Review by Kirsten Snow Spalding
Faithful Investing: The Power of Decisive Action and Incremental Change
Ed. by James Murphy
Church Publishing, pp. 208, $19.95
As an Amazon Associate,
For 50 years, some faith communities have employed socially responsible investment strategies as one way to engage in ministry. Others have left investment choices in the hands of church treasurers and finance committees, while focusing the investment returns on ministry and mission.
Faithful Investing, edited by James Murphy, explores a range of perspectives on why and how congregations have used investment practices to address issues important to people of faith, including human rights and human trafficking, tobacco, gun control, climate change, gender diversity, pay equity, poverty, and immigration.
The collection includes essays written by investment professionals; faith leaders with long experience in corporate governance work and investment strategies; and advocates who work with a variety of institutional investors. Unlike many resources on this subject, Murphy’s collection offers alternative approaches, without taking a hard line about one “right way” to address these issues.
Each of the authors uses plain language to explain the rationale behind a particular investment approach — divesting or negative screening; engaging with companies through direct dialogues; collaborative engagements with other investors; filing proxy resolutions and voting on them; incorporating ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors into investment decision-making; taking a “best-in-class” fundamentals approach to building a portfolio or investing for impact in one or multiple asset classes. For someone new to the field, Faithful Investing suggests the critical questions that need to be asked before recommending a particular strategy.
Some of the chapters are focused on situating current debates and trends among faith-based investors in the context of earlier, successful socially responsible investment campaigns, like the divestment movement to address South African apartheid. Other chapters provide a step-by-step guide to establishing a strategy for a congregation or endowment new to socially responsible investing. A set of chapters take a deep dive into specific issues like slavery in manufacturing supply chains and diversity on corporate boards of directors.
Murphy’s concluding chapters are an encouragement to consider investment strategy as part of stewardship. He suggests that engaging congregations in the process of developing and implementing their investment strategy will encourage legacy giving and contributions to endowment campaigns. The work on the church’s investment program can provide an opening to conversations about personal investment strategies in light of faith.
In footnotes, the authors point to resources in articles, individuals and organizations that can support churches’ new investment strategies and practices. As several authors note, a significant new trend in the field is collaborative work between investors. New collaborations recognize that issues of concern to people of faith cannot be addressed by one investor alone. Concerted investor engagement with companies and other capital market actors has the power to transform the real economy, through addressing things like climate change or human rights abuses, and by producing positive impacts like poverty alleviation, or access to clean water.
The authors in this collection are not all consistent in their definitions or their suggestions about how best to explore certain strategies. But taken as a whole, the book offers a textured look at how congregations might begin to look at their investment practices in light of their mission and ministry objectives.
Perhaps the greatest strength of this collection is that it meets faith leaders where they are. For ordained leaders, the authors begin theological reflections on how living into faith might be expressed in investment practice. For lay leaders charged with responsibility for ministry and mission, the authors outline a variety of investment strategies to address priority ministry areas. For church fiduciaries, treasurers and finance committees, the book offers practical suggestions about development of an investment policy to guide ongoing choices for the funds under their care. For church policy-making bodies (conventions, governing councils, or local boards), the authors provide alternatives so that policy choices are not reduced to a “yes or no” decision about divestment or giving up investment returns to favor socially responsible investments.
While some people of faith may still consider investment the realm of worldly practices that keep us from God, Faithful Investing breaks open the possibility that God’s work in our lives and in the world require us to engage with money in new ways. Investing faithfully is a matter of discipleship. Faithful Investing is an important new resource to help us discern how each of us and our communities might use our investments to live into our calling.
The Rev. Kirsten Snow Spalding is rector of the Church of the Nativity in San Rafael, Calif., and senior director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability at Ceres, a non-profit advocacy organization.