When I was a girl, my mother told me one should never discuss four things in polite company: religion, politics, sex, and money.
As my mother recited the list to me, I asked, "But why? Why can't we talk about these things?" She replied, "Because they are personal, these are things that are most important to us. People disagree on them. So, you shouldn't talk about them."
In recent years, Americans have pretty much dismissed mom's advice. In the media, in church, in workplaces, and schools, people talk about controversial subjects all the time-often combining once verboten topics in the same sentence.
That is, except for money.
Money remains the great untouchable subject. Especially in church. Every minister I know dreads the yearly stewardship campaign. For most people, money is a deeply private subject, one not to be shared-under any circumstances-with our neighbors, fellow churchgoers, or even family.
Beyond privacy, however, I've always harbored a suspicion that American Christians don't readily discuss money because we might betray the fact that capitalism is really an alternative God. And, that pretty much on a regular basis, we violate the first commandment, "Do not have any gods before me."
The economic mess isn't just a problem of Wall Street, it is also a problem on Church Street. Regular people enabled some of the current crisis because we consider money private, a god even, and an untouchable subject that we want our pastors to skirt. Churches are, sadly, complicit in this-often because we have benefited by the largess of systemic greed that seemed far from us. If we used the money for good, what did we care from whence it came?
But pastors get fired if they broach these issues. I can count the number of good sermons I've heard on this subject on one hand. But the very best was just last night-the word preached by Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.
Watch the whole thing. I wonder if he'd preach the stewardship sermon this year at my church?