Does it Matter?
On April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter was attacked thus beginning the Civil War. On November 13 of that same year Reverend Mark Watkinson of Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase. Here is an excerpt:
Dear Sir: You are about to submit your annual report to the Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances. One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins. ... To you first I address a subject that must be agitated.
Just seven days later the successfully agitated Samuel Chase wrote the following letter to James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia:
Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.
By 1864 coins started appearing with the new slogan, "In God We Trust". But it was not until July 11, 1955, that, under the administration of Dwight Eisenhower, Federal legislation made the appearance of "In God We Trust" mandatory on all US Currency. Then, also under Eisenhower, by an act of Congress, on July 30, 1956, "In God We Trust" became our national motto.
Again under President Eisenhower another religious phrase was codified. But, this time the President, himself, took the lead. After hearing a sermon from George Docherty on February 7, 1954, Eisenhower suggested legislation which would add the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance. Reverend Docherty must have done a better job at agitating the President than Watkinson did in agitating the US Treasury Secretary, for on the very next day a bill was introduce to add "Under God" to our pledge of allegiance. Years later President Ronald Reagan evoked this critical part of our nation's pledge by saying, "If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under."
These two incredibly important religious phrases combined with the tradition of placing one's hand on the Bible upon swearing in for public office make for three of the strong pillars on which our nation stands. Of those three, the most visible component, our motto, "In God We Trust" is, with supreme irony, stamped on our money. Indeed, isn't money one of the most powerful competitors to God for our security and trust? If we do not make sure we place God and His values ahead of money we risk the very foundation upon which we and our nation should be built. Jesus said, "You cannot worship God and money". Understandably, for many, and particularly for investors and investment firms, His words can be a supreme challenge.
Do investors want good financial performance? "Yes". Is it possible to maintain one's religious convictions and have good investment performance? Again, "Yes". But, according to Jesus, it is NOT possible to give both religious values and financial rewards first priority. Ultimately, one MUST be preeminent. Which one will it be for investors, investment professionals and even investment firms? By the way, Truett Cathy, founder of Chic-fil-a said, "Put people and principles before profit." If that concept is working for one of the most respected franchises in America, could it not also work for the investment community?
Cotton Mather, an early American clergyman and educator, wrote a detailed history of the first 50 years of New England entitled, The Great Achievement of Christ in America. As he observed the trend toward materialism he wrote, "Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother". In other words "religious values got us our prosperity, and now prosperity is destroying our religious values."
Hopefully, Mather's remarks, can be taken, not as fact or even as a prediction, but as a warning. Indeed, it may be possible that, in the midst of our prosperity, our religious values CAN be maintained and even advanced with the help of a simple, but risky, strategy. What if we took the enormous investor wealth in America and, more intentionally, directed it to support the religious values that got us the prosperity in the first place? We would, conceivably, gain both, rather than lose both.
Although financial matters ARE important to this country and the world, many, if not most, would agree that they should not reign supreme. Whittaker Chambers, a soviet spy who converted to Christianity, author of the best-selling book, Witness and one of the most highly influential figures in the heart and mind of Ronald Reagan, said "Economics is not the central problem of this century". He also said, "There has never been a society of a nation without God. But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God and died."
God or Money? The investment world holds a critical key to America's future since it controls literally trillions of dollars of financial assets. Individual investors and their advisors could make a substantial impact if they began to target investments that better reflected our religious values. Since many investments involve stock selection the result would be more capital directed to stocks of public companies whose teams are making a conscious effort to operate with faith-based values; values like the ones that have guided our country since its inception. There is evidence to suggest the resulting financial returns have a reasonable chance to be satisfactory. But, even if not, a certain peace of mind might be obtained that could go way beyond financial rewards.
Of course, there IS risk, sometimes substantial risk, in placing religious values first. But isn't risk, based on principle, what gave us America?
Carter LeCraw, CFP