The statistics in our country alone are downright terrifying. The Dow Jones average, or that time-honored average of 30 of the largest and most widely-held public companies on the stock exchange, is down 38% this year. It took me a week to gather up the courage to read our last Mutual Fund Retirement statement, and when I finally did I was shocked!
But at least I have a job. Thousands of people are losing their jobs these days. By the end of this year, it's expected that 1.2 million Americans will have lost their jobs in 2008. By the way, that's equal to the population of Dallas. Currently our national unemployment rate stands at six percent, and it's expected to rise to eight percent.
As Kelly King (member of FBC and prospective CEO of BB&T), explained to us last Wednesday night, a terribly dysfunctional housing market is at the heart of our economic crisis, and one result is that people are defaulting on their mortgages at record rates. In the month of October, one in every 452 housing units received a foreclosure filing such as a default notice, auction sale notice, or bank repossession.
At the same time, Kelly reminded us that we American consumers have been spending for more than we've made, and now the chickens are coming home to roost, big time. Americans are in $900 billion of collective debt, and the rate of credit card balances written off as unpaid is up almost 50 percent over this time last year.
Consequently, credit and cash flow have slowed to a trickle, and our economy is in free-fall. We're seeing things that we never thought we'd see. Like the failure of gold-plated institutions such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. And the bankruptcy of Circuit City. And closer to home, the recent takeover of Wachovia by Wells Fargo. And the potential failure of the "Big Three" automakers—GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
Meanwhile, our American government has struggled with responding to the crisis. Congress recently passed a $700 billion bailout plan, but the first model of that plan has already been scrapped. And it's not like the government is flush with cash—in fact, our government deficit will have increased by one trillion dollars by year's end. So far, our markets aren't impressed with our government's efforts, and despite occasional upturns, the Dow average just keeps dropping.
Retailers are predicting the worst Christmas shopping season in years. Churches are fearing that December offerings will be way off and virtually every charity and non-profit is belt-tightening for tough times ahead. Analysts vary on their predictions. Kelly King predicts a difficult recession for the next 12-24 months. And that's rosy compared to others.
What does all this mean? It means millions of Americans are at least privately asking themselves the following questions:
1) Will I lose my home?
2) Will I lose my job? And if I do, how will I provide for my family? And what will I do for health insurance?
3) Will I lose my retirement? And if my retirement funds get low enough, will I need to come out of retirement and go back to work?
4) At the very least, will I lose my standard of living?
What's the end result of questions like these? An epidemic of fear. Even Christians, and Christian churches are very, very afraid.
Fear, of course, is nothing new. Since our ancestors Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden out of fear, we humans have spent lots of time quivering in our corners, especially when two dynamics are in place at the same time—an increased sense of vulnerability, and a decreased sense of power. Right now, both these dynamics are working overtime in the USA.
That's why many of us are worried sick. But according to Jesus, there are at least two problems with worry. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says worrying about your life and possessions is pointless because it doesn't accomplish a thing. Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:27). Or for that matter, a single dollar to your bank account?
But even worse, chronic worry betrays something significant about Christ-followers—we don't really believe in the sustaining power of God in Jesus Christ. It shows we are "practical atheists" who say we believe in God, but when the chips are down really only believe in ourselves, our talents, our efforts. You see, how we as Christians respond to this economic crisis says far more about our faith than all our other words and actions put together.
So friends, I suggest that before we melt down along with our economy we all take a deep breath and mediate on scriptures like Psalm 27 …
David Hughes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He holds degrees from WakeForestUniversity, Princeton Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been a denominational leader, frequent speaker and published writer. He and his wife, Joani, have three children—Tim, Molly and Kevin.