In a previous article, I discussed three inappropriate goals for avoiding “sin stocks.” There I argued that using a moral screen on your investments is not able to remove guilt, keep money from going to bad companies, or avoid profits that are tainted by sin.
After hearing that some might wonder, “If avoiding sin stocks can’t do those things, why bother to avoid sin stocks at all?” Is there any reason not to invest in companies that profit from activity related to abortion, tobacco, alcohol, or pornography?
An Analogy to Spiritual Growth
If we just focus on avoiding sin stocks, the limitations of the approach stand out. It cannot stop bad businesses or ensure our purity of heart. But on the other hand, neither can most of the other good deeds we do.
For example, listening to a Christian podcast on our commute isn’t going to change the world. Fasting and prayer over lunchbreak cannot wash away our sin. Going to church does not assure we will be saved. But small decisions like these really matter. God can use them to change us.
Believers have always wrestled with how to live a holy life in the context of a fallen world. Of course, the answer is simple in principle: We must follow Christ. But the application is different for each one of us: What is Christ calling me to do in my situation today?
Even though investing is a matter of Christian liberty, this doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want without reference to God. As with all our decisions, investing should be a matter of seeking God, consulting wise counselors, considering biblical principles, and trusting God to guide our steps.
Aiming for Better Goals
Perhaps the biggest challenge around using morally screened investments is keeping one’s eyes on appropriate, biblical goals. Some people like to focus on avoiding tainted money, as seen in comments about “zero tolerance” or “not one penny” from impure sources. But as I argued, this does not account for what Scripture teaches about money and builds on assumptions about the transferrable morality of money.
If this is not a good reason to avoid “sin stocks,” what might be a better reason? I spoke with my friend Doug Hanson who has considered many of the implications of being a Christian investor. He suggested the following as better goals for using screened investments:
Motive #1 – To increase our focus on Christ. While screening investments is not the only way to do this, it can be a way to invite Christ more fully into our lives. People often overlook their investments when it comes to spiritual growth and worship. But honoring the Lord with our wealth (Prov. 3:9) implies that we should invite Christ into every part of our financial lives, including investing.
Motive #2 – To increase our faithful influence on others. A faith-integrated approach to investing, including avoiding “sin stocks,” can open doors to express our faith to others. This can move the topic of investing from being mundane, to something spiritually oriented in our conversations. If family or friends hear that we are making God’s will a priority even in our investments, this may influence them to think about God’s will for their lives.
Motive #3 – To increase our trust in the Lord. Taking the step to screen investments can be done with a heart that says, “Lord, I’m giving all I have to you, including my investments.” While this is not the only way to trust God, it can remind us not to be anxious but to pray with gratefulness instead (Phil. 4:6). Viewing our investments as belonging to the Lord can help us remember that our heavenly Father will meet our needs regardless of investment performance (Matt. 6:30-33).
Motive #4 – To increase our personal resolve against sin. Sometimes taking a step in one area has a positive trickle-down effect on other areas of life. For example, choosing not to invest in companies that profit from pornography can reinforce our decision to stay away from pornography in our media choices. For those who know the devastating effect of alcohol abuse, avoiding alcohol investments can bolster their resolve to stay away from the misuse of alcohol in their life.
In addition to these motives, Doug reminds us not to view investment screening as the “holy grail” of godly living. Rather, we should see it as another tool to encourage people to live for Christ.
With so much potential good associated with moral screening, why bother to mention that it cannot keep money from bad companies or avoid ill-gotten gain in the biblical sense?
First, financial professionals are bound to avoid making exaggerated or misleading claims about investments. Second, as believers, we must also be careful how we use the Bible. It isn’t enough to just quote verses that seem to support our favorite investing ideas. Certainly, the Bible offers principles that can guide our investing. But like all biblical principles, these require interpretation, historical context, and thoughtful application.
It would be easier if we could say, “Honoring God means investing according to this rule.” Instead, we must return to where we began. Following Christ is the key. Seeking to do His will and hearing “well done” is what we must all strive for. As we follow Christ’s call, we will inevitably express that in a variety of ways.
If you believe the Lord is calling you to avoid investing in certain kinds of businesses, do so for the glory of God and for the increase of your joy. And as you do, remember that others are also seeking to honor Christ by using other strategies that may not involve investment screening.
Perhaps we can put our investing strategies in their place by noting the words of C. S. Lewis on a topic of much greater significance than mere investing. “When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.”
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.
Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor, member FINRA/SIPC. WaterRock Financial, LLC is a separate entity from LPL Financial.
Luke Bolton serves as director of operations at WaterRock Financial near Minneapolis, Minnesota. He earned a BA in theology at Northland International University and an MA in biblical studies at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife are members at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. They enjoy exploring, reading, and having outdoor adventures with their two boys.