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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Christian Financial Planning

The title of this post asserts nothing so it is more of a contradiction than a myth.

I know. I'm tugging on the tail of a hungry & rather grouchy lion. But this blog is intended to be controversial and challenging.  What could be more controversial and challenging than religion and money?  Case in point is "Christian" financial planning.

What is  "Christian" financial planning?  Oddly, none of the "Christian" financial planning websites I visited even mentioned Jesus.  Perhaps it was because Jesus' financial plan was quite clear:  Sell everything and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21).  And then there's Jesus' metaphor of a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle having better odds than a rich man attempting to enter Heaven (Matt. 19:24). Not being a Biblical literalist- since I can't read Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek -from everything else I've read about him, I think Jesus was referring to attachment to or obsession with or love of money (or any other ego attachments for that matter) not just the mere possession of wealth. 

Here is the key point:  without emotional attachment to material wealth, you would indeed gain more happiness by relieving suffering, by giving, than from amassing and clinging to wealth.  (How contrary to the sadistic, stingy behavior so common in some supposedly religious circles today, no?)  Hence the camel metaphor. [Some scholars suspect a mistranslation- remember, this was an oral history -that instead of "camel" (kamilos) the Greek word was "kamelos" or rope. The metaphor still gets the idea across as neither rope nor camel will fit through the eye of a needle.  BTW, there is no scholarly basis for interpreting "needle" to mean "doorway", as the tour guides may tell you.] So is it unreasonable to ask this?:  Why would a "Christian" financial planner do his clients the massive disservice of encouraging attachment to wealth, thereby preventing their entry into Heaven?  (To be fair, several of the websites did emphasize the tax advantages of charitable giving.)

Here is where the grand contradiction occurs:  Self-labeling as "Christian financial planner" is meant to imply "Hey, you can trust me without knowing anything else about me!". But then, every Christian financial planning website I've reviewed reverts to mostly Old Testament "Biblical financial principles". That way they don't have to deal with Christ's rather simple wealth redistribution plan for which their services would be unnecessary.

Anyway, even if you use a "Biblical" financial adviser, insist on these basics:

  1. A holistic approach.  A good planner will ask lots of questions and deal with you as a whole person, not just as an investor or product consumer.  
  2. Unbiased advice, meaning driven by evidence and reason rather than production quotas.  Please base your trust on evidence and understanding, not warm & fuzzy buzzwords.
  3. A legal fiduciary who must put your best interests first, ahead of his own and his firm's.  Ask a lot of questions too, and assume nothing.

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