Thursday, December 04, 2008

Question of the Day

Is it ethical for a Christian to invest in a company that either:

A. manufactures weapons?

B. manufactures pornography?

C. grows tobacco?

D. pays many of its workers only minimum wage?


Anonymous said...

A. Weapons - many weapons can be used for good purposes such as hunting or arming police and the military to keep people safe. God gives authority to government in Romans 13 to use the sword. So it's not unethical to support them.

B. Pornography - unethical, there is no feasible positive side to the use of porn. It goes without saying that not only should Christians not invest in these companies, they should avoid patronizing the companies as well.

C. Tobacco - tough call, I don't understand tobacco use to be a sin, but obviously it's pretty harmful, and again I don't know of any positive uses of tobacco...except spraying tobacco water in your potato plants to keep the bugs off.

D. Minimum wage - the Bible tells employers to treat workers well, even to treat slaves or animals well. I'd have a hard time supporting a company that mistreats employees, but not necessarily just because they're paid minimum wage, especially if it's a minimum wage kind of job. Although from a business perspective there are some good reasons to pay employees more, they tend to be more effective and productive that way.

At the end of the day I'd flip this question around and ask what are the best kinds of companies that I could invest in from a spiritual perspective? God may or may not approve of us supporting tobacco, but He would definitely approve of us supporting more socially responsible companies or faith-led companies.

Rev. David Garrett said...

The real question is, who can we invest in? The company that makes my lightbulbs also makes nuclear warheads; the company that makes my Mac'n'Cheez also sells tobacco; etc. I suppose we could limit our investments to "Christian" companies like Cokesbury and Lifeway, but I often feel like they are "fleecing the sheep" with their pricing.
On the other hand, if we don't support the questionable industries you mentioned, we will be putting people out of work. And aren't we in the "people" business?

John Wilks said...

A. Hunting is OK. Defending your home might be OK depending on how you balance our duty to love our enemy with our duty to protect weak ones like our children.

On the other hand, I can't read the sermon on the mount with feeling called to non-violence in the public sphere.

So I might invest in, say, Winchester, but not for a company who's products are designed primarily for warfare.

B. Jesus said "woe to any who cause little ones to sin." I'd prefer a woe-free portfolio, thank you very much.

C. This one is tough. I don't think I would invest in such a company. At the same time, I don't think tobacco is as evil as many of my fellow Evangelicals do.

D. It depends. Does the company in question pay minimum wage for new hires during a "trial period" and start moving them up to living wages in a reasonable time-frame, or do they keep workers stuck below or right at the poverty line for months and years on end?

Jeff the Baptist said...

A. The only company I've ever had had moral compunctions about was Kahr Arms which, at one time, was largely owned by the Moonies. Not a Moonie, but the Unification Church itself. They've since divested.

B. I'm not investing in companies that traffic in lust.

C. I'm not saying it's a sin, but I wouldn't buy or sell it and so I wouldn't invest in it.

D. Nothing wrong with minimum wage provided it is still a fair wage.

Stresspenguin said...

A. 'll go with John W on this one; weapons designed for hunting are fine, but weapons designed for killing humans are not fine. A weapon made for hunting can effectively be used to defend the lives of the little ones, but to invest in a company that's bread and butter is the designing, marketing, and selling tools that have the explicit purpose of taking human life is right out.

B. Nope. Its an exploitative industry which harms the souls of those who make it and those who consume it. It ultimately devalues the sanctity of human life and human relationships.

C. Tobacco in and of itself is not sinful. Its a plant that God made/designed/evolved. However, there is strong evidence that the companies that produce/market/sell tobacco products target children, teenagers, and young adults while fully aware of its addictive qualities and the health risks of indulging in their products.

D. I agree with John W and Jeff. Again, exploitation = teh fail.

John said...

Stresspenguin wrote:

C. Tobacco in and of itself is not sinful. Its a plant that God made/designed/evolved. However, there is strong evidence that the companies that produce/market/sell tobacco products target children, teenagers, and young adults while fully aware of its addictive qualities and the health risks of indulging in their products.

So is that a 'no'?

Andrew C. Thompson said...

This doesn't directly answer the question, but I had a good conversation with my district superintendent here in North Carolina earlier this year about ethical investment and the United Methodist Church's General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

This D.S. (who sits on the GPOPHB) told me of the lengths to which the UMC goes to try and not invest in companies that produce arms, engage in pornography, profit from sweatshop labor, etc. I can't recall the exact statistics right now, but there are strict regulations about what mutual funds the church invests in, related to the percentage of companies in a given fund involved in un-ethical activities.

It is not perfect by any means, but it was an encouraging bit of information to me. Sometimes the church is trying to be a witness in ways we are not even aware of. It's probably the best we can do in a capitalistic system where corporations overlap with one another and profit-making exists in a globally interconnected way.

And I, for one, appreciate the fact that my retirement account is being invested responsibly by the church.

Stresspenguin said...

It is not ethical for a Christan to invest in a company that grows tobacco for recreational consumption.

I apologize for not being clear; I got ahead of myself in answering your question.

The nicotine found in tobacco has positive benefits for those suffering from schizophrenia, but just like THC, it can be administered by a means that is less carcinogenic and under a physician's care.

Tobacco can also be mixed with water and mashed into a paste for the relief of bug bites and stings.

If you boil tobacco, the water can be used as an effective natural insecticide, like Anonymous #1 said.

Keith Taylor said...

So am I to assume by this that tobacco farmers cannot be good, God Fearing Christians?

Am I to assume that a good Christian cannot work for a company that builds tanks, or grenades, or nuclear weapons?

What about a Christian who works in the nuclear power industry whose reactor is also used to make tritium for the DOE to replentish the aging tritum in nuclear weapons stockpiles? Is that person not a good Christian if she doesn't quit her job?

What about a Christian who ones a McDonalds and pays most of this high school or college age help minimum wage? Is he or she a poor Christian?

Stresspenguin said...

Hey Keith,

I don;t know if youre Wesleyan, but I look at it from the perspective of the First General Rule: to do no harm.

I've worked a lot of jobs that, if I had been a more mature Christian (and I can always be a more mature Christian), I would have either never applied for or would have began trying to discern how and if I was contributing to an unethical business practice.

I was a soldier--and didn't regret a bit of it (I don't know how I'd feel about it if I had killed someone), but I don't think I'd go back now, except as a chaplain, because I take serious issue with taking human life, even in my own defense.

One summer I was unemployed and running out of cash. Due to a medical condition, I was also unable to walk or stand for any longer than a few minutes without pain. The only job I could find was as a loan processor at a payday loan company. They let me sit through my entire shift, every shift. I regret now not have the moral fortitude to not take--or apply for--the job and trust God more.

So yeah, if push comes to shove, I;d say you should assume those things about the tobacco farmer if he knows how his buyers are using his crop.

You should assume that if one voluntarily becomes a part of the military industrial complex that some of the responsibility of loss of life may come to rest on one's own head.

Except for the McDonald's thing; they're hardly exploitative to their teen-aged workers. Exploitation in the food service industry usually happens in much nicer restaurants.

Oh, and I've worked for Walmart. They've got oppressing the working poor down to a science. Yet I still shop there because where I live in East Texas, I'd have to drive over an hour to shop anywhere else. I struggle with the Walmart/long drive problem weekly, but dude, sometimes these decisions are hard.

I guess if you're not struggling with these decisions, something is being lost in the translation from scripture/pulpit to life.

Here's a catchy phrase: If going on to perfection isn't a struggle, you're doin' it wrong.

P.S. Sorry for any lack of cohesiveness in my writing. One shouldn't post at 5:00 am after bein' up writing an exegesis paper.

John said...

Here's a catchy phrase: If going on to perfection isn't a struggle, you're doin' it wrong.

Ooooooooh. Me likey.

Kansas Bob said...

E. Produces Star Trek movies?

Keith Taylor said...


Thanks for the reply, but I just don't see it that cut and dry. I think one can condemn alot of good, hard working Christians in this.

If I follow the logic proposed here, there were a lot of good Christian folks on the home front in WWII who built B17 and B29, who built bombs and bullets, who worked on the Manhattan Project who this line of though would declare are all "unethical" Christians.

The farmers in NC, KY, TN, GE and other state who grew tobacco for hundreds of years.. were they "unethical" Christians? I don't think so.

I just don't see it that way.

A Roman Centurian told Christ that if he would only say that his servant was healed, he believed it would be so. Christ held up this Roman Centurian as a example of great faith and told the people around him that he had never seen such faith in the whole nation of Israel. Remember, the oath of a Roman Centurian to Ceasar and the Roman Empire.

Cannot one not be a good Christian and be a good soldier? What if that Christian has not choice but to kill his or her enemy? Are they then not a good Christian? I say there are lots of good Christian men and women who have killed lots of our enemies.

Stonewall Jackson was a sincere and devout Christian, but he fought the majority of his battles on Sunday and was a ferocious fighter for the Confederacy in the War Between the States.

Gen. George S. Patton prayed to God to give him good weather during the battle of the bulge to defeat and kill the Nazis. I can't say if Gen. Patton was a good Christian or not, but he knew to trust in God.

I believe that President Harry Truman was a good Christian man, but he gave the order to drop the Atom Bomb on the Empire of Japan to save the lives of at least 100,000 Americans.

The only one of the above in John's original post that I have a problem with as a Christian is B. "manufactures pornography".

There are lots of good Christians that have and continue to work in the national defense industry.

There are lots of good Christians who work very hard to scratch a living growing tobacco.

There are lots of good Christians who own or work or work for companies that pay their employees minimum wage.

I don't see it this easy to say that any of these are Unethical Christians simply because they work in these industries.

Dan Trabue said...

Many anabaptists would shorten your question to...

Is it ethical for a Christian to invest in a company?


Exodus 22:25: If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest.

Leviticus 25:35-37: If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.
Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit...

Proverbs 28:20: a faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.

Prov 23:4-5 (NIV): Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

Luke 12:15-21 (Phi) ...Be on your guard against covetousness in any shape or form. For a man's real life in no way depends upon the number of his possessions... A rich man's farmland produced heavy crops. So he said to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have no room to store this harvest of mine?' Then he said, 'I know what I'll do. I'll pull down my barns and build bigger ones where I can store all my grain and my goods and I can say to my soul, Soul, you have plenty of good things stored up there for years to come. Relax! Eat, drink, and have a good time!' But God said to him, 'You fool, this very night you will be asked for YOUR SOUL!...' That is what happens to the man who hoards things for himself and is not rich in the eyes of God.

Ecc 5:10-15 (NIV) Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, or wealth lost through some misfortune... Naked a man comes from his mothers womb, and as he comes, so he departs...

Additional usury/interest passages can be found here.

Dan Trabue said...

Hey! When did you become the Zeray Gazette???

John said...

A few days ago, I changed the layout of the ol' blog. I decided to rename it in reference to the novel Shardik.

Anonymous said...


Two thoughts.

One, the original question is about investments, not employment. I think that distinction matters, that there's a difference between working for a company (especially when jobs are scarce) and having an investment in a company. I think both can raise ethical questions, I think it can be wrong to work for certain kinds of businesses, but I think that there is a difference. Regarding pornography, for instance. I mean, one might work at a more or less mainstream video store with that "adults only" section in the back, or for a more or less mainstream bookstore with that "adults only" magazine rack, not feel entirely good about it, but feel sort of stuck. I think that's a very different thing than investing in company that makes and distributes porn.

Two, I think you are being a bit too black and white yourself. You seem to imply that, in the areas you mention (companies that manufacture weapons, companies that sell tobacco, companies that pay low wages) either there's no ethical question at all, or else the people doing this are very, very, very bad. Your comments suggest that saying "I don't think it's right to work for big tobacco" is the exact same thing as saying "only bad, bad people work for big tobacco." It's not that cut and dry, not that either/or. I feel that there certainly are some moral questions to be asked about working for or investing in a business that builds bombs, that exploits women, that exploits workers, etc. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that anyone involved is a bad person, less of a Christian. It's not that easy. I like to think of myself as a decent person, someone who lives an ethical life. Yet I can't look at my own life and say that I always do the right thing, that I do not continue to make compromises, that I always live up to what I believe to be right. So why can't one say that it's not a good thing to work for an industry that promotes lethally self-destructive habits among teenagers? Why can't one say that it's not a good thing to invest in and profit from a corporation that pays it's employees at home and abroad wages that will never allow them to rise out of poverty? Those moral judgments don't have to be condemnations of everyone who disagrees, everyone who is doing what they need to do to get by.

Stresspenguin said...

Thanks, John. That's what I was gonna say.

Word for word.

Which is kinda creepy.