"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Biblically-Based Investment Funds: A Matter of Priorities

Is it biblical to say a Christian can serve both God and money? In the Gospels, Jesus speaks to this point directly; it is not possible. In early 2017, Inspire Investing established two new exchange-traded funds having a “biblically responsible” approach to investing—meaning that they would avoid buying shares in companies that have “any degree of participation in activities that do not align with biblical values.”[1] That such activities include even tolerance for gay employees raises the question of just how practical an evangelical investment strategy is after the U.S. Supreme Court made gay marriage legal in all of the 50 republics making up the U.S.

According to the New York Times at the end of February, 2017, 92% “of the Fortune 500 companies include ‘sexual orientation’ in their nondiscrimination policies and 82 percent include ‘gender identity.’”[2] Mark Synder of the Equality Federation pointed out that businesses “have been leading the fight for full equality over the last few years. L.G.B.T. people are part of the fabric of our nation.”[3] In short, the approach of the funds was “squarely at odds with that of nearly all of corporate America.”[4] Finding companies in which to invest in may not be so easy for the employees of the two funds. Put another way, the rate of return achieved may be compromised. Of course, an evangelical Christian would contend that compromise with sin is no virtue—certainly no Christian virtue.

Adding to the difficulties is the fact that not all evangelical Christians believe that discrimination is a biblical value, Snyder asserts. Of course, the very word discrimination is ideologically laden; it implies that the thing prohibited is salubrious rather than sordid in nature. Within evangelical Christianity, the tenet that sin explicitly listed in the Old Testament should not be supported or enabled is nothing short of an article of faith. Yet even here, that Jesus of the New Testament is silent on the matter of homosexuality may give even holders of that article some pause. At the very least, the question of priorities can be raised. Should not the funds avoid investing in companies that enable or contribute toward sins identified by Jesus? To put emphasis on a sin not mentioned by Jesus has the opportunity cost of the benefit foregone from focusing on sins that are important to Jesus in the Gospels.

In fact, that Jesus stood with the outcast might prompt an evangelical Christian to feel uncomfortable in taking on a marginalized group in society—especially the transsexuals. Yet Jesus tells the prostitute to sin no more, and gays today are not apt to view homosexuality as a sin and agree to abstain from sex. Gays would be on firmer ground in pointing out that Jesus preached love foremost—a sort of love not delimited to friends and family. Hence Jesus hangs out with the sinners, loving even the “unclean” rather than going after them or those who help them.

Hence the question: what would a biblical-oriented fund based on Jesus’s concept of love (i.e., agape) have as a metric? Companies in which people fight and insult each other, such as Uber, would presumably be off the list. So too would military contractors. But just as the traditional “sin” stocks involving tobacco, gambling, and alcohol would not necessarily be excluded, so too would the matter of a company’s HR policy on gays be of small import. In short, matching Jesus’s priorities in the Gospels would arguably be a sounder basis for a biblical-based Christian investment fund. In the end, the question is whether Christians truly understand Christ’s brand of love. I suspect that it is not as ideologically comfortable as the current practice indicates. I suspect that a truly Christian investment fund would not line up on one side of a general ideological division in society, for religion transcends ideology—otherwise faith reduces to self-idolatry.

[1] Liz Moyer, “Alongside Faith in Investing, Funds Offer Investment Rooted in Faith,” The New York Times, February 28, 2017.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.