The Financial Seminary
(In Christianity and Democratic Capitalism)
By Gary Moore
Founder, The Financial Seminary
“I am for the free market. Even though it doesn’t work too well, nothing else works at all. But I have serious reservations about capitalism as a system because it idolizes economics as the be-all and end-all of life… I believe it is socially and morally unforgiveable when managers reap huge profits for themselves but fire workers. As societies we will pay a heavy price for the contempt this generates.”
Managing in the Next Society (2002)
The media recently shared the results of a new Pew survey of religion. It said Americans who claim “none” as their religious affiliation are now among the largest and fastest growing segments of American faith. A little later, The Wall Street Journal featured a story headlined, “A Fading Faith in Capitalism.” I believe there are connections.
Our Spiritual and Financial Crisis
The Journal story detailed a new global survey that said only 14% of Americans now believe “the next generation will be richer, safer and healthier than the last.” America was the least hopeful nation surveyed. The article concluded that while “life is getting better in the U.S., 55% of Americans believe the rich get richer and the poor get poorer under capitalism. Sixty-five percent agree that most big businesses have dodged taxes, damaged the environment or bought special favors from politicians…To restore confidence, the same rules need to apply to everyone” (emphasis mine).
The Journal is hardly alone when saying our children’s future is threatened by selfishness on the part of today’s corporate elite, not to mention our political elite. Ominously, Morgan Stanley has just judged the US the most economically unequal country in the developed world with the exceptions of the struggling “PIGS,” meaning Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. On the other hand, a special report in The Economist recently called the Scandinavian countries the new economic lights of the world as they are more equal and more dynamic, even though they are more heavily taxed.
There’s an old saying that we don’t see reality as it is but as we are. So most Americans I talk to assume that because they have little wealth and Washington is indebted America must be “broke.” That’s anything but true. Our corporations and wealthy have enormous assets, which are discussed later. Yet due to our misperceptions, tolerated, if not generated, by leaders who most benefit, many ordinary Americans have supported policies that are likely against their own moral and financial interests in the name of “growth.” But as has been said, growth at any price is precisely the philosophy of the cancer cell.
The Economist magazine recently featured a story entitled, “Reinventing the company.” It said: “After a century of utter dominance, the public company is showing signs of wear. One reason is that managers tend to put their own interests first. The shareholder revolution of the 1980s was supposed to solve this by incentivizing managers to think like owners, but it backfired. Loaded up with stock options, managers acted like hired guns instead, massaging the share price so to boost their incomes.”
A few days later, several media reported on a new study entitled ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ The Christian Science Monitor said the study found “100 Fortune 500 CEOs have retirement assets worth $4.9 billion collectively, roughly equal to the amount saved by 50 million US families. The strategies used to achieve the massive nest eggs are unavailable to the average worker…Bloomberg Business found that in addition to the tax-deferred retirement plans, around 30% of Fortune 1000 companies offer additional executive retirement plans as an incentive” (emphasis mine).
Finally, a recent extensive survey by the Public Religion Research Institute said 93% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans said our government tends “very” or “somewhat well” to the interests of the wealthy. 90’% of democrats and 86% of Republicans said it did the same thing for corporations. In short, we aren’t so far from the oligarchy of Rome that Jesus encountered. But rather than opt for the political or military solutions the zealots advocated, he taught his moral solution. It took a while but Rome eventually saw the Light. As Islam considers Jesus the superior prophet, albeit not God, radical Islamists might take note.
On the other hand, Professor Seyyed Nasr of Georgetown College, whose son Vali advised President “W” about Islamic affairs, has written in The Heart of Islam: “The area known as economics was never isolated by itself in Islamic society. It was always combined with ethics. That is why the very acceptance of economics as an independent domain, not to speak of as the dominating factor in life according to the prevailing paradigms of the modern world [capitalism?], is devastating to the Islamic view of human life.” It was probably twenty years ago now that a special report in The Economist featured two crusaders and the headline, “Not again for God’s sake.” It concluded that it might take Islam, presumably peaceful Islam, to re-moralize the economies of the West.
So Where’s Our Churches?
A few mainline and Catholic institutions have long integrated the Judeo-Christian ethic with their wealth management. But that message has rarely made it to local levels where it might affect our stewardship. The Rev. Dr. Meir Tamari has therefore written: “I think that what happened in the nineteenth century was that religious leadership simply abandoned the field of economic morality to the secular world. Religion thus became irrelevant to many people. We helped create a split personality among business leaders. They could be pious people. They could go to church or synagogue but religion made no demands on them in the marketplace. This separation of personality, I think, is a major tragedy for religion and for businesspeople.”
I’ve grown to believe that’s the root of the articles above. The mentioned articles appeared around the time my church launched its annual “stewardship” drive. If you’ll forgive the self-reference, I believe this example is important. In ancient times, stewardship was a holistic philosophy of morally managing all of God’s wealth, whether individually with our personal resources of time, talent and treasure or corporately in our political-economy. But today stewardship is usually just an annual pledge card drive, detested by clergy and laity alike. Few business leaders need Bible verses to understand the bills have to be paid. So most catch up on their sleep during such campaigns. But Americans still gave about $350 billion to charity last year, much of it to religion. Yet Bain & Co, with which Mitt Romney was affiliated, has estimated there is $600 trillion of permanent capital flowing around our world each day. Bain estimated that will grow to $900 trillion by the end of this decade.
Jacob Needleman has written in Money and the Meaning of Life that all money is now a purely secular force void of any spiritual aspiration, thereby becoming a fire raging out of control. It surely depresses our spirits. For example, our $18 trillion federal debt is a huge number that depresses millions as few leaders put our challenges into the context of our blessings. But President W’s administration concluded: “The size of the net foreign debt is relatively small compared with the total stock of U.S. assets. In 2007, it amounted to 7% of total assets,” of around $120 trillion. Donald Trump has estimated for the Discovery Channel that our assets are more than twice that. Those are economic blessings that would lift the spirits and hopes of millions of Americans, if someone would only help us count them. The church should. We would be more relevant to our money culture. And the Bible still says judgement on a nation begins in the house of the Lord. If we’re focused exclusively on our finances, can our nation do differently?
Our Gospel reading that particular Sunday was from the twelfth chapter of the Book of Mark, verses 30-44. The first part is the little discussed passage where Jesus condemns leaders of the temple for their religious dress and rituals while devouring the houses of widows. That’s crucial Gospel today. Many of the worst financial frauds are conducted in churches or by those who are most obvious about their faith. I’ve personally known three “Christians” who have gone to jail for Ponzi schemes. I even served on the board of a major ministry with Ken Lay, the CEO of Enron, perhaps history’s most notorious corporate implosion. Worse, church leaders unwittingly help to create businesspeople in the schizophrenic mold of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. He once confessed: “I believe in God, family and McDonalds. But when I go to work on Monday, all that reverses.” He also said that if one of his competitors was drowning, he’d run a hose down his throat and turn on the water. But his wife gave their fortune to charity. Still, we might note that Jesus said we must love God and neighbor as self before going to work. Even the mafia focuses on their families and organizations at work.
But pastor was typical in ignoring that portion of the reading as he focused on the second part of the reading, which better served the short-term financial interests of the church. It was the much discussed passage about the generosity of the widow who gave her last two mites in the temple. Some businesspeople probably left thinking Jesus would look fondly on our generosity, regardless of how we got the money. Yet Jesus condemned that compartmentalized worldview in the Sermon on the Mount. He said that if we come to the altar with our offerings and remember a neighbor has something against us, we must go and make peace with that neighbor before completing the offering. His priorities were clear.
The Matthew Henry Bible Commentary also says the widow actually dropped her coins in the poor box. Church leaders often confuse such compassion with our paying the churches’ bills. The Empty Tomb ministry has detailed for years that our churches pass on a very tiny percentage of our national income to the poor. In fact, studies say that when giving to pay our churches’ bills is removed from “charitable donations,” by which we usually just mean tax-deductions, charitable giving virtually disappears among many Christians. The church seems to have increasingly shifted such “social responsibilities,” as we would call them today, to governments. But true Christianity is always about balancing personal responsibility with social responsibility, particularly for the poor. A church that can’t get that straight about money won’t help Wall Street, corporate America and Washington, or even Main Street, get it straight. Even personal responsibility can then become a euphemism for taking care of number one.
Many businesspeople are critical of the clergy for the Sunday-Monday divide. Even Professor Laura Nash of Harvard has written: “The church’s often-dismissive response to the layperson’s optimistic desire to integrate faith and career cannot be justified. In fact, this attitude may be the largest act of self-marginalization mainstream churches have ever engaged in.” It can also be argued that newer expressions of our faith, which often have little understanding of the developments in economic theology that built a moral framework for primitive capitalism, have ironically marginalized our faith with so-called “prosperity theology,” in which we seek first the money and trust the kingdom will be added unto us.
Following Capitalism to Elitism
Yet we businesspeople should also understand that our clergy are human and may simply be giving us what we want. That has been a primary temptation of people and priest since Aaron, the patriarch of the clergy, told Moses at the base of Sinai that he had let the people worship the golden bull simply as they had wanted to ( Exodus 32:19-25). The prophet creatively explained to the priest that true religion is about having people internalize what they need rather than what they want. Moses crushed the bull and made the people drink it. It’s safe to assume Moses had Aaron drink his share.
But memories are short. Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses, written five hundred years ago, were actually about the self-serving financial theology and practices of the medieval church. Luther also taught “the priesthood of all believers,” saying there’s nothing more holy about the clergy tending a church than a person attending a business. But the monastery became the world rather than the world becoming the monastery. Professor Justo Gonzalez has written in Faith and Wealth: “When the Protestant Reformation did away with monasticism, rejecting what it took to be an attempt to gain heaven by works, it also did away with monasticism’s reminder to the entire church of the need for obedience in economic matters.”
The Sunday-Monday divide widened with Andrew Carnegie. In his book God the Economist, Professor Doug Meeks calls Carnegie America’s “most influential theologian.” That’s as the businessman convinced us that God is only interested in our charity on Sunday, not how we co-create and manage the Creator’s wealth from Monday to Saturday, and now even Sunday. While Carnegie was a great philanthropist, his company could be ruthless with employees, even killing several during a strike. That prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to say he’d “tried hard to like Carnegie but it’s difficult to like a man who makes a god of mere money-making.”
Carnegie may have even inspired B.C. Forbes, the founder of Forbes magazine, now famous for the annual list of the 400 richest Americans, to write: “Too few millionaires who aspire to win fame as philanthropists begin at home, among their own workers. To grind employees and then donate a million dollars to perpetuate his name is not a particularly laudable record for any man to live or leave behind him. Of course, it is more spectacular, it makes more of a splash to do the grandiose act in sight of all men, where it will be read and talked of. But it is a rather pitiable form of philanthropy.” Despite his generous giving, Carnegie’s legacy as a moral steward was forever tarnished by his self-created, and quite liberal by the way, economic morality.
Today, even the most popular “Bible-believing” Christian financial advisors essentially teach Carnegie’s liberal stewardship philosophy when counseling generous giving while actually discouraging ethics when investing. Dave Ramsey’s website, Sound Mind Investing, and Ron Blue & Co are examples. None seem to have read Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees who tithed the herbs of the garden while ignoring economic justice, perhaps best defined by the section of Exodus 21 that my study Bible headlines, “The Responsibility of Owners.” It essentially says the habitual failure to manage potentially harmful bulls, ironically the symbol of Wall Street, in a socially responsible fashion means our wealth will be destroyed and we may be put to death (verses 28-32).
We should also understand that the inability of most church leaders to speak with businesspeople about moral wealth creation is largely a result of democratic capitalism itself. In a democracy, the people rule. Capitalism teaches “the customer is always right,” a phrase that cannot be found in the Bible. Our colleges departmentalize our educations. That serves capitalism’s “specialization of labor” but creates less than holistic thinking and living. That’s particularly a problem with graduate level education, affecting our cultural elites. For example, our clergy often go to seminary as they are even less gifted and interested in business than those seeking MBA’s are gifted and interested in theology. So as Professor Nash of Harvard says, Christian businesspeople who want to integrate faith and career have to create their own theologies as they go along, resulting in the confused moral populism so evident in today’s politics.
When idealistically exploring seminary thirty years ago to study the moral management of wealth, I learned most seminaries considered the multitude of teachings of the Bible and church tradition concerning wealth management to be the third rail of religion. Most church leaders, and stewardship leaders in particular, unwittingly create the false compartmentalization that there is “God’s money” and “our money.” They often feel that if they touch “our money,” they die. But again, most laity have been quite happy with that arrangement throughout history. Even Martin Luther quickly learned people love the idea that all it takes to enter heaven is to give a few coins to the church. And church leaders condemned him as he’d “touched the crown of the pope and the bellies of the monks.” Luther was concerned about the finances of ordinary people, not religious royalty.
If the love of money remains the root of considerable mischief, the veins that move it up into branches of society are our major financial organizations. The most respected of Wall Street understand that. John Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard mutual funds, began his recent book Enough with this quote: “The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self-indulgence. For centuries, it remained industrious, ambitious and frugal. Over the past thirty years, much of that has been shredded…The country’s moral guardians are forever looking out for Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.” My mentor, the legendary mutual fund manager and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, taught us, “The concept that you have a spiritual life and a business life is false. The two go hand-in-hand.” John added: “My advice to a school of business management is to teach the business manager to give unlimited love and he or she will be more successful.” Much like Warren Buffett, John also said inherited wealth does little for children and therefore advocated a 95% estate tax so the wealthy would leave their money to charity.
Rediscovering the Road to Wholeness, or Holiness
If the Bible and Lincoln were correct, our financially divided economy, politics and culture will not stand unless church leaders reunite them with a holistic understanding of moral wealth management and help our cultural elites remember it. Most likely, those church leaders will be businesspeople, as least during this generation. It is simply more realistic to expect businesspeople who go to church on Sunday to learn stewardship theology than for clergy who are in church all week to learn economics and business. When Professor Robert Wuthnow, a sociologist at Princeton, conducted a major stewardship study, his book God and Mammon in America concluded: “When we asked pastors to talk to us about stewardship, we encouraged them to tell us how they understood it in the broadest possible terms. Repeatedly, however, we found the church was their only frame of reference. They immediately talked about serving the church, doing church work, and giving money to the church.”
In his book The Crisis in the Churches: Spiritual Malaise, Fiscal Woe, Wuthnow proposed a solution when he added: “The steady drop in donations, volunteering and personal involvement is a direct result of a spiritual crisis—a crisis caused in large part due to the clergy’s failure to address the vital relationships between faith and money. The solution is not to simply talk more about the financial needs of the church. Thirty percent said they’d actually give less money if churches talked more about finances than they do now. The answer is to talk about the broader relationships between faith, work, money, giving, the poor and economic justice.”
There have been other prophets who have foreseen our moral and spiritual crisis. And no, I’m not talking about Karl Marx. Yet I’m reading an increasing number of economists who fear Marx, despite all his error, may have been far too prophetic when he said wealth would grow unsustainably concentrated in capitalist societies despite common perceptions, Marx was also Jewish and Lutheran at one point. He most likely understood Moses had divided the Promised Land equally among his people (Numbers 26:52-56) and then demanded it be redistributed each fiftieth, or Jubilee, year. That way, God’s people could grow wealthier during their lifetimes but wealth would never grow overly concentrated in the long run. In that and many other ways, Moses balanced opportunity and justice for a dynamic but egalitarian culture, an ethic that became embedded in Judeo-Christian DNA. That ethic was evident from the Jewish prophets to the early Christian church as described in the Book of Acts to Colonial America where businesspeople were ejected from churches for earning more than 5% profit margins.
Yet that DNA has been corrupted by the morally unbridled spirit of capitalism. When economies were shaped by Judeo-Christian morality, it was more, if not perfectly, egalitarian. But now even some quite respected and politically conservative Christian business leaders are concerned that after declining until the eighties, the percentage of wealth going to and held by the so-called 1% has risen to the level it was in 1929. And B.C. Forbes also observed, “The 1929 breakdown was at its roots, a moral breakdown. We were not living right. We had become extravagant. We had become intoxicated by the alluring notion that the royal road to riches did not lie through sweat but speculation. We discarded and scorned old-fashioned virtues.”
Perhaps such cycles are inevitable. The Bible describes them and John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said true Christianity couldn’t help but prosper a nation by checking excessive materialism and thereby encouraging thrift, prudence, patience and ethics, but added that same prosperity would then destroy Christianity, which of course would then destroy prosperity. Perhaps post-Christian America has entered the later stages of that ancient cycle. But some hopeful prophets have told us it need not repeat, assuming we are humble enough to listen.
For example, legendary management consultant Peter Drucker wrote: “Ethics in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is the affirmation that all men and all women are alike creatures. There is only one ethics, one set of rules of morality, one code, that of individual behavior in which the same rules apply to everyone alike. And this fundamental axiom of business denies. Business ethics, in other words, is not ethics at all, as the term has commonly been used by Western philosophers and theologians. Business ethics assumes that for some reason the ordinary rules of ethics do not apply to business” (emphasis mine). As Peter once taught theology, he understood the phrase “nothing personal it’s just business” is not in the Bible.
Dr. Drucker humbly insisted we call him Peter, reflecting his egalitarian ethic in our time when Ph.D. seems to stand for “Pile it higher and deeper.” He was famous for teaching that no CEO should earn more than twenty times that of the average employee. But CEO pay is now ten times what Peter thought it should be. As Peter had a biblical sense of selfish human nature, he knew that would happen. So twenty years ago, he left us a quite prophetic vision entitled Post-Capitalist Society. He explained we now live in a “society of organizations” where CEO’s are taking care of their organizations rather than society. This very article is a wonderful example of how that has even infiltrated the church. Two prominent Christian media organizations offered to publish the rough draft. Though we never charge for our articles and they reach quite different readerships, both wanted exclusivity. I declined as granting it would benefit their organization but possibly deny many in society what they need to read.
Chapter five of Peter’s book was entitled “The Responsibility-based Organization.” It argued the self-centered organizations of today would fade away as the rest of us grow weary of our cultural elites taking care of themselves rather than the needs of society, meaning us. But Peter primarily dismissed the most influential teaching of Nobel economist Milton Friedman that “the only social responsibility of a business is to make money for shareholders,” a new-age moral philosophy that has shaped the priorities of countless CEOs. It did for CEOs what Ayn Rand’s teaching that the moral purpose of our lives is to make money for ourselves did for too many boomers on Wall Street and Main Street, as well as in Washington. Rand dismissed charity and taught the world’s saviors are actually CEO-types. In short, the true divide in today’s world may not be between left and right but between up and down, or those who practice the egalitarian ethic of Moses and Jesus and those who practice the elitist ethic of Rand and Friedman.
Where Your Treasure Is
Jesus said our hearts will always be where our treasure is. That’s actually quite different than where our tithes and offerings are. He knew that if we invest in Playboy while complaining about the consequences of the sexual revolution, our hearts will actually be in our promiscuous culture. So the good news is that a recent Wall Street Journal contained a quite hopeful story detailing how major Wall Street investment firms are rapidly catching Peter’s vision. It said, “Wall Street has jumped in with sustainable investing divisions that create products for key demographics, like millennials, who are eager to align their values with their investments.”
Sustainable investing is much the same as socially responsible investing, values-based investing, Biblically responsible investing, ethical-investing, and so on. Such investing considers things like CEO compensation, reducing products that are harmful for the public, building opportunities for the needy, environmentalism, and so on. The head of Morgan Stanley’s division explained one in six dollars, up from one in nine only a few years ago, is now managed by integrating values as “sustainable investments tend to be less volatile and perform better than their traditional cousins.” Such investing is growing considerably faster than investing in general.
It would be a case of God working in quite strange ways for Wall Street firms to be the veins that pump the good side of the money coin into our society. But if Peter was still alive, I expect he would tell us our grandchildren will be better off if we all help the Street. The clergy might find a layperson or two who better understand and can teach the true meaning of stewardship. Those teaching business and journalism might better help graduate students understand what Robert Bartley, the legendary editor of The Wall Street Journal, meant when he wrote, “Rather than denigrating Christianity and religion in general, socially conscious elites ought to be asking what the religious impulse might teach us.” Finally, all Christian stewards might again look beyond our own financial interests and see how our investing as well as our charity is shaping our world.
But let’s do so with grace and love, not legalism and conflict. America doesn’t need a theocracy. It needs more professing Christians to become practicing Christians with all God’s resources. But money seems to bring out the best and worst in all of us. Even Billy Graham has confessed the worst sermon of his life was about why there would be pink Cadillacs in heaven. But we might humbly forgive him that bit of other-worldly prosperity gospel as he’s also said, and lived, that if we can only get our money right, odds are good the rest of our lives will eventually fall in line. Yes, the moral use of all money can be the root of much good.
Self-interest Rightly Understood
If the visions of our modern prophets don’t inspire church leaders to see it’s time to change or die, let me share a painful experience that might make my point. Years ago, I was the board chair of the endowment committee at Robert Schuller’s now-bankrupt Crystal Cathedral. During its peak years when I served the ministry, the Hour of Power was the most watched religious television program in the world. Dr. Schuller greatly influenced the pastors of today’s most influential mega-churches, who in turn have influenced tens of thousands of other pastors. Despite Jesus saying the Way is quite narrow, many of them seem preoccupied with larger congregations and buildings. The largest church in our denomination in my town has been replaced by a Walmart largely as its pastor, who was a friend of mine, tried to turn it into one of those mega-churches.
Dr. Schuller may have been the most prolific fund-raiser in the history of the church. We needed tens of millions annually just to stay on the air. We had little fundraising staff so he raised much of that himself. In addition, he admired architectural masterpieces and built several. So he was typical in that he had little time for any financial matters beyond fund-raising for the ministry. My efforts to interest him in investment ethics, micro-enterprise and so on always got moved to the back burner. In fact, when I suggested the endowment committee invest ethically, in the prudent and ethical fashion my mentor the legendary mutual fund manager Sir John Templeton had taught us, it was strongly resisted. When the chair of that committee literally told me he was the greatest investor in history, I resigned the committee, as I have other Christian endowment committees who cared nothing about ethics. But Dr. Schuller asked me to chair it after the committee lost a fair amount of money by being too aggressive.
Political culture also played a role in our demise. When Dr. Schuller asked me to be his special guest on the Hour during the early nineties, I discovered that he too had been preaching America’s federal deficit and debt were earth-shaking. He had even written a book about the debt. But despite supposedly always looking on the positive side, he had no idea of America’s assets, meaning he had never counted America’s economic blessings as the Bible suggests. And like most ministers, he had no idea that true, quite conservative economists like Robert Bartley, the legendary editor of The Wall Street Journal, and John Templeton were explaining our five trillion dollar debt was far more political myth than economic threat. So Dr. Schuller didn’t know whether I knew what I was talking about financially or not. Yet his uninformed economic views caused millions to worry about the economic future, worry that Jesus termed “pagan.” But as with other ministries and Christians themselves, the federal debt seemed to take Dr. Schuller’s mind off our ministry’s own debts. Psychologists call that “projection” and it’s the opposite of taking the log from our own eyes before trying to take a spec from the eyes of others.
Such confusion may have also doomed one of our most prominent board members. Though a close friend of the President, he soon grew notorious as the CEO of perhaps history’s greatest corporate implosion. It devastated thousands of employees and shareholders while further shaking the confidence of millions in capitalism. But he was a very generous giver to churches and ministries, so I doubt anyone ever asked about the state of his soul or how his faith influenced his business practices.
When the ministry was on the verge of bankruptcy, Dr. Schuller asked me to run it. I naturally declined. But had he asked me why I gave almost no money to the ministry myself, I would have explained that John Templeton counseled us to never invest in organizations that were more interested in our money than what we know. He thought that was simply investing in doomed enterprises. He too could be quite prophetic. That’s the same reason I don’t give to my own church’s foundation. Despite its constant appeals for my money, it has never asked if I’ve learned anything during three decades on Wall Street or during stewardship study that might be helpful to the church. One of our most faithful and wealthy members confided to me before she died such poor stewardship of her time, talent and treasure was also why she was leaving the bulk of her estate to a college rather than the church. Speaking of estate planning, I might mention that John, like Warren Buffett, didn’t believe children are helped when we leave them significant wealth. So in a variation of Moses and his Jubilee concept, John advocated a 95% estate tax so the affluent would leave their money to charity, as he did.
Einstein famously said insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Yet while many affluent Christians, and by that I mean anyone with a retirement or education fund, seem to be confused about what money is really for, too many church and ministry leaders remain focused on fundraising, constructing buildings and sexual issues. Wall Street may be far ahead of us in understanding a major shift in culture may be occurring. The prosperity theology promoted or tolerated by our conservative churches and ministries has certainly appealed to baby boomers trying to worship God and Mammon due to the selfish cultural vision of Friedman and Rand. But millennials seem more interested in the truly abundant life for all rather than simply making money for themselves. That could be precisely why egalitarian Pope Francis, whose church bought the Crystal Cathedral out of bankruptcy, has so captured the imaginations of so many young evangelicals.
Early in his papacy, Francis observed, “People say, but Father, I read the Ten Commandments and they say nothing about the evils of money. Against which Commandment do you sin when you do something for money? You sin against the first one! You worship a false idol…Money sickens our minds, poisons our thoughts, even poisons our faith, leading us down the path of jealousy, quarrels, suspicion and conflict. It also corrupts the mind of some people that see religion as a source of profit. We can never serve money and God at the same time. It is not possible. The early Fathers of the Church, in the 3rd century, put it in a very blunt way, calling money ‘the dung of the devil.’ And so it is.”
Frankly, I find that a bit harsh. John Wesley taught that when money is properly used, it is a great gift from God. But I’ll confess this member of a mainline church who grew up Baptist and has worked within evangelicalism during recent decades has looked more closely at Catholicism recently. If Drucker was prophetic, and even Steve Forbes has written he always was, it won’t surprise me if my son’s generation turns to churches that are more interested in economic justice, socially responsible investing, environmentalism, and so on. I would hope that might larger vision might convince boomer clergy to realize Christianity and capitalism may be at the point of change or die.
If not, they might note that after Dr. Schuller’s death, The Wall Street Journal reported his estate could not pay his funeral expenses and had to raise them online. This despite decades of generous compensation as a pastor and considerable income from writing dozens of books, many of which promised a more abundant life. Yes, we Protestants will always prefer grace to works and consider Catholicism a works-oriented sect; but the Bible still says “faith without works is dead.” That is particularly true when we believe the root of all evil lies in the political and sexual spheres of life rather than the financial, as popular as that misperception might be in a money culture.
Gary Moore has a degree in political science and has served on the board of Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett’s Empower America. He was a senior vice president of Paine Webber before considering seminary during the savings and loan and junk bond crisis of the late-eighties. After discovering seminaries rarely teach anything about the morality of wealth creation and management anymore, he became an independent financial advisor, authored several books on the subject and founded The Financial Seminary (www.financialseminary.org.) One of his books was about his friend Sir John Templeton. Gary then wrote Faithful Finances 101 and Spiritual Investments at the request of John to be published by the Templeton Foundation Press.