While minding my own business this morning I saw an email alert show up in my inbox about Dave Ramsey. Now, I know about Dave and his show. I can’t say I’ve read any of his books or watched any of his videos. I’ve certainly not sent him any money in the past (that would be as futile as buying a lottery ticket in my book), but the fact that he popped up caught my eye.
To be honest, I thought the report would say that he died from COVID. But, that was not the case. Actually, the alert was about a comment he made on his show. He basically stated that it was not “unchristian” for a Christian landlord to raise the rent on their tenant even if it meant the tenant would be displaced from the property.
I had to think about it for a moment, but I knew almost immediately that I wanted to write a post about his comment and explore the subject a little bit more. For one reason, I had the opportunity in the past (and still do really) to become a landlord and I chose not to And, second, I’ve struggled with business in the past because I’m a Christian. I’ve also struggled with other businesses that market their products or services to the Christian community yet either are not Christians themselves (though they play themselves off as being so) or claim to be Christian yet ethically they are no different than any other secular business out there.
So, let’s dig in and discuss the ethics of real estate and more specifically being both a landlord and a Christian (since there really is no such thing as a “Christian Landlord”).
As usual, you can check out all of my research and my assignments for my Unschooled Master of Theology Program by clicking on the link provided.
How to Base Rent
I personally own two properties. I owned another house with my now ex wife several years ago and we also rented three houses during our marriage. My current properties are a house in town and then a recreational property on a lake not far from my house. I purchased the house shortly after my divorce and then purchased the lake property after I paid off my house.
Originally I had intended on developing the lake property to retire on and then would either rent out the house in town or sell it out right and use the equity to retire. I remember agonizing over renting out my house. I’ve even considered finding a roommate to share my house with. Just one would allow me enough money to retire today and then I could still live in the house and use the lake property whenever I wanted. I could travel. I could do anything, really.
But, in the end, I recognized I did not have the stomach for being a landlord. But, as I read this article and listened to Dave’s explanation, I started to ask some interesting questions about what it means to actually “be” a Christian.
He argues that rent should be based on a property’s market value and not the tenant’s ability to pay. He goes on to say that real estate and rental properties are primarily a means of building wealth and that if the tenant cannot afford the increase in rent the problem lies in the tenant’s inability to generate more income, not in the landlord’s decision to raise rent.
He specifically argues, “I did not displace the person out of that house, if they can no longer afford it. The marketplace did; the economy did,”
This is, of course, wildly incorrect. It is an attempt to obfuscate the situation and avoid the blame which rightfully rests on his shoulders. The issue is more complicated than what he spells out here. The issue is not whether the tenant can pay. It is the conscience of the landlord.
In the days of the Judges and according to the Law, the wealthy landowner had the right to pass through their crops only one time. There was no maximizing profits in Israel. Once they had their one pass through the field, the rest was left to the poor and helpless in the community. By law. What businessmen like Dave often forget is that the law of Christ is much more severe than the Law of Moses ever could be. That is because the Law of Moses dealt with “deeds” while the Law of Christ deals with the heart.
It is not adequate for the Christian landlord to say, “the market allows me to raise the rent so I’m raising the rent” because there is a command in the New Testament that states unequivocally the landlord’s responsibility to others before themselves, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Ga 6:2) and “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).
It is not good enough as a Christian to do the same as the rest of the fallen world. Just because the “market” says this is what you should do, or this is how much you should charge, does not mean the Christian is exempt from the call of Christ. The pursuit of profits solely for themselves or to enrich oneself is in the Bible unilaterally condemned (Proverbs 28:20; 1 Timothy 6:10; Matthew 6:19-21).
As a Christian the landlord is obligated to do more than what a secular landlord is obligated to do (who is controlled only by the law of the land). If the tenant is also a Christian, the landlord is doubly obligated.
Not only does the landlord have to consider his own motives for raising the rent, but he also has to consider the motives of his tenant and the wellbeing of his tenant. He has to consider what consequences his actions will have on his tenant. Why? Because the landlord is a Christian. He is obligated to not only look out for his own interest (which seems to be the real extent of Dave’s motives here), but also to look out for the interest and wellbeing of his tenant. I’m sorry to say, but a Christian who becomes a landlord has a fiduciary responsibility to his tenant above and beyond what would be normally considered obligatory of a landlord who was not a Christian.
Dave claims that he isn’t the one displacing the tenant if he raises his rent. But this is not the case if the tenant could pay the previous rent he was paying, but the raise in rent effectively displaced him. The Christian landlord has to take this into consideration.
Christ judges the hearts of men. If the landlord raises the rent because his overhead costs went up and he can’t afford to keep the property without raising the rent, then the Christian is justified in doing so. But, if raising the rent means displacing the tenant or keeping the rent the same results in a minor inconvenience to the landlord’s bottom line, the Christian landlord is obligated to side with what is in the best interest of the tenant, and especially so if the tenant is also a Christian for we are to bear one another’s burdens.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. The law of Christ is clear. The Christian landlord must die to himself for he is obligated to do good as a sacrificial servant.
The Biblical Examples
We see this throughout the New Testament, especially in the beginning of the Church. It was not a “group” founded on capitalism, where individual rights to pursue profits reigned supreme (like it does in American Christianity today). They were a communal group, sharing all their possessions (Acts 4:32). This, unfortunately, seemed to have died out relatively quickly after Jesus’ death. By the time Paul wrote his letters it seemed as if the “church service” had replaced the “church collective.”
But, Paul was still clear. The body of Christ was one body with many members, all working together for the good and benefit and building up of that one body (Eph 4:11-16).
Likewise, we see the severity of what happened to individuals who sought their own good rather than the good of the group (Acts 5:1-6). We can also see this in the account of Lazarus and the Rich Man. The two lives were diametrically opposed to one another, though it is clear from the account that the life Lazarus received was in the sphere of influence of the Rich Man while he was alive. As Abraham argues, “in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented” (Lu 16:25). How much would it have cost the Rich Man to have picked up Lazarus from his gate (surely he saw the poor fellow whenever he came and went from his house) and clean him up and feed and clothe him and provide for his well being? Would it have bankrupted the Rich Man?
The same can most often be said of the landlord who justifies himself in raising the rent on his tenant (who subsequently is put out onto the street). Yet the landlord then sells his own home for 10 million dollars (oh, yeah, that’s how much Dave sold his home for recently).
This is the problem (and why Jesus concluded it was hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God). The actions of the landlord impact him by a little (increases his bottom line) while the impact of his actions on his tenant transform his tenant’s life and often the lives of his tenant’s family too.
The Real Issues is About Masters
Boiling it down, the real issue is about who serves what master. Jesus stated unequivocally, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” (Lu 16:13). More to the point, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
The “Christian Landlord” is divided in who he serves. He has to make a decision on which master he will love and which one he will hate in every decision he makes concerning his business. Is he chasing after money? Is his motives directed inwardly, toward his own affairs? After all, he’s a businessman, right? This is what Dave would have you believe. But it is wrong for the Christian.
Motives matter. Some people become landlords because they inherited property. Some stumbled into it because they were lucky. Others were sound business people. Some are unscrupulous slum lords who equate a tenant with the amount of money they can squeeze out of them. But, despite how they because a landlord the landlord who is also a Christian is held to a higher standard and will be judged (by God) based not on what everyone else was doing but based on what the Law of Christ requires of them (and it is much more than anything the secular law of the land demands or what the Mosaic Law required).
The problem in western culture is viewing oneself as a capitalist over a Christian or thinking you as an individual deserve wealth simply because you are successful in the artificial system that has really only been around for the last 100 years (really only the last 30-40).
Those who are successful people, who are wealthy people and who happen to also be Christian are in for a shock. You will be judged by God with greater severity than the poor and destitute Christian who lives across town from you in the projects (or who rents one of your houses). You will not only be judged by the same measure the poor Christian is judged by, but you will also be judged by what you did with the resources God gave you. Over the years of watching people with wealth, I’ve come to the conclusion, more often than not, money is given to people to condemn them and not as a help.
Another Example with Logos Software
This topic is similar to a discussion I had not long ago concerning Logos Bible Software, or more specifically, the company (Faithlife) that makes it.
If you base it on any of it’s marketing material or word of mouth from it typical user, Faithlife is a “Christian ministry” or “Christian company” that specializes in digital software and content that “helps” believers study the Bible. Unfortunately, the reality of this company is NOT Christian, it is a western capitalist company that operates just like any other secular company in the US or elsewhere in the western world.
The problem I have, though, is Faithlife (or at least its founder and managers) claim to be Christian themselves. My argument is, the fact that they claim to be Christian means they have an additional fiduciary responsibility to “all Christians” in the body of Christ. This means they are obligated to provide for the well-being of their Christian brother over their own profit margins and over their own well being. They are called by Christ to serve the body and not themselves.
Unfortunately, Faithlife over-prices their products by using a pricing strategy that is pretty typical in business. By increasing profits way over what can be afforded by most Christians, they market their products for affluent Christians and then from time to time discount their products for the masses. Unfortunately, even the discounted prices are not affordable by most Christians.
This is, inherently, not good or bad. It is simply a pricing strategy targeting affluent westerners because that is where the money is, this core group of customers are willing to pay, and it allows the stakeholders at Faithlife to make a profit.
But, they are not obligated to just affluent Christians simply because they (the owners/operators) claim to be Christians. It is within their means to offer packages that can be for the benefit of the masses of Christians within the body of Christ, yet they do not do so since there is no financial incentive to do so (and really there is a financial incentive not to do it). They even offer short term loans so Christians who can really afford the exorbitant prices can become slaves to the lender and go into debt for Bible software.
First, Christians should not be encouraging other Christians to go into debt (for anything). We are not instructed by Christ to give with the intention of receiving a return. Instead, “if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return” (Lu 6:34-35).
In his response, Dave tries to justify himself by stating that he would never evict someone who had cancer (he actually uses a “personal” example that he didn’t evict a woman tenant he had years before who was undergoing cancer treatment). He then goes on, though, and states, “the Bible does not say that businesspersons should “undercharge because we’re Christians.”
This may be true, but it also specifically states that we should not do things out of selfish motive. Raising the rent on a current tenant simply because the market states this is what you can get IS operating selfishly. You can paint it up as being a “good businessman” or that it’s “just the market” making demands on the landlord. But, none of these are true and they are just excuses to hurt people for gain.
Dave’s solution, of course (which is always the answer from wealthy people), “the renter should just go find cheaper housing.”
This is, of course, ridiculous in a market that is overpriced because of fabricated inflation as the culture shifts from harmful capitalism to harmful socialism. In times like these, it is the wealthy Christian that is supposed to serve by example and lift up those who are suffering, who are at a loss, who are beaten down by the artificial system we are all subjected to live under. When the rich man asked Jesus, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” He didn’t ask Jesus how he can be good. He asked how he could be saved. Jesus’ response was shocking (to the rich man). Keep the law. All the law. All this the man had done. Then he wanted to know what he still lacked. Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; come, follow me.” But, the young man’s face fell and he went away saddened at the answer, because he had a great deal of wealth. Jesus concluded, “Assuredly, I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
It’s not about striking a balance between being a “good” Christian and still doing what you want as a businessman on earth. There is, in reality, no balance to be struck. You either are willing to give up everything you have for the greater good or you are condemned in the things you possess.
If a Christian does not like the idea of being held to a higher obligation than other landlords then maybe they should not involve themselves in investing in real estate or in renting to other people. Instead, a Christian who has been “blessed” with money to invest might consider flipping houses over renting them. Or, they might consider investing in businesses instead of in the lives of indivdiual people and where they live or raise their families. Or, it might be that God is truly calling someone to become a landlord so that others can see Christ in their actions as they surrender their own well being and profits for the well being of their tenants.
In the end, the question that needs to be answered here is an easy one. Christians are held to a higher standard by God than he holds to the lost people who are mucking around on earth, stabbing each other in the back for the slightest potential profit. Dave Ramsey shows his true colors in his comment. He wants to claim Christ as his Lord, yet he seems quite distracted by worldly affairs and worldly pursuits. But, Jesus said, you can’t serve two masters. It’s clear, by this comment alone, which Master Dave does serve.
Until my next post….
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Excerpt from Our Daughter:
“Okay, mom,” Randy said.
“You behave yourself and be nice. You’re lucky to have company while you wait for the doctors.”
The woman turned and started back the way she came.
“The nurse said it would be twenty or thirty more minutes, so we’ll eat quick and be back up here before they take you in, okay?”
“Sorry for him,” the woman said to Katie as she walked by.
As the woman left, Katie noticed the boy moving around again on the bed. Before she realized what was happening, the tiny lump disappeared and she could hear the faint sound of bare hands and feet on the tile floor.
He was low crawling under the beds toward her.
A moment later, Randy popped his head out from under the nearest hospital bed, craning his neck around to look up at her.
“Hello, there,” Katie said.
Randy disappeared back under the bed, the bed sheet draping down almost to the floor. Katie could still see three little fingers pressed to the tile.
“What are you here for?” Katie asked, readjusting her seat in the chair, trying to get the ache in her chest to lessen.
For whatever reason, the wheelchair was really uncomfortable.
“Why are – ”
Randy’s voice trailed off for a moment as he looked around.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m getting my leg fixed,” Katie said. “See?”
Randy poked his head back out from under the bed and looked at the leg she was pointing to.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“The doctor said it’s broken,” Katie said. “Shattered.”
“Can you feel it?” Randy asked, able to stay out from his hiding place.
“I can feel it, but it’s not too bad,” Katie said, then tapped the IV in her arm. “This thing is giving me medicine of some kind for the pain. At least that’s what the nurses said.”
“Why are you – ”
Randy stopped mid-sentence.
He scooted out from under the bed entirely and slowly crept over to her on all fours.
“What are you, some kind of spider?” Katie asked, giggling a little.
“What are you?” Randy echoed.
He was now only about a foot away from her chair and sat there, his legs folded up under him, gawking up at her.
“What are you staring at me for?”
“I’ve never – ”
Randy put out a hesitant hand and ever so gently touched her arm.
“Are you some kind of ghost?”
He looked around again.
“Are you – ”
He leaned in, talking in a whisper.
“Are you dead?”
A nurse came around the corner and stopped abruptly, spotting the empty bed in the far corner where Randy should have been.
“Randy Andrews,” the nurse said, her hands now on her hips. “You get right back into the bed and you stop playing around, please. They are ready for you in surgery.”
Katie watched as Randy scrambled on all fours under the beds and back up onto his, pulling the sheet back over top of himself again.
She started to ask him about his question, but couldn’t get the words out before his parents appeared at the door.
Katie sat there quietly, watching Randy stare back at her from under his sheet. She glanced over at his parents and the nurse, noticed Randy’s dad had no hair on the top of his head.
Are you dead?
What kind of question was that?
The snap of the wheel locks being disengaged on Randy’s hospital bed jarred Katie out of the confusion she was in.
The doctor she’d first seen was now at the door, waiting for Randy.
He was his surgeon.
They wheeled Randy out of the room, his parents following right behind, disappearing to the left, heading for his operating room.
The pre-op room was empty again.
Are you dead?
What kind of crazy question was that?
The nurse came back through the double doors.
“It won’t be long now,” she said.
Katie tried not to think about the dull ache growing just behind her sternum.
The nurse disappeared around the corner as Katie watched the double doors to the operating rooms slowly shut.
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