Veteran religion reporter Bob Smietana of Religion News Service set out to get comments on allegations of employee dissatisfaction at Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey’s company. What he got in return was a sarcastic email from the company, copied to Ramsey’s 1,000 employees and others, that identified where the reporter lives, his phone number and email and a request to harass him.
“If you are on this email we would ask a favor for Ramsey … would you help us? Bob’s phone number and email are here, and we would ask that you contact him TODAY and tell him all the evil horrible stories you know about us,” the company email said. “Also, he lives in Spring Hill so if you see him out and about, be sure to congratulate him on his virtue. He needs to sell this story to pay his rent and the dirtier your story on us the more we can help him.”
It continued: “When you call please do not be mean; Bob already has a lot of anxiety and we don’t want to add to that. If his phone is overwhelmed or he doesn’t want to hear your story, you should contact Religion News Service and tell them of Bob’s amazing grasp on virtue and truth. You can also tell them of all the people that have been helped by his pursuit of truth throughout the years as we all have followed his ‘career.’ It is time the world knows about Bob and the blessing he has been to so many.”
Smietana is a veteran religion reporter who previously worked for the Nashville Tennessean, as editor of Facts & Trends at LifeWay Christian Resources and as senior editor at Christianity Today. He is a national reporter for RNS, an independent national news service based in New York that covers all aspects of religion across faith lines. He lives in Nashville, where Ramsey Solutions also is based.
Dave Ramsey built his empire through a radio talk show, books and by selling a program to help Christian families get out of debt. His most notable program, offered in thousands of churches, is called “Financial Peace University.”
His approach is austere and unbending. He advises first reducing debt in what is known as the “snowball” method, paying off lowest balances first before proceeding to larger balances. He offers a step-by-step methodology that critics say is a one-size-fits-all approach not right for everyone.
He notoriously and vehemently opposes the use of credit cards and advises his followers to pay cash, which is sorted out each month and kept in marked envelopes for various purposes. When clients pay off all their debts, they are invited to call into his radio show and do the “debt-free scream.”
Ramsey’s philosophy and business practices have faced scrutiny before — not just because of the financial advice but also because of his interpretation of biblical teaching related to finance — yet the Jan. 15 RNS piece laid bare significant problems within the company’s workforce and culture. It portrayed Ramsey — through interviews with current and former employees — as a manipulative tyrant who routinely violates employees’ privacy.
From the report: “Ramsey Solutions, former employees and their spouses say, is run more like a church than a business. A review of court documents, company emails and recordings of staff meetings backs up these sources’ claims that company leaders attempt to exert control over employees’ personal lives.”
Among the concerns: Requiring interviews with the spouse of job applicants to make sure they aren’t “crazy”; requiring prospective employees to submit a family budget to prove they can live on the salary offered; monitoring employees’ communications away from work; requiring participation in company-wide religious activities; and firing a single woman who asked for maternity leave, saying she obviously had violated a company policy against premarital sex.
And then there’s the COVID-19 issue. Ramsey has kept its offices open even as more than 100 employees tested positive for coronavirus, all while Ramsey himself downplayed the significance of the pandemic and said only “wusses” get infected.
Ramsey has kept its offices open even as more than 100 employees tested positive for coronavirus.
Ramey Solutions is a private, for-profit company, not a nonprofit charity. That matters because religious charities and churches are allowed more latitude in hiring and workplace demands than normal businesses.
Following typical protocol, Smietana attempted to get an interview with Ramsey or a company representative before his story was published by RNS. No access was offered. Instead, the sarcastic email was sent the day before publication.
Observers on social media pointed out the irony of a man being accused by employees of bullying responding to a journalistic inquiry with blatant bullying.
The email response to Smietana and RNS — which says it was blind-copied to pastors of “top churches” and other religious leaders — sets its tone from the start: “We want to confirm for you that you are right, we are horrible evil people. We exist to simply bring harm to our team, take advantage of our customers, and spread COVID. And YOU figured it all out, wow. Who would have guessed that an unemployed guy, oh I am sorry, a ‘freelance reporter’ would be the one to show us how horrible we are so we can change and to let the world know of our evil intent, secrets, and complete disregard for decency ….. but YOU did it, you with all your top notch investigative skills have been able to weave together a series of half-truths to expose our evil ways. You are truly amazing.”
The email was sent the day before the article was published.
By Jan. 22, a week after the original post, Smietana said on his personal Twitter account that sarcastic email from Ramsey Solutions “got a lot of attention. About 100 of his people reached out to me. Most were polite and talked about how they loved their work. A few were angry. And someone signed me up for a Mormon dating service.”