I was reading in Kiplinger personal finance today that in a turbulent market like it is today, with the economy on the verge of a recession and the housing market unstable, one of the best investments people can make are in so called “Sin Stocks”.
Hard times won't stop gamblers from betting, partygoers from drinking and smokers from puffing. In fact, economic turbulence might give them even more reason to indulge. That makes so-called sin stocks, or shares of alcohol, gaming and tobacco companies, a safe bet as the U.S. economy slows.
My question is this: Is it okay for a Christian to “indulge” in investing in these types of stocks? Is it reasonable to think that we as Christians should make sure all of our investments are in companies that we morally agree with?
In this two part series I will look at investing in so called “Sin Stocks” and talk about some of the competing ideas as to what is acceptable, and what isn't.
When looking for opinions on the subject of Christians investing in vice stocks two competing camps came into clear view. The camp that says it is never OK to invest in vice stocks and those who say that it isn't advisable, but it is near impossible to micro-manage all of your accounts.
Today, I'll look at the viewpoint that it is never OK to invest in vice stocks.
Boundless.org in their article on investing with a conscience say that people who would never invest in a questionable company have two main reasons for not doing so:
For those who don't want to invest in morally questionable companies, two reasons usually come to the forefront: personal conscience and societal change. First, they don't want their money going to companies that promote, well, let's just say it — sin…. But beyond just keeping their money in moral companies, many Christians choose faith-based funds as a tool for societal change.
First, as a Christian there are many things that we avoid as it runs counter to our belief system. But not engaging in those activities isn't enough, say proponents of keeping your investment portfolio clean. You should scour your 401k accounts, investment funds and financial holdings to make sure that you aren't investing in stocks that in some way support an immoral lifestyle. Boundless.org puts it like this:
Would you work for Playboy magazine? Probably not.
Would you buy a Playboy magazine? Let's hope not.
But are you supporting Playboy magazine financially anyway?
No way, you say.
Not so fast. Have you checked your 401(k)?
Does that index fund you hold in your retirement account include a stock with the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) ticker “PLA”? If so, you are a part owner of, that's right, Playboy. Not that you'll be getting invitations to Hugh Hefner's mansion (and not that you want them). But a little bit of your money, however infinitesimal, is going to the Playboy conglomerate.
How would you feel if you found out that was the case? Would it bother you?
Would it bother you to find out you held stock in Playboy or Hustler magazine? How about stocks in gambling concerns or big tobacco companies? Clean investing proponents argue that if you find those activities concerning, then you should rid yourself of active ownership in their company's stocks in order to keep a clean conscience.
Beyond just keeping their investments in companies they consider sound morally, many Christians choose faith-based funds as a tool for societal change.
The culture war has a new battlefront,” declares the web site of The Timothy Plan. That new battlefront? Wall Street.
Pointing out that politically left activists have long used their influence as shareholders to influence corporate policy, the web site encourages Christians to use this influence as well.
“Boycotting alone is a commendable yet incomplete action,” The Timothy Plan Web site states. “Boycotting coupled with the avoidance of stock or bond ownership of such companies is a much more effective approach
The Barna and the Investment Company Institute approximates that 40 million Christians invest over 4 trillion dollars in mutual funds. If they put their money in socially and religiously responsible investments, broad societal change can be started. As Arthur Ally of the Timothy Plan states:
I believe you could see positive cultural change in America come from Wall Street long before it comes from the White House.
So many Christians believe that you should never invest in questionable companies because they support an immoral lifestyle. By taking their investment dollars elsewhere, they hope to keep their own consciences clean, and help bring about societal change in the process. Companies that can help people do this, like the Timothy Plan are popping up all over, and while some of them charge fees that some might not be comfortable with, they have the advantage of being “clean investments”.
Next in this series I'll talk about those who say that it is sometimes unavoidable to invest in certain sin stocks, and why you can never fully divest yourself from those companies. In the meantime check out all the great reading through the links below.
The Virtues of Vice Stocks – Kiplinger.com
Investing with a conscience – boundless.org
Why religion is an important part of personal finance – Getrichslowly.org
Funds for Christian Investors – Business Week
Timothy Plan Hall of Shame Companies to avoid
Socially Responsible Investing: The Debate Over Where to Draw the Line