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Culture Philanthropy

God and Money

Two Harvard M.B.A. grads pursue a different view of wealth

They both tithed. They knew the “right” answers. They would have told you their money belonged to God and they should be generous and care for the poor. But when they graduated college and their wallets started bulging with six-figure incomes, their true theology of money began to surface.

Greg Baumer and John Cortines were both in their 20s when they met at a men’s Bible study as M.B.A. students at Harvard. Greg was a business guy. John was a chemical engineer. They had young families, promising careers and goals for financial wealth. Harvard was a stepping stone toward those goals.

Greg, John, and five other guys from the Bible study decided to form a core accountability group and meet every morning for what they called “discussion groups.” It was from there that Greg and John decided to enroll in a Harvard divinity class titled God and Money. “I love God, and I love money,” Greg said in a video for Generous Giving. “Sounds only natural.”

Before Harvard, Greg and his wife, Alison, were self-proclaimed spenders. They spent $1,000 a month eating out at Boston restaurants and took 5-star international vacations. John, on the other hand, was a saver. He made six-figures right out of college and saved half of it.  At another Generous Giving conference, he joked that it’s because he didn’t let his wife, Megan, spend anything.  He apologized to her for that.

The God and Money course challenged their theologies of money. Instead of “how much should I give?” they began to ask “how much should I keep?” They wrote a final term paper on how they would manage wealth were they ever to have more than they needed. It became so popular it was published as a book, “God and Money,” in 2016.

Community has become a big part of how Greg and John and their families do money. After graduating in 2015, that same accountability group of men is still connected in what they call their “board of directors for life.” They conduct monthly conference calls and meet in person for a weekend-long annual retreat for “deep accountability.”

One of their big topics is financial transparency. “It’s always been interesting that, me in particular in accountability, will be totally transparent in subjects like pornography, which is super personal, but then won’t even talk about money at all,” Greg said. “Being financially transparent has been a tremendous blessing, and it’s actually much less awkward than I initially thought it might be.”

“This level of accountability is uncomfortable, because we are sinful people,” confesses Dylan, one of the men in the accountability group. “Creating transparency is exceptionally difficult.”

One such opportunity came when Greg moved his family from Boston to Nashville to join a healthcare startup after graduating Harvard. He needed a car to commute to and from work. He started looking around at “cool cars”—but, challenged by his wife, he opted to fix up his grandmother’s 2002 Mercury Grand Marquis that was sitting in her garage unused. “That’s what I drive now,” Greg said. “The car is a daily reminder that my value is not in my stuff or in how I look in the eyes of others.”

The healthcare startup Greg worked at was soon acquired by naviHealth. “I had a share of equity in the startup, so I received a payout to the tune of around $450,000 just six weeks into my new job.”

John recalls that Greg and Alison had six figures in student loans at the time. They were also in the market to buy a house and needed money for a down payment. A lot of the funds from the payout were being rolled back into the next deal with the company, so the cash flow was limited. John asked Greg what he was going to do—would he just tithe? What would that look like? Though it affected the house they could afford, the couple decided to give away 20 percent of the gross amount.

Greg saw it as a test from God. When the hypothetical became reality, what did he really believe about money?

“What was exciting when he received that income was my initial thought wasn’t, how are we going to spend this,” Alison said. “Instead, we’re going to have a chance to give in a way that actually may impact others.”

Greg, who continues to work at naviHealth, said his time at Harvard taught him that his objective isn’t to maximize his own income but to use generosity as a means to participate in God’s Kingdom.

And, again, he also learned how important community is. “I feel so fortunate to have developed this board of directors for life with six of my best friends. The fact that we’re able to engage in our stewardship alongside one another in community, the way that has uplifted the way my wife and I think about generosity was a huge surprise.”

“So often in our culture we compare ourselves to others in a negative way, but the Scripture says to spur each other on to good deeds,” said John, who is now the director of generosity for the Maclellan Foundation. “That’s the life-giving nature of this group. I can see the best in each of these guys and these families, and then feel inspired to go after that myself.”

Greg and John co-wrote a new book “True Riches” that released in 2019.

Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.