Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Americans are Drowning in Debt. How can Adventists Make Sure They Stay Afloat?

Americans are Drowning in Debt. How can Adventists Make Sure They Stay Afloat?

Story by Sam Belony

In April National Public Radio reported on its Morning Edition news program that college debt is the number-one concern for nearly two-thirds of the Millennial generation. With the economy sputtering in the slow lane, CNN Money reported in 2013 that more than 36 percent of recent college graduates work in jobs that do not require a college degree while they leave school with more than $35,000 in debt. But, Millennials aren’t the only ones who worry about financial obligations.

The American debt picture is grim. According to the New York Times, Americans owe $863 billion in auto loans. The Associated Press reported in February that we owe credit card companies more than $854 billion. Mortgage debt stands at $7.9 trillion, student loans have topped $1 trillion and total consumer indebtedness has reached a whopping $11.5 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2013, stated the Federal Reserve in its quarterly report this past February. What seems to be raising even more concerns is the direction of the trends.

The Federal Reserve report shows that consumer debt has grown 36 percent in the last 10 years, a rise of about $3 trillion since 2004. reports that about 14 percent of the average consumer’s family income goes toward debt payment. USA Today recently found that, while fewer Americans now have debt—69 percent in 2011 compared to 74 percent in 2000—those with debt carry 40 percent more of it! Meanwhile, according to a recent survey, the number of people who can afford to pay their obligations continues to drop.

Here is the bad news: the picture is not so different for Seventh-day Adventist Christians.

A Look in the Mirror

Roland J. Hill, DMin, senior pastor of Allegheny East Conference’s (AEC) First church in Washington, D.C., is the author of Wealth: It’s in Your Worship Not Your Works and several other books. He believes that Adventists carry the same debt burden as the general population. “From my years of doing ‘How to Get Out of Debt’ presentations around the world, the statistics among Seventh-day Adventists mirror what’s in the general society,” says Pastor Hill.

G. Edward Reid, JD, agrees. He is former director of stewardship for the North American Division (NAD) and has studied considerably the subjects of money management and eschatology. Reid is the author of several books, including Adventist Book Center bestsellers It’s Your Money, Isn’t It?, Even at the Door and Ready or Not.

While Reid believes that Adventists are “generally more affluent because of the emphasis in the church on education,” he admits that, unfortunately, we have also fallen into the trap of accumulating mountains of debt. “I do not have any hard statistical data, but having conducted hundreds of financial seminars and counseled with many people, the evidence points to a considerable amount of debt held by our church members.”

Debt’s Impact

There are several reasons why Adventists should avoid debt. First, it makes financial sense. “Whenever I get into debt, it really is spending money I don’t have on things that have drawn my power and my eyesight—and it just takes you down the road to materialism,” says John Matthews, NAD’s current director of stewardship.\

Reid believes that the way people manage their finances reflects on their stress level, quality of family life, stability in marriage and career success. “Debt limits how we can spend our leisure time, what kind of life we live and what kind of retirement we will have,” he says. “Debt and its resulting bankruptcy have drastically changed the American financial picture. When families learn to live within their income, they will have a much more satisfying life.”

There are also other corollaries. “If a person is in debt, it does have a spiritual impact because you have this financial stress that affects your spiritual and emotional well-being. To be debt-free is to live free,” says Leonel Pottinger, director of stewardship for the New Jersey Conference.

Norman K. Miles, PhD, agrees. He is the pastor of AEC’s Trinity Temple in Newark, N.J., and former president of the Lake Region Conference. Pastor Miles has burned the mortgages of three churches over the course of his career. “I think that if people have too much debt and are not able to carry [it], they become worried and they can’t focus on spiritual things,” he says.

Debt impacts people’s ability to be good stewards. “By not controlling your debt, your stewardship is sloppy. You cannot be a good steward if you go with uncontrolled debt,” states Matthews.

Pastor Hill adds, “The Bible encourages us to serve only one master. When one is in debt, he’s suddenly enslaved to the lender; that’s what the Scripture says. So, if we’re going to be true followers of Christ, we need to ask God to free us from the slave master of debt.”

Add new comment