My father-in-law, a Swedish Baptist missionary, did not invest in stocks on principle. As he was also the most joyous person I’ve known, I responded to his abstention like the woman in the deli scene of When Harry Met Sally: “I’ll have what he’s having!” Maybe I, too, should own no stocks as a point of Christian conscience. As a freshly minted Quaker theologian when this question first crossed my path, it sounded good to me.
Since then, I have added to my Ph.D. a “FINRA Series 7,” the registration that stockbrokers get. As a financial planner, I sometimes recommend stocks to clients. I’ve moved from a puritanical concern with avoiding temptation to an activist’s preoccupation with transforming what is rotting in my world. Thinking of the barbarous abuses in sweatshops, of the killing fields that border mineral deposits, and of the disease that emerges downstream from carcinogenic effluents, I am reminded of the poignant passage: “Jesus wept.”
In this mood, I still often want to have nothing to do with those corporations that create suffering to bolster revenues that, in turn, are distributed in absurdly imbalanced ratios between executives and other employees. To abstain from corporate ownership by avoiding stocks, though, is to take an Amish-style stance of not touching what is compromised in the world. This posture is rooted in the insight that subjecting oneself to temptation is playing with fire. It’s an admirable choice. Undeniably, maintaining a pure spirit was central to the teachings of Jesus, who would always shift attention from the letter to the spirit of the law—without ignoring the former.