To Serve God or Mammon: Sheldon Emry’s Biblical Economics and the Farm Debt Crisis of the 1980s


  • Cameron Rowlett



Of the new religious movements to emerge in the twentieth century United States, Christian Identity remains the most vehemently anti-Semitic in its theology. The defining characteristic of Christian Identity is the “two-seedline” theology that purports the Aryan race to be the true lineage of the biblical Israel and modern Jews to be imposters, who are not only in league with Satan but are his literal descendants, who are engaged in perpetual conflict with God’s true chosen people. The locations of this conflict vary, but during times of economic upheaval, such as the farm debt crisis of the 1980s, Identity’s proof of a global satanic conspiracy often point toward choice economic policies and institutions – namely, the Federal Reserve System. In response, Identity leaders and writers offered their own economic schema, which they believed followed biblical prescription. Of these schema, Lord’s Covenant Church Pastor Sheldon Emry offers the most systematized formula for a “biblical economics” that would serve to liberate Christian America from economic oppression and strip power from international finance, which Emry believed was predominately represented by influential Jewish families bent on an “economic conquest” of the United States. While Emry’s conspiratorialism spoke to many economically insecure farmers, it directly contradicted the economic logic of the New Christian Right of the 1970-80s, which largely adopted the economic perspective of the Austrian School. This latter economic perspective eschews any direct relationship between economic, moral, and religious life and acknowledges the monetary functions performed by agencies such as the Federal Reserve. This paper focuses on the contrast between Emry’s biblical economics and the economic views of the Christian Right of the 1970-80s. Through a close reading of Emry’s writing on the subject, this paper proposes that Emry’s conspiratorialism provides a connective framework joining the categories of economic theory and Christian theology.