The questions I sought to answer when I began to write this blog seemed fairly straightforward to me.
What is our responsibility when we invest our money? Should we ensure our money is invested in a way that avoids causing harm and/or actively seeks good? Are there Biblical teachings on this? Does the Church have history engaging these issues?
As it turns out the answers are:
Christians do not agree (first 2). Yes (#3) and absolutely (#4).
Like so many issues throughout our 2000-year history how we invest our money turns out to be one where Christians do not seem to have universal agreement. SHOCKING! I am going to confess at the outset that I am still learning about this and I am not a) A financial planner b) An economist and c) I am in fact a lawyer by education and experience which I think is the exact opposite of the first two. All that to say – I am a work in progress when it comes to understanding investing money but I want to share with you why I think there are some Biblical principles we should follow and a little bit of how I think that can play out in the real world.
The Bible in general and Jesus in particular talks a lot about greed(Proverbs 15:27, Luke 12:15, James 5:1-7), money (Ecclesiastes 5:10, Matthew 6:21, Luke 16:10-13)and protecting the marginalized (Deuteronomy 10:17-20, Psalm 82:3, Matthew 25:31-46 Galatians 2:10) which all speak implicitly and at times explicitly on to how to use our resources.
And throughout the church’s history we have and have not heeded this wisdom. But I want to speak more about the former times.
The sixteenth century father of Protestantism, Martin Luther, had many criticisms to offer what was then an early capitalist economy that left many behind. An article examining Luther’s views on money in the Christian History Institute Magazine put it this way “Luther consistently preached and wrote against the expanding money and credit economy as a great sin . . .and Luther’s concern was not merely about an individual’s use of money, but also the structural social damage inherent in the idolatry of the “laws” of the market”In his sermon “Admonition to the Clergy that they Preach against Usury” (1540) he said “Daily the poor are defrauded. New burdens and high prices are imposed. Everyone misuses the market in his own willful, conceited, arrogant way, as if it were his right and privilege to sell his goods as dearly as he pleases without a word of criticism.” This he did not see as compatible with Christian love.
Almost two hundred years later, John Wesley a powerful Christian preacher and the founder of Methodism, “urged his followers to shun profiting at the expense of their neighbors. Consequently, they avoided partnering or investing with those who earned their money through alcohol, tobacco, weapons or gambling—essentially establishing social investment screens,” according to this article on the history of socially responsible investing (a good read – you should check it out).
Fast forward to the year right before the stock market crash of 1929 when Philip Carret (born in Lynn, MA btw) launched the Pioneer Fund (then Fidelity Mutual Trust) with a 25K investment. It was originally designed to serve church investors, the Fund had a policy of “screening investments on ethical grounds,” rejecting companies that traded in alcohol or tobacco. It went on to become one of the largest mutual funds. Carret also became a multi-millionaire and a hero of Warren Buffet because of his investment prowess, but that’s another story.
And on to today . . . where Christians who believe in being a force for good in the market have been creating tools for the rest of us for a while now. Over the next few weeks we are going to share with you how you can invest your money in ways that not only don’t cause harm, but that actually support good, really good, work! So with that tantalizing preview let me finish my treatise on the why of us engaging our money this way by addressing those who say it doesn’t matter for another paragraph or two.
As I did my research I did encounter plenty of fellow Christians who said essentially “don’t bother.” Those people tended to fall into two categories.
One I will not fully address who actually used the Parable of the Talents to attempt to argue Jesus’s concern when it comes to investments is not anything beyond us making money. This is so patently contradictory to everything Jesus (and the whole Bible) say that I don’t feel like it really needs addressing. Although at the time I read these various takes I was sufficiently engaged by the writers to need to rant to my husband about their bad exegesis for a WHILE!
It is actually the other argument which I found from a rather well known financial advice giver (among others) which I am most concerned by because I worry that it feels compelling. And it basically boiled down to this: it’s too hard. We can’t know where our money goes so let’s not try. Some called it a rabbit hole. This is tempting. Because it is hard. Not knowing is so much easier. If my investment helps a company that uses child slaves and I don’t know about it can I can’t really be held accountable, can I? If my 401(k) is going to a business that is routinely contributing to climate change and I am unaware how is that my fault? If my money is funneled into a corporation that has been regularly cited for racist hiring practices but I have no idea about it, I am in the clear right?
It is probably sort of obvious where I land on these questions. Whether we know it or not if our money is there we are supporting what our money is supporting. But more than that if our money can stop supporting these injustices and start supporting companies that are doing good, organizations that serve communities instead of exploit, corporations that sustain instead of strip away would we want that?
This is what socially responsible or impact investing is and it is not a little niche market, but a thriving world of investment and moral opportunity.
According to a Harvard Business Review article as of January of 2018 11.6 trillion of all professionally managed assets – 1 out of every 4 dollars invested in the US – were “under ESG investment (ESG is another term denoting socially responsible investing). In addition, this article discusses so many innovative ways investors, fund managers, organizations and financially minded people in general are finding to engage with social, environmental and justice issues to allow people to be involved in choosing the values they want to invest in, to essentially urge companies to value what they value using their dollars.
So while I feel I can say the parable of the talents misinterpreters are wrong, the others – those who say this is hard are not. It is certainly the easier path to simply sign up for a plan with whatever large investment firm offers the biggest returns, set up an automatic withdrawal from your bank account and watch your wealth accumulate. Understanding where your money is going and researching what it is you are participating in with your dollars is without question the harder path. But I have yet to read the Bible verse that promises Christ followers an easy life and in the words of Jesus and indeed consistently throughout scripture I see a concern for how we impact the world around us that must be brought to bear on what we do with our resources. And I believe those of us who have chosen this path, this Jesus path, want to do better, to find ways to be who we are called to be, not to find the easiest way, to the easiest life while others suffer because we have found the ease we sought.
Later this week we will share ways you can engage in socially responsible investing – so stay tuned! Also mark you calendars – on November 6th we will be hosting an event bringing together some experts and some of us who are trying to sort this out in our lives to talk about how we can invest our money in ways that do good! Click here for details.