This is one of the first questions that ran through my mind when I was introduced to biblically responsible investing, and I have found I am not alone in that experience. I had to think this through: Is it hypocritical to screen out companies from my portfolio when I am still buying their products or services as a consumer?
On first pass it seems rather disjointed to be listening to music on my iPhone as I write this article using Microsoft Word, encouraging people to adopt an investment approach that would avoid investing in those companies (among others).
Is it hypocrisy to own an iPhone and exclude AAPL from my portfolio? To drink Starbucks coffee, but avoid buying SBUX? To keep TGT out of my portfolio but buy clothes for my five kids at Target stores? I do not want to be a hypocrite, so this is an important question to answer.
Interestingly, Jesus was accused precisely of this sin. The religious leaders of Israel derided Jesus as a hypocrite who preached against adultery yet conversed with prostitutes, who preached against theft yet accepted gifts from tax collectors, who advocated sobriety yet socialized with drunkards,
“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:10-11)
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:18-20)
So, was Jesus a hypocrite? Absolutely not! He understood and taught His disciples by His example that there is a critical difference between association with sinful people and participation with them in their sin. Biblically responsible investing is rooted in this principle.
As a consumer, like Jesus, we are certainly associating with businesses which have sinful elements to them. However, also like Jesus, we refuse to participate in the sinful elements of those businesses. As a Netflix subscriber I can choose to only participate in watching wholesome entertainment on their platform with my family without compromising God’s command of holiness. But if I buy shares of NFLX, I am willingly participating in the profits of hundreds of pornographic films and other sordid “TV-MA” content that Netflix produces and distributes. I can watch family friendly movies on Netflix to the glory of God, but I cannot watch pornography to the glory of God, nor can I willingly profit from other people watching pornography to the glory of God.
In short, consumers are morally responsible for the products and services they buy. Investors are morally responsible for the profits they are earning, whether from moral or immoral sources. This is the example Jesus left us with His life, to associate with the world but avoid participating with it’s sin. Following this pattern and teaching of Christ in every area of our life enables us as His blood-bought people to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world:
“‘You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
‘You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.’” (Matthew 5:13-17)
May every Christian’s portfolio be salty and bright! May every Christian investor keep the darkness out and instead invest in good works that give glory to our Father in heaven! And may you join us, your Christian brothers and sisters around the globe who are shining the light of Christ throughout the investing world to the glory of God.
Robert Netzly is the CEO of Inspire Investing and frequent contributor on FOX, Bloomberg, New York Times and other major media. Read more from Robert in his #1 bestselling book Biblically Responsible Investing, available at Amazon.com and other major retailers.