The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report on the state of the climate is dire and urges us to take action. Those who care are jumping into quick opportunities, ready to point a finger, wear the t-shirt, or post on social media. Yet, as someone who has been in advocacy work for a while, I’ve begun to wonder how much all this “righteous anger” accomplishes if we don’t learn to examine our own ethical choices as well.
Augustine issues a warning that should resonate with anyone involved in social justice, as he directs us to look beyond the outward actions that are seen by others:
“[The hypocrite] is more concerned with his reputation for righteousness than about actually becoming righteous. The approbation of men matters more to him than the approval of God.”
In this time when we can easily make public statements, there’s a need to first examine our private actions to make sure they’re consistent with our message.
Troy Bierma, a PhD student in eco-theology, was confronted by the ethical implications of how he used his money. Bierma’s journey started after spending time in several countries in the global south, as he saw the impact of unbridled capitalism, unmoored from moral underpinnings. Realizing that many corporations do whatever is best for the bottom line no matter the ethical implications, his views on investing began to change. He told me, “Good stewardship is not about making our resources grow. Instead, stewardship means we will be accountable for the things that we support, and love requires not supporting harmful endeavors.”
The organization I work with, Climate Witness Project, works to equip Christians to take a closer look at this question. Recently, one of our partner churches in Grand Rapids, Michigan, attended an ethical investment workshop we sponsored. This church has made fighting climate change a priority, joining with other faith-based organizations to advocate for just and sustainable policies. They’d encouraged community efforts to fight pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, they were great at spreading the message.
But there was a catch. The Fountain Street Foundation investments. This church is not connected with any denomination, so it relies on a multi-million dollar endowment as an important part of the congregation’s long-term financial stability. The church needs to receive a return on investment from the Foundation.
At the sustainable investing workshop, the church members were challenged to take a deeper look at how green their investment portfolio really was. Kurt Hoeltzher, an investment advisor who taught the workshop, challenged them, “Does this company value what I value? Is the end result something which I’ll be proud of, or will I be ashamed of it?”
Soon after the investment workshop, the Foundation Committee felt compelled to act. Working with an investment advisor, the Foundation divested the entire endowment of direct fossil fuel investments. John Considine, the chair of FSC’s Green Team, summed up the rationale of the decision:
“[As a church], we have an ethical framework, and are making a moral statement with this decision . . . this is modeling appropriate behavior to the congregation and to the wider community. Our money should reflect our values.”
In our conversation, Troy Bierma noted that the intentional investment of our money is a way to promote flourishing for all, “Christian investing is . . . about participating in and empowering the businesses and endeavors that are good for people, culture, and the broader environment.”
So how do we engage in this type of activist investing? To find avenues for ethical investments requires asking the right questions, comparing options, and determining priorities. But the time put into acquiring this knowledge will help lay the foundation for impactful money decisions.
To start, look at your current investments. Because companies that promote sustainability are becoming more profitable, it’s possible that your current investment portfolio has already gone green. Fossil Free Funds is a great tool to see where different funds rank. It provides an A to F letter grade for quick analysis, as well as more in-depth information about what percentage of each fund is invested in fossil fuel-related companies.
Second, if you find that your current investment choices are not up to par, take a look at Socially Responsible Investment funds (SRI). US SIF provides a helpful index of these types of funds that allows you to compare returns and look at the costs of available options. If you’re concerned about investments focused on more than just the environment, the folks at As You Sow have created multiple categories of listed funds based on the social causes investors care about. Examples include funds supporting companies working for gender equality, gun-free investments, and tobacco-free funds.
Finally, you can have a more direct impact on your community through local investing. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) are local organizations, including credit unions and community loan funds, that can provide an important “helping hand” to environmentally conscious businesses, nonprofits, and community projects. Moving at least some of your banking to a credit union is a great way to get started. These institutions are designed to be about the community instead of maximizing profits. There are often investment opportunities through either the credit unions or community development loan funds that allow you to more directly participate in socially responsible investing in your city or region.
Cyprian of Carthage admonishes us, “The property of the wealthy holds them in chains . . . which shackle their courage and choke their faith and hamper their judgment and throttle their souls.” By making the choice to move our investments, we’re working to undo the damage of corporate greed and to love our neighbors through our financial choices. This is the way of faith-inspired advocacy. No social media sharing required.