Should Christians Use Faith Based Mutual Funds?

by Tim on January 12, 2011

According to the Social Investment Forum, socially responsible investing (SRI) makes up over 12% of all U.S. invested funds. SRI mutual funds screen out investments in companies that are harmful to individuals, the community or the environment. With over 250 SRI mutual funds available, it’s easy to see how popular of a choice it is for investors.

An even smaller niche of investing is called MRI – morally responsible investing. As it sounds, these investments screen out companies that support morally questionable areas like pornography, gambling, tobacco, abortion, alcohol, and anti-family entertainment. The question is – should Christians use faith-based mutual funds over other investments?

Am I Part Owner of a Questionable Company?

When you invest in a mutual fund, you are an investor in multiple (even hundreds) of companies. Owning shares of a company (through mutual funds) makes you part owner of the company and a participant in the profits and losses of that company.

For example: If you invest in a mutual fund that is a heavy supporter of the pornography industry, does that mean you are a part owner of these pornography companies. By the definition of owning stock, then yes.

Does That Mean I Need To Stop Investing in Mutual Funds?

No, of course not. Also, before I say anything more about screened mutual funds, please note that I am not suggesting that you go 100% screened.

Should you stop shopping at Wal-Mart because they sell tobacco? Not me – you’ll still see me there.

Should you stop watching ABC because Disney owns it and is a supporter of gay rights? I won’t – no way I’ll stop watching Shark Tank.

The fact is that we cannot control every situation we’re in and weed out every hint of immoral business from every transaction we make. Does that mean we should stop trying to avoid immoral investments – of course not. I don’t make donations to support abortion agencies – and with a little research, I can tell if my mutual fund investment is supportive of major abortion associations.

Are Screened Investments Right For Me?

  • If your convictions are such that investing in an unscreened mutual fund makes you cringe at what you are directly supporting, then a screened mutual fund may be appropriate for you.
  • If you are happy with the returns of the screened funds and believe in what you’re supporting (or not supporting), they might be right for you.
  • If you’re ok with the potential of higher than average mutual fund fees because of the added ‘benefit’ of screening, then you might consider making screened investments a part of your portfolio.

Will I Sacrifice Performance and Returns?

This is definitely a good question and one that might vary from fund to fund. On average, screened investments perform similarly to their non-screened counterparts. The best way to compare is to find a similarly diversified mutual fund and compare it to the performance of an index like the S&P 500.

If you are interested in finding screened mutual funds, explore a few of the most common faith-based investments available:

The Timothy Plan
Ave Maria Mutual Funds
Faith Shares
Steward Mutual Funds
Eventide Funds
MMA Praxis

The Bottom Line

I don’t have a definitive answer for every Christian out there. Your convictions might be different from mine, and you may feel that supporting a certain industry isn’t all that bad – like alcohol for example.

I’ve used screened investments and have been happy with the performance as well as knowing that my funds weren’t supporting those questionable industries. You might be different and feel that the screening option isn’t something to consider.

So what do you think? Should Christians make an effort to screen out questionable companies from their investments or is it a moot point?

Tim is a personal finance writer at Faith and Finance a Christian financial help blog that provides financial insights for individuals, businesses, and churches. Outside of finance, Tim enjoys spending time with his wife, playing the saxophone, reading economics books, and a good game of RISK or Catan. Find him on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to the Faith and Finance RSS feed.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

krantcents January 12, 2011 at 10:37 pm

I believe everyone should be able do whatever they want to do as long as it doesn’t infringe on my freedom. If the mutual funds in question make sense financially, then do it.

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Derrik Hubbard, CFP January 13, 2011 at 12:26 am

Thoughtful article, Tim.

I’ve been conflicted on how to handle this for some time.

Here is where I get tripped up…..

The money that I invest in mutual funds on the secondary market never gets into the hands of the companies themselves (just like buying a used Ford doesn’t ever get to Ford), whereas the money that I spend on products eventually does. So while I can feel great that my investments are in the right place, I can go home and fill up my car with gas at a station that sells pornography. To me this is straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel.

Maybe someone can help me resolve this.

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be content March 1, 2013 at 10:32 am

money invested doesnt go to companies? could you explain this?

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Jay Peroni January 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Derrik,
For me and my clients it’s more about where are the profits coming from. We care not only about the amount of profit, but also the source of the profit.

There was a church not too long ago that refused a $multi-million donation from lottery winnings. This posed a problem for the church, they had a gambling addiction ministry and knew this donation was coming from gambling winnings. With investing, many investors care where the profits are coming from. I personally don’t recommend any mutual funds for clients but if I did would certainly prefer those that are screened for moral and faith issues versus those that aren’t. It ultimately comes down to a choice and it’s between the investor and God: what is the best way to be the best steward of that which He has provided. After nearly 7 years of research at http://www.faithbasedinvestor.com, I have found you can have both good performance and keep your values in check!

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Derrik Hubbard, CFP January 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Jay,

I like using that perspective “where are the profits coming from?”.

How about the purchases that I make that can go to companies who may not support my values (but I don’t know it). Investment companies have done a great job at screening, but it doesn’t seem that there are many resources out there for consumers with their purchasing decisions.

It seems that the dollars that a company gets from my purchases should not be ignored.

What do you think?

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Jay Peroni January 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Derrik,
I agree spending should be in line with one’s values also. It gets a little harrier there. With a company, it’s easy to avoid purchasing their stock. However with products it’s not so easy. Microsoft is a part of most computers. Likewise many companies have their parts or products somewhere in your life. It has to be practical. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. For example, if you are pro-life and do not want to buy products from companies on the Planned Parenthood Boycott list you could go to http://www.fightpp.org/. For almost every major moral/social cause you can get a list of the biggest offenders. Some are practical others may not… But knowing as they say is PRICELESS!

Hope that helps…

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Tim @ Faith and Finance January 20, 2011 at 1:40 pm

@ Derrik & @KrantCents- Thanks for the great comments!

@Derrik – You make a valid point about your dollars going to support those companies that support questionable products. I would agree with Jay about investing in companies that derive their greatest profits from things that go against your values. I’ve seen how this topic can really differ from person to person, and I like how Jay put it – “It has to be practical. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.”

Thanks for jumping in with your input @Jay! Your experience and advice is awesome!

Tim

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