Ethical investment may be defined simply as deliberately placing your savings with organisations committed to operating in ways that sustain the future of society or the planet, while avoiding those whose activities are considered harmful.
Ethical investment has become big business too, with £27bn of new money being poured into UK ethical (or similar) investment funds alone in the first three months of 2020. More than 70 new such funds were launched in that time, bringing the current total to above 2,500.
Complexity and compromise
But global trade and commerce are deeply interconnected and so investing ethically is far easier said than done. Steering clear of the major villains may be relatively straightforward – companies primarily focused on manufacturing weapons can’t hide, pressure groups are happy to publish lists of cosmetics groups that test on animals, and corporate reporting is increasingly ousting organisations with human slavery in their supply chains.
Dig a little deeper and you are faced with complexity and compromise. Leave supermarkets involved in red meat supply off your shopping list and you may struggle to purchase frozen peas and beans, especially if you require online delivery in a pandemic. And what about an otherwise unimpeachable multinational corporation that happens to operate in a country with a dubious human rights record? And should we really avoid legacy oil companies, now they are some of the largest investors on our planet in green energy projects?
Unfortunately, the position feels even less clear-cut for Christians. Many companies in the medical sector use stem cells (and worse) in the search for groundbreaking new drugs; others benefit from abortion or euthanasia; and nowadays almost any organisation is happy to use recreational sex in their products’ sales messages.
There are a few Christian ethical investment funds out there – a good example being Epworth Investment Management, a sister organisation to the Methodist Central Board of Finance. Epworth’s investment policy avoids “companies whose businesses are wholly or mainly involved in alcohol, armaments, gambling, high interest lending, pornography, tar sands, thermal coal and tobacco”. But when it comes to ethics, the word “mainly” can unacceptably signify compromise.
Investing in eternity
Part of the problem for Christians is that investment, ethical or otherwise, is not all about money. Jesus told his followers, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). This is not just about the cash we have in our purses and wallets; it refers to how we use every single gift from God, so it should affect how we use our time and our skills, too.
Christ’s teaching should fundamentally challenge our thinking on ethical investment. His preceding words were: “Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven” (v20), so we should invest with eternity in mind. True Christian ethics require an eternal perspective. Let’s invest in building the kingdom of God right here, right now – by spreading the good news of the gospel and growing the Church more effectively.
True Christian ethics require an eternal perspective
Funding gospel ministry and investing do not need to be mutually exclusive – you can do both at the same time. Many churches across the UK are active in building projects. Some are acquiring new buildings for church plants. Others are making their existing structures welcoming and accessible for all, so they are pleasant places to be in at all times of the year and flexible enough to cater for all sorts of activities. And some are buying new housing for ministers, youth workers and so on.
How is such vital activity financed? Often through mortgage or other bank lending.
In the last three months of 2020 Kingdom Bank received enquiries for mortgages totalling approximately £40m, the vast majority of which were for properties for churches, Christian charities and Christian ministers. The key point is that this need represents an opportunity for Christians to participate in growing the kingdom by putting their savings directly into these types of activities. It may not earn much interest, although who these days relies for income on what their bank has paid them for the privilege of looking after their savings? No, the return is eternal. Kingdom Bank’s desire is for every penny in its savings and deposit accounts to be used to build churches and to fund gospel growth. We view this as the ultimate Christian ethical investment.
Paul Houghton is CEO of Kingdom Bank
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