Religious investments

Faith-based investment products that speak to people’s moral and spiritual conscience are following in the footsteps of “socially responsible” investing, which was making headlines some months back as a place that the progressive/liberal affluent could put their money. Now, this morning’s Washington Post examines mutual funds with a mission, which have a lot of appeal for the socially conservative evangelical investor:

Religious conservatives are mobilizing to attach a voice to the cash they have on Wall Street. For example, the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association is for the first time urging its 2.8 million online members to purge their investment portfolios of companies that support a “gay agenda” or “anti-family” practices.

Yet, as social conservatives increasingly tether their agendas to their investments, they’re hardly walking in lockstep. On the contrary, they’re choosing among a range of religious financial products — including 16 families of faith-based mutual funds — that vary in how they define corporate responsibility.

Evangelicals, for instance, are getting behind more than one vision. Some have contributed to the $600 million Timothy Plan, a family of mutual funds with evangelical roots and a pledge to avoid “securities of any company that is actively contributing to the moral decline of our society.” Translation: screening out companies — including many in the benchmark S&P 500 Index — affiliated with pornography, abortion, gambling, tobacco, alcohol and non-married lifestyles.

However, evangelicals are also behind much of the $900 million invested with the politically enigmatic Mennonite Mutual Aid Praxis Mutual Funds. This group avoids companies such as Pfizer, which fund managers regard as manufacturers of abortion products. But it also lobbies on behalf of shareholders for eco-friendly corporate policies, and its pacifist orientation screens out stocks in defense contractors and bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury.

It’s not just the Christian evangelicals hopping on the God-money bus. Catholics, on the one hand, have their funds, and so do Muslims. But it’s important to note their buzzword is “morally responsible” investing, according to the article–as if they did in fact take their cue from the progressive movement, and they say as much.

Until now, the American Family Association, for instance, has focused on consumer action, such as a successful 2006 boycott that led to the demise of NBC’s racy “The Book of Daniel.” Consumer pressure is easier than investor pressure to explain and to use in rallying a broad base of supporters, according to AFA President Tim Wildmon.

But he says his organization has been remiss in letting agenda-driven investing be the near-exclusive province of left-leaning mutual funds with a “socially responsible” label.

“We just dropped the ball on that,” he said. “We haven’t been very smart in that regard. But now that’s about to start changing.”

The entire article is here.

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