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Why Does Talking About Money Feel Taboo?

Bishop Hanson

Bishop Mark Hanson talks about the importance of leaders talking openly and honestly about financial matters — especially during challenging economic times.





Bishop Mark Hanson
Chicago, Illinois
July 2012

Why do you think people have such a hard time talking about and dealing with financial issues?
Money is such a private issue, and so often it's loaded with feelings of guilt, and maybe bitterness, and even resentment. We're living in anxiety-producing times — the uncertainty of the economy, the degree of debt experienced by our pastors, mortgage-related problems. Many of us are afraid to admit that we're in over our heads and need the wisdom of financial resource people to keep us healthy emotionally and spiritually.

How do you think leaders can make a difference on this issue?
I wish we could begin to lean on each other more as a community of leaders. I think it's really hard to take risks with colleagues around money … to say, "You know what? We've gotten ourselves into an unhealthy place. Can I just tell you that I'm feeling scared, I'm worried, I'm feeling guilty?" It would be wonderful if we could learn to take those kinds of risks because, when we start naming the risks, I think we'll find a community of mutual support.

Do you believe a leader's financial life affects the life of the congregation?
Yes, strongly. The degree to which public leaders can be vulnerable and public about difficult, painful issues and how they act upon them becomes a powerful invitation and witness for those in the congregation living in volatile economic times. It is permission-giving for others to take that same step.

I'm not saying the pulpit should be a pastor's private therapy couch, but I do think, as public leaders, we have a great opportunity to share with others our lack of perfection and need for assistance. We can share our experience in a sermon, but also in a conversation, an article, or a confirmation class topic.

Can you imagine it? A pastor gets up and says, "You know what, we are always trying to make ends meet in the parsonage. But what we really need to do is stop and have a conversation about what those ends are. Then we could ask if we really needed this or that." This kind of conversation could be so helpful to others struggling to make ends meet. In fact, how we manage money is a perfect topic for confirmation. It is one of many topics we talk together about as people of faith.

So talking openly about financial issues is a spiritual and communal act?
I hope we don't just think of financial health and well-being as an individual issue. We are a community of faith with deep biblical mandates to hold financial well-being as a justice issue, to attend to the common good of all.

I think this new move on Portico's part to make public the conversation about financial well-being is a real opportunity for this church. Through public conversation, we can focus not just on individual health but on how we live in communities so that all may live with enough for each day. Through stewardship and generosity, those of us who have more than enough can contribute to the well-being of all.

The prophets are continually reminding us that when God wants to look at the quality of our faith, God doesn't look at the beauty of our sanctuaries, or listen to the eloquence of our preaching or our marvelous choirs. God looks at the condition of those who live in poverty among us, and there God sees how faithful God's people have been.

What does financial well-being mean to you?
I turn so often to the Wholeness Wheel. We now know that each dimension of well-being is inextricably tied to the others. If I'm not dealing well with my finances in a way that reflects my values, my commitment to family, my commitment to faith, then it affects my emotions, my relationships, my spiritual well-being, and my capacity to be an effective public leader.

As a leader in a congregation, I'm not going to talk about money if I'm feeling guilty about being too far in debt, if I'm feeling irresponsible about credit card obligations, if my money's managing me, if I can't say 'no' to my children even though I need to for the sake of their financial health. How I deal with money affects all of my life, my wholeness.

Anxiety about money creates two health issues — financial and emotional ill-health — which, in turn, creates a spiritual health issue. We can't be spiritually healthy if our anxiety interferes with our ability to live with a sense of confidence and trust.

Do you think our leaders should discuss personal issues more openly?
In this culture, money is so associated with individuals — my money, your money — and so we treat it as a very private personal possession and hesitate to even talk about it. If I'm in a room of adults, I know that every one of us is living with the reality of money in our lives. It may be a source of joy, a source of anxiety, something about which we feel ashamed or resentful or grateful but we all live in a world that revolves around money. So why not have a public conversation about it?

As a person of faith and a public leader, I'm mindful of how often Jesus talked about money. He engaged with people around issues of money. If Jesus can talk openly about money, so, too, can those of us called to proclaim him and follow him. What if we were all just honest and said, "Let's have a conversation about money, and assume that we all carry anxiety about it." Just by naming it out loud, we diminish the anxiety a bit.

What actions do you take to live well? How do you apply them to living well financially?
My wife Ione and I learned early the value of inviting others into our life around issues of stress. Just as we've been a family that invited therapists to help us tend our relational and emotional issues, just as I had spiritual directors to help me tend my life of faith and prayer, so we've been a couple that invited financial professionals to help us be responsible around finances — everything from help with budgeting to working with Portico Benefit Services to make sure my retirement account reflects our values. Sometimes we slip back and get in debt beyond where we wish we were, so we've had to step back and regroup and say, "How did this happen?" In all areas of my life, health is incremental. Knowing how to use my money responsibly didn't come to me by virtue of being a pastor or as a revelation from God. I know other people have greater wisdom than I do, and I've chosen to draw on that wisdom.

email Share your Wellness Voice at livewell@porticobenefits.org

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