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Disrupting Suburban Religion: The Great Recession, Suburban Poverty, and Reframing Evangelical Narratives

  • Author(s): Womack, Nathan Bentley
  • Advisor(s): Alexander, Michael
  • Chang, Paul
  • et al.
Abstract

The Great Recession that started in 2007 was one of the worst economic downturns in United States history. Unemployment hit record highs and home foreclosures became a normal part of the national landscape. The suburban middle-class population in America saw a rise in poverty unlike anything before. More people in suburbs living under the federal poverty limit compared to urban areas. Suburban evangelical Christians were among those who lost homes, jobs, assets, and savings. They turned to their local churches for financial assistance and pastoral care as they tried to make sense of their circumstances. Pastors had to evaluate their perspectives on poverty and benevolence as a new demographic of people sought financial assistance.

This dissertation examines how evangelical pastors and leaders ministered to congregants that were affected by the recession in the Inland Empire of Southern California. The recession caused pastors and ministry leaders to challenge their congregants to change their worldviews from a consumerist narrative of the American Dream and towards a worldview based on biblical teachings focused on stewardship, living within one’s financial means, and grounding individual identity in the person of Jesus Christ. Using narrative analysis and a theory of worldview transformation, this project looks at reflections about pastoral care and counseling, sermons, and financial religious educational curriculum, to explore how pastors challenged their congregants to rethink their views about socio-economic status, wealth, materiality, and how these things related to their faith. Pastors encouraged their congregants to get out of debt and explained to them how to view money as a tool to build God’s Kingdom. These pastors were not just helping people work through their hardships during the recession – they changed the narrative of how evangelical faith ought to relate with the American Dream. Evangelicals were challenged to be stewards and managers of God's resources rather than consumers. This new narrative focused on financial freedom through debt elimination and generosity as the vehicle to experience God’s blessings and to build his kingdom.

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