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‘The Economics of Apocalypse’: Billy Graham’s sermon on money and materialism

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In light of Reverend Billy Graham’s recent passing, we’d do well to pause and reflect on his life and legacy, which was defined by the spreading of the Gospel, and doing so in a way that inspired deep faith and authentic relationship with Jesus.

Although Rev. Graham mostly steered clear of the partisan fray, he frequently offered strong challenges to the American people on social and economic issues, from opposing racial segregation to drawing a distinct contrast between Communism and Christianity.

In reviewing his views on economics and Christianity, in particular, there’s perhaps no greater place to look than his 1974 sermon, “The Economics of Apocalypse,” which provides a comprehensive overview of what he believes are the crucial connections between economics, spirituality, morality, and a free society.

Given on a Sunday morning in Hawaii during the American Bankers Association’s 1974 convention, Graham points his remarks directly to the bankers in attendance, challenging them to be “spiritual and moral candles” that “will send a glow throughout the world.” In turn, he urges us to recognize and embrace the transcendent underpinnings of finance while guarding our hearts against the constant temptations of greed and materialism.

“The people who are going to be gathering for this convention could absolutely transform America if we went back to our homes determined to put God first,” he says in the sermon. “Unless there are enough of us in America willing to pay that price, we’ve reached the point where we may be finished as a free society…Democracy and freedom are totally dependent on moral and spiritual integrity.”

You can listen to the sermon here.

On the need to resist an “economics of apocalypse”:

In the present situation, economists, politicians, and business leaders are sounding like prophets of doom. I notice that one spokesman pessimistically described present attempts to cope with inflation and the oil crisis as the “economics of the apocalypse.” I detect that the days of unfettered optimism are gone…Naturally, there are many superficial and simple answers. Some are prepared to don rose-tinted glasses and suggest that there is an inevitable progress ahead for mankind if we choose the route dictated by social science and technology. At the other extreme, there are those who callously advocate that every man look out for himself. The question I ask today is this: Are our options only two? Just optimism or cynicism?

I believe and I submit to you you that Judeo-Christian realism and morality is the need of the hour. Not an empty optimism that fails to take into account the flaw in human nature that the Bible calls “sin,” upon which our best plans flounder. Nor is it a bleak pessimism or cynicism which fails to recognize a sovereign God.

On the spiritual and moral foundations of economics:

Only when we view life from the spiritual and moral perspectives can we adequately and realistically cope with our problems…If during this convention you realistically think that there is a spiritual dimension to your business, then there is hope for the future of America.

The Bible frequently refers to the subject of money and our relationship to it…[Jesus] said a lot more about money than he did heaven or hell, not because he valued material possessions as ends in themselves, but because our attitude toward them is the barometer of our spiritual and moral condition as a community, as a family, and as an individual.

On stewardship vs. ownership:

In the eyes of God, man is a steward. He is a manager of whatever material possessions have been loaned him. All too frequently, however, we act as though we were owners, and responsible to neither God nor man for our stewardship. Self-interest often becomes to important. This elbows out accountability to God, social responsibility, and human compassion too our fellow man around the world.

On the poison of materialism:

Now I want you to get one thing straight: The Bible does not condemn money or possessions…God’s quarrel is not with material goods, but with material gods. Materialism has become the god of too many of us. It is that state in which material possessions are elevated to the central place in life and receive the attention due to God alone. The Bible teaches that preoccupation with material possessions is an idolatry…and it poisons every other phase of our life, including our family life…We are reaping what we have sown for several generations. America is at least in part suffering the consequences of our selfish preoccupation with material things, especially since World War II, to the neglect of moral and spiritual values.

On the need for a “spiritual renovation” of economic life:

God is demanding that we recognize him, even in our economic life….We need a deep spiritual renovation at all levels of life in America if we are to survive. Those old-fashioned words that became out of date for a while have come back among our young people: repentance, conversion, faith.

Band-aid remedies are not enough. Only a remedy that goes to the very depth to touch the sin that has poisoned all facets of life can be effective. Unless we take moral and spiritual action and do it quickly, we may find ourselves in a totalitarian state, with all freedoms suppressed in a relatively short time. The Bible teaches you cannot serve the true God and another god called materialism, but you can serve God with materialism, if your heart is right toward God.

On the importance of spiritual regeneration and virtue:

Yes, I’m advocating today what could be called a “new Puritanism,” both morally and materially…I recognize that this can happen only when we have personally committed our lives to God. There’s little point to talking about corporate or national dealings with the problem if we don’t come to grips with it individually ourselves. Carl Jung, the great psychoanalyst…hit the nail on the head when he said, “It is unfortunately only too clear that if the individual is not regenerated in spirit, society cannot be either, for society is the sum total of individuals in need of redemption.” Pope Leo XIII once said, “When a society is perishing, the thing to do is to recall it to the principles from which it sprang. We Americans sprang from a deep religious faith. Jesus Christ’s solution starts with you and me, and then spreads out to touch society.

Image: State Library and Archives of Florida / Public Domain

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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