Late Saturday morning, I was sitting in my favorite Charlottesville coffee shop with my dad and uncle. They were in town for a basketball game but we had a few hours to spare so I decided to show them one of my favorite places to work. Just before it was time to head to the arena, I noticed a section of The Times that someone had left evidently behind. Somewhat surprised that a real live newspaper was lying around in this Apple laden hangout, I looked most closely. I could see the title. It read, “The Guns Hiding in Your Portfolio.” With my interest peaked, I grabbed it and stashed it away to read later.
After the game and a great dinner, I came home to read the piece. As it turns out, it was actually published on January 19th and somehow I managed to miss it in all my stumbling through the interwebs. This fact surprised me given my Left wing, heavily Christian, gun-control advocating list of people I follow on Twitter. At any rate, the article starts off, “If you comb through your 401(k) carefully enough, there is a good chance you’ll find something startling: a stock that returned more than 80 percent over last year.” Guns.
I knew before reading that “guns” would be the answer. It is after all in the title; and the image accompanying to the text is a big green “$” where the vertical line is made up of two firearms resembling AK-47s.
I kept reading. As a publically traded and historically successful company, Smith & Wesson is one of the many stocks that often make up multistock portfolios. “If you go through the exercise of unraveling the holdings in your own retirement account, college fund or – if you’re lucky – trust fund, there is a reasonable chance you will find that Smith & Wesson is, at least indirectly, among your own investments.” And Smith & Wesson manufactures semi-automatic weapons, like the kind that have been used in some of the most deadly mass shootings.
Given the noise that the Christian community and secular progressives have been making about gun control over the past six months or so, starting with the Aurora shooting in late July, the Sikh temple shooting where ten died on August 5th, the Accent Signage Systems shooting where six died in September, and finally the Newtown, Connecticut massacre, I have to believe that there are a lot of people out there who would be made uncomfortable by the idea that they are profiting off the companies that manufacture these deadly weapons.
And this begs the larger question: to what degree are we responsible for the investments we make? For the things that make us money? For our participation in a system of violence? If you wouldn’t work for a company or if you wouldn’t use its products, should you invest in them?
It’s not an easy question to answer. As someone who is waiting anxiously to enter into the workforce and (hopefully) have investments of my own, I don’t want my money anywhere near Smith & Wesson or Exxon Mobil or Monsanto because I don’t believe in what those companies sell or how they conduct their business. And whether we like it or not, investments aren’t just these abstract things; they are ethical choices that have real life ramifications. To invest in something is not to simply store your money there. It is to support that business.
A few weeks ago, a friend showed me a line of text from a book by Mary McClintock Fulkerson. “Theological reflection is not a linear form of reflection that starts with a correct doctrine (or a ‘worldly’ insight) and then proceeds to analyze a situation; rather it is a situational, ongoing, never-finished dialectical process where past and present ever converge in new ways.” And I think, given the events of the last six months and the ongoing debate about gun-control, public safety, violence, and the fundamental principles upon which this country rests, now is the time to “reflect theologically” about the ethical ramifications of our investments. Maybe this wasn’t relevant 10 years ago (or maybe it was), but I believe it is undoubtedly pertinent now.
So we need to think about it. Deeply.
Humans are created in God’s image and consequently we occupy a privileged space where we know right from wrong, good from bad. And since our actions affect the rest of the world, it is our responsibility to reflect on the things we do and the investments we make. Keep in mind that no one is obligated to do more than she can, but in this instance we can make the choice to divest from Smith & Wesson (or Exxon Mobil, or Monsanto) or any other corporation that harbors your money but fails to live up to the ethical standards of your faith. It might seem like a small step, but if it helps align your actions with your faith, it’s a small step that matters.
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