By Fr. Séamus P. Finn, OMI
The inaugural Christian Investment Summit took place at the Billy Graham Training Center just outside of Ashville NC August 16 – 18. The brochure announcing this event promised to bring “together investment and financial thought-leaders to learn more about Biblically Responsible Investing (BRI)” and to engage “with one another in an inspiring mountain retreat setting”.
The event was steeped in the evangelical tradition that drew from the Jewish and Christian scriptures, the preached word and many rich hymns and songs of praise. These morning and evening services wrestled with themes like “Faith and the Market” and the how the value system of Jesus Christ might inform the principles and the decision-making processes that guide both the advisory services and transactions that investment practitioners offer to their clients each day.
I was invited to talk about my experience in the larger field of faith based and socially responsible investing and to participate in the conversations and exchanges were an important part of the way the summit unfolded and was scheduled. The stories and experiences of participants were both profoundly personal when they spoke about personal conversions in their lives and also about the challenges faced when any biblical principles and priority values were broached in the more conventional investing environment and firms where they worked.
My morning meditation focused on the elements that are found in the prophetic and wisdom traditions and that are available to us each day. These elements may call us to denounce a certain type of behaviors or products and announce those products and services that we find to be constructive. The wisdom tradition calls us to be inclusive of future generations in our judgements and to care for the earth in all its beauty and bounty in our discernment and decisions.
The panels and workshop at the summit covered a broad spectrum of topics and themes much like one would find at other faith consistent investing or socially responsible investing conferences. These often wrestled with the intersection of the wisdom and teaching of the scriptures with the data and learning that is being extracted and aggregated by the latest software programs and other service providers. How does an individual or an institution take advantage of these many services and dissect this mountain of information in a manner that allow it to inform their discernment as they also seek to align their investments with biblical teaching.
At another session, I explored the common approach that believers who come from different faith traditions follow as they seek to better align the management of their assets with their beliefs. This process involves examining closely that teaching of the tradition about money and lending, interest and risk, the rights and responsibilities that come with ownership as well as the products and services that are judged to be inconsistent with the tradition.
The commitment to responsible ownership of shares in a company or investments in different funds must also include a commitment to “engagement” with the representatives of those companies or funds about the policies, practices and issues that need to be improved. These conversations and exchanges afford faith based investors a unique opportunity to integrate priorities such as human rights, human dignity and care for creation into the process. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility offers numerous opportunities for those who want to participate in these “engagement” practices.
This session also discussed the opportunities that already exist for the investor who seek not only “to avoid evil” and “do no harm” but to positively contribute to building sustainable communities that respect human dignity and care for the earth: the process will demand an additional level of scrutiny and discernment for the individual believer, institution or organization.
Among the future challenges to be explored at faith-based summits of this type is how the thirst for alignment between asset management and faith that is rooted in the personal conviction and spirituality of individual believers can be integrated into the institutions, organizations and communities through which believers express their common faith. A parallel challenge faces the individual CEO or leader who hopes to integrate their personal faith vision and convictions into the culture and operations of their businesses and how best to accomplish this.
It is encouraging to see the effort that several different Christian denominations and other faiths have already committed to the alignment of their asset management practices with their identities and mission. New software, programs and professional consultants are coming on line every day that can make it easier to realize this objective. The first Christian Investment Summit is a welcome addition to this effort.