The Financial Seminary
Please note, this article represents Class Eleven of a series. Other Classes are available for viewing under the “Classes” tab.
“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”
A few weeks ago, I received the most remarkable theological blog I’ve read in decades. It was written by a conservative stewardship leader but rather than engage in politics about the sins of others, it was about how so very many Christians have prioritized issues that Christ never seemed concerned about, or even mentioned. Those issues, listed alphabetically, were: abortion, the culture wars, debt, family, homosexuality, patriotism, politics, sex, the sinner’s prayer (as if there could be any other kind!), and worship. Each was worth saving for reflection.
When discussing debt, the blogger confessed: “The Bible offers a lot of information about money. In fact, large books have been written to explain the biblical position on money. However, as near as I can tell, the only thing Jesus ever said about debt was an obscure reference in the parable of the three servants who were entrusted with the master’s money. The worthless slave was condemned for not putting the money in the bank and earning interest.” I appreciated that sentiment. Still, our worldviews are more troubled than even the blogger thinks. As I’ve said here before, and will say again, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus actually told us to lend to those in true need, regardless of their ability to repay. With a bit of thought, you realize that if someone lends, someone else has to borrow. That’s still true today. As The Economist recently said, if you want to save, as opposed to invest, someone has to want to borrow. Yet most Christian financial writers continue to teach an impossible financial dualism by encouraging saving and discouraging borrowing. Anyway, it was actually earning interest that the fathers forbade, as Christianity officially did during the next 1500 years (Ex 22:25). But we rarely, if ever, hear that biblical concept suggested for investors. Also, some translations suggest Jesus taught us to pray: “forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others.” Other translations say “trespasses.”
Yet that wasn’t the financial portion of the blog that most interested me. That was actually the portion about homosexuality. Financial? Yes, as are most issues, if you believe the Bible. There are two movements in America to reintegrate a more Judeo-Christian ethic with the management of money. The first is known as “socially responsible investing,” or SRI. The second is known as “biblically responsible investing,” or BRI. They are very similar; with the major exception being homosexuality. Socially responsible investing has been around several decades. Some suggest it began when Christian investors wanted to avoid alcohol, tobacco and gambling during Prohibition. Others suggest it began during the Vietnam era when Methodists, Quakers, Mennonites and so on wanted to avoid profiting from what they considered to be an unjust war. Regardless, the movement has grown and grown, in both dollars under management and sophistication regarding the concept of responsibility. During that time, it was primarily a “liberal” or “progressive” movement and was ignored, or actually discouraged, by conservative Christian financial planners, as well as Wall Street. But it’s estimated that SRI has now captured 10% of America’s money under management. And each time Wall Street shoots itself in the foot, SRI grows even more quickly. That means it’s now mainstream business. So Wall Street and conservatives are paying attention.
BRI took root sometime during the mid-nineties when a couple of evangelical money managers decided to join the movement. Yet they almost immediately ran into trouble as they were primarily focused on homosexuality. They didn’t know--ignored or reveled in the fact--that a few of the earliest pioneers in the movement were gay and had won the respect of their associates by sacrificing to grow the movement. So the BRI leaders caused quite a stir at a couple of SRI meetings by describing how their “biblical” screening focused on denying benefits to gays in the marketplace. I wasn’t there but have actually heard how one BRI leader had his bags packed by conference leaders as he spoke and was asked to leave the conference as soon as he had finished irritating, rather than loving, attendees. I was told that story by my Mennonite friends who wanted me to speak the following year to keep all religious participants from being marginalized from the SRI movement. That’s actually quite important for our faith. For BRI is still hardly a blip on the responsible investing scene.
Peter Drucker once taught theology and knew responsibility has long been a concept closely related to Christianity. (Though Jesus never created a problem, or sin, he accepted responsibility for them all on the Cross.) Peter wrote in Post-Capitalist Society during the mid-nineties that the movement towards responsibility, rather than power, could be the most important non-religious movement since Plato. So it’s important that our faith be seen as an early proponent, rather than a hindrance, detractor or late-comer, to the movement. Yet as with emancipation and civil rights, Christianity is likely to be marginalized if those few conservatives continue to claim the Bible suggests we should single out gays in the workplace but ignore the divorced, for example, that Jesus did mention, as well as drunkards and gluttons like me (the glutton part!) Wouldn’t giving divorced people workplace benefits actually enable/encourage such unbiblical behavior? Does providing me with health insurance encourage me to eat too much, contributing to our national epidemic that’s breaking the bank? And what about the greedy, who Jesus did focus on when talking about the eye of the needle? Shouldn’t that discourage BRI advocates from investing in AIG and Goldman Sachs, as well as promoting the very highest returns, as some do?
In short, I think we can all be glad that no one’s ever wanted to deny our families health care and so on because of our sins. They’re now culturally acceptable, even if still biblical sins, as is homosexuality. But of course, it’s never that painful for conservative male religious leaders whose temptations are usually heterosexual to focus on homosexuals. And as noted sociologist Gertrude Himmelfarb has written: “When we now speak of virtue, we no longer think of the classic virtues of wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage, or the Christian ones of faith, hope and charity, or even the Victorian ones of work, thrift, cleanliness and self-reliance. Virtue is now understood in its sexual connotations of chastity and marital fidelity.” And as the blogger wrote: “[Homosexuality] is today’s hot topic in the Christian world and the Bible does have direct and indirect guidance on the topic. However, unless I’ve missed something, Jesus said nothing about the subject. It is possible to draw inference and conclusions from statements He made about creation but He did not approach the actual subject of homosexuality. Once again, I am not suggesting that the church ignore the issue. My only point is that we must be careful not to overlook some of the positive approaches of Jesus toward an issue [as when writing in the dirt about casting the first stone] in favor of pounding on everyone with the issue of the day.”
While I loved the blog, I had to reply to my friend that sweating these small things was more evangelical than Christian. He responded that no denomination had been more troubled by the homosexual issue than the Episcopal Church. I replied that was true but the official position of the Church when I was a member years ago was the Jesus position: that there are more important things to worry about than the sexual preferences of 1% of the population, a few of whom want to be ordained. When asked about the issue, I’ve always replied that children are starving in Africa. (As Henri Nouwen reminded us, Jesus seldom answered the legalistic questions posed to him but pointed people toward higher matters of the Kingdom.) It was the cultural Episcopalians--whose worldviews were usually shaped by Jim Dobson, Pat Robertson and so on--who elevated this non-Christ(ian) issue to the point of dividing the mind and body of Christ. It’s the same today in my Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is also threatened by schism over homosexuality. Yet I’m not aware of any of my leaders saying or doing anything about the greed that’s led to massive unemployment, shattered retirement plans, concentration of wealth that we haven’t seen since 1929, suicides over the Gulf oil spill, and so on. Apparently, all that is acceptable to the modern and cultural church; even if such issues were the primary concerns of biblical prophets, Jesus and Luther.
As someone confessed in Christianity Today this month, evangelicals often have such a limited sense of church history they often think the church fathers are those men serving on the current board of deacons. But the true fathers of our faith, historic denominations and so on were always focused on the economic root of all evil rather than the sexual sins of a few. For example, Luther wrote: “Among themselves the merchants have a common rule which is their chief maxim…I care nothing about my neighbor; so long as I have my profit and satisfy my greed, of what concern is it to me if it injures my neighbor in ten ways at once? There you see how shamelessly this maxim flies squarely in the face not only of Christian love but also natural law.” And the debt crisis might have been avoided had we understood the spirit behind these words of Luther: “If, after diligent work, his efforts fail, he who has borrowed money should and may say to him from whom he has borrowed it: This year I owe you nothing…If you want to have a share in winning, you must also have a share in losing. The money lenders who do not want to put up with these terms are as pious as robbers and murderers.”
No, investors will never hear any of that financial inconvenience from Joel Osteen, or a BRI advocate for that matter. So taking liberties with biblical financial concepts, rather than adherence to what we’ve been told is Christian sexual morality, is the true reason I believe America’s new cultural religion is so very popular with the masses even as it undermines our faith and nation. But those teachings remain biblical, as attested by Dt 15:1, and supposedly eternal. Yet ironically, you’ll likely find those true biblical teachings espoused more often in the somewhat secular SRI community than in the exclusively religious BRI community. So until more Christians actually read the Bible, we can only pray that Jesus will be less harsh as we too tithe the mint, dill and cumin while ignoring the major tenants of the Law. And that means praying for the amazing grace that Luther focused on, rather than the relatively small stuff so many religious celebrities do.
Investment decisions should be based on an individuals goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance.
Gary Moore is an investment counselor affiliated with NPC Of America, member FINRA/SIPC. The views expressed are his alone.
All information herein has been prepared solely for informational purposes, and it is not an offer to buy or sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any security or instrument or to participate in any particular trading strategy.
Securities licensed associates of Gary Moore & Co., are Registered Representatives & Investment Adviser Representatives offering securities and investment advisory services through NATIONAL PLANNING CORP. (NPC), NPC of America in FL & NY, Member FINRA/SIPC, and a Registered Investment Adviser. Registered Representatives of NPC may transact securities business in a particular state only if first registered, excluded, or exempted from Broker-Dealer, agent or Adviser Representative requirements. In addition, follow-up conversations or meetings with individuals in a particular state that involve either the effecting or attempting to effect transactions in securities, or the rendering of personalized investment advice for compensation, will not be made absent compliance with state Broker-Dealer, agent or Investment Adviser Representative registration requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. The Financial Seminary, Gary Moore & Co., and NPC are separate and unrelated companies.