In the past Christians have either ignored anti-Christian positions by companies in which they're invested or tried to screen sin out. Strive Asset Management's Justin Danhof argues for a third approach in which Christians use their voices and their votes as shareholders to steer companies in the right direction.
Justin is probably the leading authority when it comes to engaging with corporations through the proxy process to counter the ideological capture of publicly traded companies. I recently talked with Justin on my podcast Meeting of Minds, and Justin will soon appear on the podcast Business in the Kingdom on the Edifi network. Here are a few highlights from that discussion, lightly edited for clarity and length:
Jerry: Now, you've been doing this for how long?
Justin: About a dozen plus years. You know, it started as a lonely journey, but it's really built up quite a bit of steam, specifically over the last three or four years. And there's a lot more folks that are realizing that the way to effect change in the corporate cultural lane is through engagement.
Jerry: You and I have discussed this before. I find frequently that Christians involved in finance either say to ignore politics and just collect your dividends, or they say, "there are problems in corporate America, boycott them, sell them!" You say neither of those are your preferred approach. What is your preferred approach?
Justin: Look, I understand the inclination on both sides, I just think there's flaws in both systems. So first of all, ‘it's just investing your money and collecting your dividends.’ We’ll take that one first. Well, here's the main flaw with that approach: the other side, whether you want to call it “woke,” you want to call it ESG, you want to call them liberal activists. Whatever you want to call them, they use their money to advance their values. And that means that if you are a Christian investor who's not paying attention, your money is actually being weaponized against you all the time, because you're passively letting it just sit there. If you want your money to work for your values, you have to put in some legwork. You have to actually put in some elbow grease. That's the flaw in that system.
Jerry: I suspect that up until maybe just a few years ago that was a hard argument for you to make. In other words, people thought everything was fine, but now that's not a hard argument to make; people are now really paying attention to what's going on in corporate America. Is that what you're seeing?
Justin: Yeah. You can't open up the Wall Street Journal, turn on CNBC or turn on Fox Business without seeing a company taking an action that is the antithesis of the values that we as Christians hold. So, you know, whether it is treating people differently based on the color of their skin, or their sexuality, or promoting extreme sexual positions, including what Disney has done in Florida that has created so many headlines, where they're picking a political side where you've got kindergarten through third grade teachers that are essentially grooming children and teaching them about transgenderism as young as five or six years old. Disney's chosen that side. So, yeah, I do think that some like to call it an awakening to the woke. A Christian investor can no longer just sit idly by. There's just too much evidence to the contrary, and more and more they are interested in this topic.
Jerry: 12 years ago it was probably really tough to get Christians interested in this topic, now, not so much.
Justin: Part of it was there was a bait and switch, and there was this march through the corporate lane, just like how the left and the Marxists have marched through every institution in our society. They were doing it to business, and we saw it happening. But they were really smart about how they did it, and a lot of folks didn't see it coming until it smacked us in the face. We saw all the iterations of it starting a dozen years ago. It was methodical and it was evil, but it was brilliant. What they've done to advance their causes through big business – really powerful.
And then as you mentioned, the other investment model is the divestment model. And I have sympathy for that approach. I really do. I understand the inclination. I cannot let my money be used in ways that would go against my values. But when I look at the organizations that sin screen and divest, I just scratch my head at the companies they're still invested in. They've only gone maybe one layer deep: they're not peeling back all the layers of the onion, because if they did, they would invest in so few companies that they really wouldn't be involved in the capital markets whatsoever. And that's the problem: I see the holdings, and I don't want to name names, but I will say to take a deeper look into your holdings and you'll find that quite a few of them are wildly offensive towards Christian values, they're promoting ESG causes every day, they're funding organizations that are really corrupting the culture. I mean, anybody can just Google “Human Rights Campaign corporate sponsors” and it's a who's who–and not just of Hollywood and Silicon Valley companies–it's a who's who of every major industry.
Jerry Bowyer is financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”