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October 19, 2008

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As a poor renter, I could ask how moral it is to invest in rental property and thereby profit from the inability of the poor to buy a home.

I think faith and money differentially go hand and hand. Most people don't realize that money is being put into their pockets by having faith. If you don't have the faith and goodwill to make the money, than you will probably be broke.

I see vast numbers of people without faith and goodwill making money hand over fist. Look at Hollywood. Look at drug kingpins. Look at moneychangers. And that is the tip of an iceberg. Good grief!

You have GOT to be kidding.

To the poor renter- If it wasn't for someone investing in that rental property, where else would you live?

I have to say, even as a believer, I am HIGHLY critical and skeptical of this post. Boiled down, Jay is essentially saying that Christians shouldn't invest in sin. I mean that's fundamentally what it is, right? Well, if that's the case, then you might as well keep your money under the mattress, because sin is pervasive throughout the world. God doesn't call one sin "better" or "worse" than another. Quite the opposite. So if as an investor you're not going to invest in a tobacco company, why would you invest in a company like Walmart, that has unfair labor practices, or Coke, whose products cause obesity and diabetes? It's impossible to draw the line because sin is everywhere. I don't know what specific companies these "faith based" mutual funds invest in, but you can be sure that they are certainly not investing in companies that are "sin-free."

Dave,
the question of whether there are 'better' or 'worse' sins is open for debate, (I would argue that the Biblical witness is somewhat unclear on this point-David's sins with Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba are certainly condemned more soundly than some of his more venial sins) but there are definitely things that are more destructive or less destructive, and things that are more or less productive. As an example in the extreme, people growing organic raspberries for the homeless are certainly sinners, but they cause a lot less damage than say Drug smugglers in Columbia, and as a Christian I'm happier supporting one than the other with my money. Sure, the line between good and evil passes within all of our hearts, but its still possible to put companies on a spectrum of more or less destructive.

to SAHM:

The (60-year-old) house I live in was originally owned by an owner-occupant homeowner. If there wasn't someone investing in the property, then the price would have to come down far enough for someone to buy it from the original owner.

StLPastor,

So where do you draw the line between investing in a company that is "more" destructive vs. "less" destructive? Do you invest in Exxon Mobil? What about Toyota? Microsoft? In other words, please tell me what level of destructive sin is it "okay" for a Christian to invest in?

I think you have to make the call for yourself, in the same way that Christians have to decide when government oppression requires civil disobedience, or when the minor sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ require some sort of intervention, or any of the countless other ethical calls we get to make over our lifetime.
There are a bunch of different options for ethical investing, with various different criteria, so its possible to screen for the types of company practice that cause each individual the most concern.
Personally, I'm fine with Toyota and Microsoft, and somewhat more iffy on Exxon Mobil, but this is my gut reaction, I haven't done any significant research on the work of these three firms such that I could really testify about their business practices. The ethical investing fund I use pays attention to 1) connections to violence and oppressive dictators 2) Environmental concerns 3) Fair wages 4) community involvement.

Well if you have environmental concerns, you can throw ExMo and Toyota out the window. Obviously neither big oil or gas guzzling SUV's aren't great for preventing climate change. If you are concerned about fair wages (and what is "fair"?) then forget about Microsoft and 99% of all retailers. Finally, if you are concerned bout connections to violence and oppressive dictators, you can throw out all three companies for sure.

The problem I have with your approach is that it's very easy to eliminate the low hanging fruit of "evil" companies (like tobacco, big oil) when in reality nearly all major corporations engage in unethical practices. Also, since our economy is so interconnected, a company like Whole Foods can just as easily cause environmental pollution and even connections to violence and oppressive dictators as a company like Exxon. Being ignorant of these social ills doesn't make it any more right.

Also, I'm fundamentally at odds with your approach that some sins are "okay" and others are not. Does this mean that it's not okay to get high on LSD or crack cocaine but marijuana is ok? Prostitution is not ok but an occasional lap dance is perfectly acceptable?

In other words, as a pastor you'd agree that breaking any of the ten commandments is a sin, though some commandments may be more important than others. But simply b/c lying is less destructive than murder, you still would not condone lying. So why would you pay to allow certain companies to engage in sin, simply b/c those sins are less destructive than others?

Dave,
obviously the interconnectedness of the global economy is what makes this a challenging practice, but I don't buy the equivalency of sins that you are positing. E.g., Toyota has done some interesting work to reduce greenhouse gas emitting automobiles. Exxon has not put money into renewable energy, thus, Toyota is more worthy of investment. Companies focused on solar energy or other renewables are even better.

"Fair" wages is of course a nebulous issue, but making minimum wage in the United States is much more 'fair' than making 30 cents a day in a sweat shop. Exploring how the interconnections play out in terms of real world social ills is where we learn and grow as human beings.

I see your point that since all companies sin, you can't invest your money at all without sinning. First, I'm not 100% that all companies sin. I think that's probably overstating the case. But for me, the issue is not preventing other people from sinning-its about putting my money towards a world economic system that is more in line with my beliefs. I believe you get what you pay for, whether that be environmental pollution, war torn countries that are practically subsidiaries of agriculture and mining interests, or China becoming a bigger player on the world scene than the United States. I'd like to put my money toward a world that fits my values more closely.

In terms of your specific examples:
Lying and Murder are both sins. One of them should be illegal, because it is more destructive.
LSD and crack are worse than pot, they are more destructive to both the individual taking them and the community, around the user. They are not called crack houses for no reason.
Equally, visiting a prostitute is a bigger moral failing than looking at the SI swimsuit issue. Ask any spouse which they would prefer! One is much more likely to destroy a marriage.

As a pastor, I know that all pastors sin. But I believe that those that sin by molesting little children should be fired immediately, blacklisted from the pastorate, and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and those that sin by reading FMF while at work might deserve more leniency.

The biblical vision seems clear to me-Christians are called to turn our attention to the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, with both our time and attention and our money. A just world is one that does not abandon those left behind by the market. Ethical investing is just another way of trying to live out God's calling to a repentant life.

I think you are missing my point about the various ten commandment sins. The point is not whether they are legal or illegal. The point is that you would never condone someone engaging in a particular sin (whether it be lying, smoking pot, or lusting from a magazine) simply b/c it is "less destructive."

Like I said earlier, I think once you start down the road of deciding which company shares your moral values and which don't, if you take a real honest look at what companies do, you'll find it an extremely difficult endeavor. People think it's as easy as not investing in tobacco. But if you were to sit and engage in a utilitarian analysis of whether a company does more harm than good, it takes an extreme amount of effort. It's also difficult to discern personal values with biblical values. I don't see, for example, what is inherently evil about investing in a Chinese company. I'm not sure how "China becoming a bigger player on the world scene" is in and of itself unbiblical.

In any event, best of luck in your investing.

@Dave, I disagree. I'm not a believer, but I don't think it's wrong to not support companies that undermine your values. Consider the push to divest from companies supporting apartheid in South Africa, or the ones profiting from the Darfur crisis. Clearly, people will have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, because few actions in life are wholly to the good or to the evil.

But saying that you're willing to (possibly) forgo making a bigger profit because you don't like the way a company does business isn't a problem.

You may be right-
ethical investing may be tilting after windmills. But I am comfortable that there are companies that fall on different points of the spectrum of better or worse for humanity. Since I believe that this is true, I am content that it is better to put my money toward the companies that in my judgment aim at, or at least do not directly undermine a more just creation.

ps
I certainly don't think there is anything inherently wrong with investing in Chinese companies, though the government's obvious human rights abuses are disconcerting from an ethical perspective. I was just suggesting no one should be surprised when China ends up with more money than us, since we buy everything from them.

Its been good reflecting with you!
Blessings.

When we use faith as integral part in our investment goals it reinforces the greater good that manifest into our lives. The Bible has been so supportive on the aspects on investments as those recanted in the Parables of Talent. This is the reason why faith has said that to those who have more and used it wisely more will be given to them. Even faith by itself as expounded by the Bible says that it is the substance of things hope for the evidence of things not seen. When we invest our resources be it money or other material means, we have to put faith in our ventures otherwise the chance of its success becomes nil. The ability of one to invest in business is innate but it is always wise to make critical investigation before you invest. The are so many investment schemes but indulging in sin stocks sometimes runs contrary to the values of man. Of course it is lucrative to invest in stocks about wines and casinos but sometimes it runs contrary to the moral values of society. The Bible would also say faith without action is dead, so it is not enough that you have faith alone but you must put into action the noble investment goals in your life.

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