The ethics of Biblically and Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) are not new. In fact, they can be traced not only to specific Bible verses but also to Jewish interpretive writing in the Talmud stretching back before Christ.
Drawing from several ancient Talmudic sources, Rabbi Dr. Asher Meier of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem confirms that Jewish tradition requires an ethical approach to investing: "Any economic activity that has special social value can be considered a preferred investment," he wrote.
Rabbi Lawrence Troster, who opines on Jewish moral responsibility and the environment, wrote that this sense of duty includes investing: "It has been long recognized in Jewish law that investments make us property owners. In Judaism, property owners have rights but also many responsibilities about how they utilize their property. These responsibilities include not only preventing immediate harm from occurring to others but also potential harm."
The great Middle Ages Rabbi Maimonides (1135-1204 A.D.) forbade "the sale of weapons to people who may use them for violence or robbery (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Murder 12:12, 14)."
David Weitzner at Chabad.org explains why business ethics, including ways to invest, necessarily must take outcomes into account: "Like everything else that is meaningful in one's life, the call to engage in business comes from Above. Perhaps you have heard of the classic Talmudic insight into our moment of judgment. The first question we will be asked after death, according to our sages, is, 'Did you do business b'emunah (in good faith)?'"
Christians and Biblically Responsible Investing
In 1524, Christian reformer Martin Luther excoriated businesspeople who left out ethics: "The merchants have a common rule ... I shall sell my wares as dear as I can ... But it means making room for greed and opening the door and window of hell.... so long as I have my profit and satisfy my greed, of what concern is it to me if it injures my neighbor in ten ways at once? So you see how this motto goes so straight and shamelessly against not only Christian love but also natural law as well."
John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of the Methodist movement, "urged his followers to shun profiting at the expense of their neighbors. Consequently, they avoided partnering or investing with those who earned their money through alcohol, tobacco, weapons or gambling—essentially establishing social investment screens," wrote William Donovan in The Balance.com.
Before the United States became an independent nation, English-born New Jersey tailor John Woolman (1720-1772) refused to buy any cotton or dye handled by slaves.
"What pious man could be a witness to these things, and see a trade carried on in this manner, without being deeply affected with sorrow?" he wrote. "Through abiding in the Love of Christ, we feel a tenderness in our hearts toward our fellow creatures entangled in oppressive customs; and a concern so to walk that our conduct may not be a means of strengh'ning them in error. It was the command of the Lord through Moses, thou shalt not suffer sin upon thy brother: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy brother, and shalt not suffer sin upon him. Lev.xix.17."
Ratcheting forward to 1928, we see Philip Carret launching the Fidelity Mutual Trust, which became the Pioneer Fund, one of the first-ever mutual funds. Designed initially to serve church investors, the Fund had a policy of "screening investments on ethical grounds," rejecting companies that traded in alcohol or tobacco. With Carret's guidance, the Fund survived the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression and went on to become one of the largest mutual funds. Of Carret, who died at age 101 in 1998, Warren Buffet said, "Phil was a hero of mine. He had the best long-term investment record of anyone I know."
For many years, "SRI was most commonly a faith-based phenomenon," according to a TFC Financial white paper. The funds "avoided 'sin' stocks such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and pornography."
Later, "the modern roots of responsible investing can be traced to the impassioned political climate of the 1960s. ...the Vietnam War, civil rights, our natural environment and equality for women served to escalate sensitivities to issues of social responsibility and accountability. This broadened during the 1970s to include labor/ management issues...."
In January 1994, MMA Praxis Intermediate fund, designed with Mennonite beliefs, sought companies that support positive values such as the respect for human dignity, responsible management, and environmental stewardship, while avoiding industries and activities like gambling, alcohol and tobacco production, and military contracting.
Although with the rising number of SRI funds, including some based on religion, there wasn't really an option for Christian conservatives or pastors to invest without compromising their beliefs, including the sanctity of life and wholesome family values. In March 1994, under Art Ally's leadership, the Timothy Plan unveiled its fund aimed at evangelical Christians.
Secular investment firms weren't thrilled by the arrival of Timothy Plan's Biblically Responsible Investments (BRI). In fact, mutual fund analyst Michael Lipper told Bloomberg News, "This fund may have gone too far. It sounds like someone trying to preach to the converted and then setting up a big collection."
Time has proven Mr. Ally right. The Timothy Plan is one of several successful BRI-based mutual funds now available.
The Bible makes it clear that all things belong to God, including us and everything we own. The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein (Psalm 24:1). Genesis 1 through 3 tells us that God created all things, including men and women, for his own glory, and that human beings have the honor of being at the very top of his creative order. This means human beings, while inherently sinful, are infinitely valuable, and should be treated with dignity, respect and compassion.
Since the beginning, God has given humanity the great gift of dominance over all living things, but also a responsibility to be good stewards of His creation. Therefore, we owe it to our Maker to use our money wisely. We should do nothing to hinder His Kingdom and instead advance it. We should not invest in ventures that promote or traffic in sin and thus are destructive to people.