Monday, November 26, 2012

Report: American Materialism Lives! (But Will Freer Holiday Wallets Lead to More Charitable Giving?)

Apparently American materialism has not died, and neither has our penchant for extreme shopping. 

According to CNN,  
"Customers flocked in to early store openings on Thanksgiving day to scoop up 'doorbuster' deals. A record 247 million shoppers visited stores and websites in the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday weekend this year, up 9% from 226 million last year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation released Sunday."(1)
And we are not just window shopping either!

We are throwing down credit cards and greenbacks at record levels. The article continues, "Individual shoppers also shelled out more money -- spending $423 this weekend, up from $398 last year. Total spending over the four-day weekend reached a record $59.1 billion, a 13% increase from $52.4 billion last year."

Up 13 percent? That's pretty hopeful for an economy that has been teetering on the brink of red-ink chaos for several years. But it does make me wonder--will giving to local Bible-believing churches rise by the same amounts?

As a pastor who is interested in cultural mega-trends, I cannot help but toss out a few wild conjectures about the possible meaning of this data. (Remember: I'm a pastor not an economist!).

First, this makes be wonder if Americans are really as terrified about the dire economic news as we seem. If fiscal conservativism is the flavor of the month, that objective seems to fly out the window when it comes time to buy the newest gadgets, toys, and technology for ourselves and our children.

Perhaps we rationalize exorbitant spending this time of year by our irrepressible quest to give our families the same kind of Christmas morning that we have grown accustomed to in the past. 

Secondly--and I confess this is conjecture at best--but I doubt our looser wallets will translate into more charitable giving in the pews of our Bible-believing churches. I cannot be sure, but at this point in the church fiscal year, I certainly would not project that church giving and tithing will be up by a similar 13% margin during November or December. Giving seems to be the last aspect of our economy to recover during times of recession.

When pressed, most Christians are still not comfortable giving and tithing at the same rates that the were before the so-called "Great Recession" began. Many feel in their hearts that they ought to be able to regain the ground they lost in investments and real estate before they can give at the same levels that they did before the housing bubble burst. But is this death-clutch on our tithing envelopes during times of economical duress Biblical?

This leads me to my final point. Many American Christians will likely NOT raise their giving by the same percentage as their spending, because our giving records are one of the most transparent views into our true values and priorities. 

Here's where it gets scary: our tithing reflects our true confidence in God's sovereign rule over our lives. Deep down, many of us are afraid that if we give away too much, we may be making a poor strategic financial move that we will regret later.

It may not be possible to diagnose exactly why American Christians give what we give (and cling to what we cling to). Some of our motives are deceitful even to ourselves. But there is one relatively sure way to evaluate the priorities of a man's heart: simply examine his checkbook.

No matter how much we may deny it, we use our money to glorify those priorities which are truly highest to us. For some, that is unbridled materialism. For others, it is the Kingdom of Christ.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

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