wonder how the story was pitched to his PR people since I’ve never known Lampo to be shy about free publicity. But I haven’t paid much attention to him in recent years (except for chuckling at his commercials claiming a $5 Little Caesar’s pizza can feed a family of four), so maybe that’s changed.

  • http://www.muchmorethanwords.com Eric

    Yes, it’s true that Ramsey’s show is mostly secular. But when the main product that Ramsey sells on his own website is one that is one that “teaches God’s ways of handling money,” it would seem that it his religious views would kind of hard to not mention. Look, it’s a 1,500 word story — can you imagine writing a 1,500-word feature on either Tim Tebow or Rick Santorum without out least pointing out a religious connection to his career?

    The theme of the story is how Ramsey has been “building a varied and recognizable brand.” His evangelical Christianity is a part of that brand. The omission couldn’t be more glaring.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      Thanks, Eric. I tend to agree that the omission is glaring.

  • John M.

    How many people do any of us know who say “good gosh”? That’s a giant religion ghost floating in the middle of this story.

    -John

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      John,

      I know a bunch of people who say “good gosh.” Of course, I live in Oklahoma. :-)

      • Jerry

        “good grief” is more common in my neck of the woods. But how about “gee willikers”? :-)

        • Bobby Ross Jr.

          Ha! Works for me, Jerry.

  • Bob Smietana

    Hi Bobby:
    The story on Ramey was a followup to the news that Ramsey has switch to a new radio station in Nashville, leaving the station where his career. It’s big business news here in town, hence the profile from a fine business reporter, Jaquetta White.
    We’ve certainly covered Ramsey’s faith before. He does not, as a matter of policy, talk to the Tennessean. It has to do with a dispute over his former column at the paper, which ended some years back.

  • John M.

    Bobby,

    How many of them are Christians of one variety or another?

    -John

  • http://catherineguiles.com Cathy G.

    Thanks for the background information, Bob!
    But I still think Bobby raises some good points – and I wonder if Dave has kept his business independent in part because of his faith, so he can talk about it without corporate interference.
    (For the record, I’ve taken FPU and have also written about Dave.)

  • MJBubba

    I hear Dave Ramsey’s show about an hour each month (a reasonable sampling), typically in five or ten minutes of drive time. Only one sample in ten will deliver an explicitly Christian reference. On the few occasions when I catch an entire show, I can say that there are at least three references to Jesus Christ, and D. Ramsey frequently applies the title “Prince of Peace.”
    Financial Peace University is a canned program that is frequently used by church groups, and it is marketed to church groups, and it includes explicitly Christian references regarding stewardship of the gifts that God has entrusted to us.
    So, yeah, that element is a ghost. Of course, the Tennessean circulates in a world where every literate person has heard about Dave Ramsey, so I don’t fault them for running one story that doesn’t fill in the Christian aspect.


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