Landlord Ramsey: making Jesus look good?

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Every now and then it’s a good to hear a different perspective and get a reality check. That’s especially true for Christ followers. We need to stop believing our own hype and have a fresh look at ourselves from an outsider’s view. Might get us thinking: Are we good or bad witnesses for Christ?

I was flipping though the radio stations yesterday afternoon while driving and happened upon a radio program, The D.L. Hughley Radio Show. This is not Christian radio. It opened a window onto how the world views the “evangelical” brand.

Hughley, a standup comedian, may be irreverent but he is perceptive.

He was sharing comments from nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dave Ramsey, whose para-church radio program focuses on “financial freedom,” about raising rents at his rental properties to a level tenants may not be able to pay, effectively rendering them homeless in winter in a pandemic.

Ramsey, known as an evangelical Christian, is quoted as saying: “And if I raised my rent to be market rate that does not make me a bad Christian. I did not displace the person out of that house if they can no longer afford it.”

Hughley didn’t say whether, in his opinion, Ramsey’s actions made him a “bad” Christian. Hughley did say he wasn’t surprised by Ramsey’s words, that they embody everything he thinks about “American Evangelical Christians.” These people lack compassion, he said. They care more about wealth than humanity. They count it a “blessing” to profit at the expense of others.

His co-host provided a bit of context: most people get into property rental to make money, not to provide charity. It’s business. In Houston, she noted, rents are market-driven and routinely increase with a new lease. You pay or you move.

Hughley said he got that. But he posed a question: Aren’t Christians supposed to be different? Hughley said he knows people who don’t even “do a deity,” who think this is morally wrong, who just don’t think this is something you should do to people.

Hughley has something there. Yes, landlords raise rents. It is the way of the world. And the Bible tells Christ followers:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

In contrast, Ramsey sounds like Cain repudiating any responsibility for his brother Abel’s welfare: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

To be sure, there is no law against raising rents. Rental property is a for-profit business unless someone decides to make it a ministry. There’s nothing wrong with making an honest profit. But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Those who have chosen to follow Christ are called to live by a different standard.

The Apostle Paul wrote: “Everything is lawful but not everything is beneficial. Everything is lawful but not everything builds others up. Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person.” I Corinthians 10:23-24 (NET)

The question isn’t whether Ramsey is a “good” or “bad” Christian. Our actions reveal our true loyalties. Do we serve God or riches? Do we honor God or dishonor Him?

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him.” (Proverbs 14:31)