Big Christian churches buy and sell stocks and bonds for their building and retirement plans. But they sometimes feel bad about the awful things they can end up financing - gambling, drugs, war. So they've written guidelines to divide corporate America into sheep and goats.
Now an Oklahoma company is setting up investment funds it says are based on those sectarian guidelines. So investors will be able to track which U.S. Christian confession is most compatible with worldly success.
FaithShares Trust last week rolled out three exchange- traded funds (ETFs), portfolios that can be bought and sold like individual stocks, targeting Catholic, Methodist, and nondenomina-tional Christian investors. Baptist and Lutheran funds are in the works, too, says FaithShares Trust president Thompson S.
What's the difference?
Take alcohol, FaithShares portfolio manager Garrett Stevens told me:
"Baptist and [nondenominational] Christian funds have no alcohol stocks.
"The Methodists can invest in companies that derive no more than 10 percent of income from alcohol-related sales." Like restaurant chains.
"The Lutherans throw out companies that make distilled alcohol [but] beer and wine are OK."
"The Catholics throw out alcohol companies that have bad marketing practices."
Like telling students binge drinking makes them sexually attractive?
"You got it."
Who speaks for the faithful? FaithShares says it applies the guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines, the United Methodist General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
For the Baptists, FaithShares consulted the Southern Baptists' Web site and the more liberal American Baptist Churches in Valley Forge.
FaithShares has listed the funds' initial holdings. Why are Nordstrom Inc. and NetApp Inc. on the Protestant lists, while credit card lender Capital One Financial Corp. is on the Catholic, but not vice versa?
It's complicated, says Phillips: "We start with the 400 largest [U.S.] stocks. We rank the companies by [each church's] environmental, social, and governance scores, through a proprietary system from KLD Research & Analytics." A slightly different rating can bump one stock out of a fund in favor of a similar but less objectionable company, though that doesn't mean the bumped company is completely anathema.
Still, just 70 of the 400 stocks end up on all five funds' lists. "The denominations believe largely the same," Phillips concluded. "But the differences are important."
The costs of war
is in no position to wage a war, or stop one. As the Pennsylvania auditor general, he counts beans, looking over the shoulders of state and local officials as they spend the people's cash.
Even if he's successful in his bid to be the state's next Democratic governor, Wagner won't be able to stop Washington from sending state National Guard units to Kandahar or Kabul.
But he's still speaking out against President Obama's plan to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Why? Wagner told me he served as a combat infantry Marine in 1967, in Vietnam. "Eight years later, the war ended," he said. "I felt then, we should have pulled back far earlier.
"I view Afghanistan in many similar ways. By adding 30,000 troops, which is not a significant number, I do not believe we will significantly change the situation in 18 months.
"I believe the best interest of people in uniform is not to escalate the war but to reduce exposure to American casualties."
He says he doesn't know how most Pennsylvanians see the war. "But I'm very connected to veterans' groups across PA, and I believe the average veteran feels the same," he explained. "Especially after we've been in Afghanistan six years [actually, eight years]."
Wagner says he's not antiwar. But his cost-benefit analysis weighs against this fight:
"I don't want to see more Americans die. I don't want to see more Americans injured. I don't want to add so much to our debt, and not have any significant gain."