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Sometimes a cultural practice penetrates so deeply into the fabric of society, that it goes on unchecked and unquestioned by the church.  It is simply assumed that it is the way things are.  The church conforms, adopts, adapts.  Gross evils have gone on unchecked as a result of this, and later Christians like to point accusingly at previous generations of churches and condemn them for their blind accommodation of these questionable societal practices.

What I am about to point out in no way comes even close to the immoral callousness exhibited by earlier generations of churches in their accommodation of sinful social practices.  But I do bring this issue up because I believe it is yet another example of Christians allowing a cultural practice to seep into the warp and woof of its life.  It is the recent phenomenon of diamond engagement rings.

I say recent because that is what it is.  The diamond industry would have us believe that it is a tradition which stems back through the centuries to early Christendom, if you will.  In fact, the diamond engagement ring only became the standard it is beheld today in the middle of the 20th century when the church DeBeers began a marketing campaign that was as extensive as it was brilliantly successful.  The campaign was brilliant because it imbued a historical, romantic and religious aura about the diamond ring even though it was – and still is – nothing but a piece of shiny, resilient rock.  It made a lot of fat executives in the diamond business even fatter.  And since that time, it has become the unquestioned practice not just of American, but of American Christians as well.

Hey, I’m not a wet blanket, and I’m all for romantic sunsets and red roses.  I also agree with many of the arguments for the engagement ring: it shows a real sign of commitment, it necessitates the planning of a proposal moment that will be remembered and (hopefully) cherished for a lifetime, etc.  I’m not against engagement rings.  I’m just against diamond engagement rings.

Let’s face it: engagement rings have now become gargantuan in cost.  The rule-of-thumb is that it should cost about 3 months salary.  If I pull in $80,000 a year, I’m compelled to purchase a $20,000 ring.  After taxes, that’s about a third of my annual income – money that could have been used to pay off a student loan, a down payment on a mortgage, a car, or hey, money for the church and missions.  Instead, that colossal amount of money is now used to buy a piece of rock that will have the utility function of a flat zero.  It will not drive me, will not clothe me, will not feed me, will not give me better health, will not play music, will not feed the hungry, will not help autism research.  The diamond just sits there on a finger.

How do we justify such a cost?  How is it that Manhattan Asian-American Christian women have flat-out informed their sweating boyfriends that they expect nothing less than a 1 Carat Tiffany-mounted ring?  How is it that something which is so blatantly useless yet so costly has seeped into the church where its practice – and perpetuation thereof – goes unchecked?  It is, after all, a flabbergastingly poor use of money which we are called to be responsible stewards of.  We have bought into a cultural movement which was first motivated by the bottom line, by financial greed.  We are foolish victims of a savvy advertising campaign, and we love to play the fool because (for women) it inures a sense of pride as blatantly and sinfully materialistic as a $20,000 fur coat; and because (for men) we feel pressured into doing so, and because, albeit worn by someone else, it is something of a status symbol.  The love of status, the materialistic pride, the total wastage of God-given finances – all these are exemplified in an engagement ring.

If you really think about it, there is little else in this world which costs so much, gives so little in return, and which encourages the sin of pride to not only grow, but to be so blatantly displayed to the world, proud as a peacock.


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