Where Are The Christian Investors?
The Christian Economic Forum hosts a world-class Global Event each year to connect the top industry leaders and experts from around the world with other individuals who are compelled to act upon the principles of God’s economy. The following paper was presented at CEF 2018.
— by Tim Macready
The Bible teaches that we are stewards of all we have. Everything, including “our” money, has been entrusted to us by God so we may faithfully steward it for His glory and our joy. This is true of each dollar (or pound, euro, shilling, or peso!) we have, whether we spend it today, save it for later, or give it away. Our financial choices should reflect our faith.
Christians have been leaders in giving for centuries. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the early church was the way she provided not only for her own poor, but also for the poor from the societies around her. Christians are more likely to give—and give more—than their secular counterparts (although sadly not necessarily more than followers of other religions).
Christians have also been leaders in responsible spending. The modern fair-trade movement traces its roots back to Mennonites, Quakers, and the Salvation Army. Its origins, however, lie even farther back in the efforts to stamp out the slave trade through a boycott of West Indian sugar—efforts fired by an understanding of the slave as “a man and a brother” made in God’s image. Dr. Martin Luther King, in his final sermon, reminded his listeners that withdrawing economic support sends a powerful message to companies and industries.
Likewise, when it comes to investing, Christians were early adopters of the idea that moral considerations matter. As far back as 1758, the Quakers prohibited their members from “investing” in slaves. John Wesley’s sermon, “The Use of Money,” articulates a well-developed understanding of the way we as Christians are to engage in trade—avoiding industries that harm people or that are involved in fraudulent activity.
Sadly, many Christian investors lag behind their secular peers in using capital responsibly and for good. We have often settled just for screening out a few companies from our portfolio on moral grounds. Or even worse, we have divorced our investment and our faith entirely, creating a secular-sacred divide that doesn’t care about how our portfolio grows, so long as the proceeds are used faithfully.
In the meantime, secular investors push ahead. Responsible Investment today is a US$20 trillion industry. Over half of Australia’s $2 trillion pension assets have divested from tobacco stocks. Mainstream investors the world over have bought into the idea that environmental, social, and governance factors are relevant not only to the investment performance of our portfolios, but also to how the finance industry as a whole plays its part as a positive and responsible contributor to society.
If we are truly about seeking a just economy and society, Christians must awaken and see their investment portfolios as an expression of their faith that can be a powerful tool for good. We should be early adopters and leaders in this transformative effort to shape our economies and investment markets, pursuing human flourishing and creation care.
What does it look like for Christians to wrestle with investing not just for profit, but also for impact? There are many questions to ask and much discernment is needed.
As we seek to avoid harm, at what point do we hold a company accountable for its contribution to harm, when other parties (subsidiaries, consumers, governments) rightly share responsibility? How do we maintain integrity and faithfulness in the way we invest since every company has flaws and faults? We must find an appropriate balance between avoiding investments that create harm and recognising that most companies do much good, especially by creating jobs and providing valuable products and services.
What does it look like to invest for flourishing? What is the view of the good life we are seeking for those impacted by our investments? How can we invest in such things?
We must also wrestle with questions about performance trade-offs. As followers of Christ, we value justice over profit maximisation. But we cannot forget we are stewards entrusted with assets and an expectation of return. Those of us who invest in a fiduciary context often feel constrained in our ability to adopt responsible investment strategies, fearing we might experience lower performance or higher risk in the pursuit of responsible or impact investment goals.
There is, however, a growing pool of evidence that these strategies can improve long-term investment performance. At the same time, the idea that a fiduciary exists solely for the financial benefit of its beneficiaries is increasingly being challenged. As Christians, we affirm that stewards are to act faithfully. Even so, beneficiaries of pension schemes, managed funds, and other pooled investments are demanding their values be taken into account in the way that portfolios are managed, regardless of the financial implications. As Christians, we should be engaged in this debate—at its core is a question about the fundamental purpose of investment markets and the very structures of our economies. We have an opportunity to
remind the world that money and markets are a tool for human flourishing and creation care, not a mindless exercise in profit maximisation while destroying lives and pillaging God’s creation.
Knowing Christ transforms our lives; how can it also transform our investment portfolios? As Christian investors, we expect to answer to the Master about how we have been faithful with the portfolios He entrusted to us. We will give an account not only for our financial returns, but also our non-financial outcomes.
Wrestling through these questions takes time and persistence. Perhaps we need new categories of investment and new intermediaries who will help us as Christians to invest faithfully. These might include:
Venture capital firms investing in businesses that integrate Christian faith.
Property funds that adopt Christian approaches to every facet of real estate.
Equities managers who integrate Christian principles across their investment strategy.
Advisors who will help us align our portfolios with our faith.
In God’s providence, many such organisations are emerging, giving us more opportunities to be faithful with what has been entrusted to us, so that it not only grows financially, but also leaves a good and faith-filled legacy.