Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 08/18/21

Of prophets and profits. Brian Mumbert is Vice President of Advisor Relations at Timothy Plan, a Florida-based mutual fund investment house that utilizes biblical principles to help its clients obtain financial growth and security for themselves and their loved ones through investment portfolios that align with – and certainly don’t violate – Christian principles. Its investment filters filter out companies that support abortion, pornography, alcohol, tobacco, casino gambling and what its managers view as anti-family entertainment and unhealthy alternative lifestyles.

JWK: Let’s start with the basics. What is biblically responsible investing?

Brian Mumbert: Biblically responsible investing has been around now, basically, since we started the concept 27 years ago. It is a way for Christians to align their values with their investments and how they do that is by ensuring that they do not invest in companies that would be profiting (from) or promoting things like abortion or pornography, among a list of other things that we screen for. Thus, as not being a shareholder or part owner of these companies, they can invest in a way that honors their values and their beliefs. 

JWK: Now, to be clear, Timothy Plan is not a person. Where does the name come from?

BM: So, Timothy Plan is not a person. Timothy Plan does come from the Book of First Timothy in the Bible. There are two verses that we founded ourselves on. It actually came about from Art Ally, our founder. His wife Bonnie was doing a study in First Timothy when they were contemplating starting this whole thing. You know, originally it was going to be a retirement plan for nondenominational pastors. It ended up being a mutual fund company – and, thus, Timothy Plan was born.

JWK: What, specifically, were the quotes from Timothy 1 that inspired the company?

BM: There were two verses…One was referring to providing for your family because, as believers, obviously we do want to provide for our family. And, secondly, was to avoid laying your hands on anything that would be unclean. So, it comes from First Timothy 5:8 which references providing for your household and First Timothy 5:22 talking about…(not) taking part in the sins of others. That kind of bore out from the idea of how do you do biblically responsible investing? How do we ensure that we’re not investing in things that would be dishonoring to our faith?

JWK: It’s nondenominational, right?

BM: That is correct – no denominational alliance. Any Christian would find this a great way to invest…It’s really all-encompassing.

JWK: I would suppose that there would be some people who aren’t Christians who would also be more or less aligned with your beliefs regarding investing.

BM: Correct. A lot of the values that we uphold are generally accepted as good for non-believers as well – especially when it comes to an area like pornography. There are not a whole lot of people out there that are saying “Please get that into my investment portfolio?”

JWK: You’re website says Timothy Plan employs two screens – a faith-based screen and a social screen.

BM: Correct.

JWK: How do they work? Do you choose one over the other? Are they different from one another?

BM: It’s all together. The faith-based screens that we do are screens that we would be able to refer directly back to biblical principles. Those things would abortion or pornography. There’s an anti-family screen that we have that encompasses ultra-violent video games and extremely graphic movies that would not quite be pornography. There are screens for biblical lifestyle. Then you can get into some of the more social screens like alcohol, tobacco or gambling. And then we also have a screen for human trafficking, as well.

JWK: Tell me about your eVALUEator? What is that?

BM: The eVALUEator is a really cool service. We offer it for free for anyone who wants to call and talk to us here at Timothy Plan. You could also reach out to us via our website. We have a chat feature on there. Essentially what we use it for is to help anyone who wants to know what they’re currently invested in (and) how that looks like versus what Timothy Plan screens for – because you might think “Well, it’s not so bad” or “I’m not really sure what’s in this portfolio.” We can help you look at that and give you real statistics on what is in there and how that might line up with how you would prefer to invest.

JWK: Getting back to your investment screens, when it comes to, say, abortion, you filter out companies that deal with fetal tissue research and the manufacturing and distribution of abortion-inducing drugs.

BM: Absolutely.

JWK: What are some companies you would avoid based on that criteria?

BM: It’s really interesting. You have companies that put on a face of what they would like you to believe they are – and there is what they actually do. A great example of this would be a company like Johnson & Johnson. They have branded themselves a baby company. Anyone that has a child has probably used their products and that’s generally what they’re accepted as in society – but they also do fetal stem cell research. So, a company like that would find themselves on our restricted list. We would not invest in a company like that for that very reason. And another thing that you hinted at but didn’t quite mention is if a company (is) corporately giving to Planned Parenthood. We screen them out for that, as well.

JWK: So, that might not be just drug companies – but companies across the board that might do that. 

Very early on you removed Facebook from your funds because you say they use shareholder assets to support abortion and other activities you find objectionable. What sort of things?

BM: Facebook fails a myriad of our screens. Here’s the thing about companies like Facebook. These large companies are involved in just about everything. So, you have a company like a Facebook or a Google. They own so much that their activism and everything that they do spreads far and wide. For example, using Facebook in particular they have a history of philanthropy to groups like Planned Parenthood. They sponsor, donate, promote (and) push legislation on unbiblical lifestyles…They also fail our pornography screen because, unfortunately, they haven’t really figured out a way to really remove that from their website in some kind of a credible fashion.

JWK: I was just going to ask you about that. Facebook itself reported that over 21-million child sexual abuse images ran on its platforms in 2020. You started a Change.org petition calling on Facebook, Instagram – which is actually owned by Facebook – and other social media platforms to, quote, “address this atrocity.” So, this is personal for you. If I understand correctly, you personally started that petition – not Timothy Plan.

BM: Yes, it was me…although, of course, I had Timothy Plan’s blessing to do this. I’m a father of an eleven-year-old son who will one day find himself on social media whether I like it or not. These reports are just so staggering because…like you said, (over) 20-million incidents on Facebook (platforms) alone and we see that 59% of all online sex trafficking of children occurs on Facebook (platforms) which is just a staggering number. So, yes, I put out a petition. You can find it on blog.timothyplan.com. We’re actually going to put in on our front page of timothyplan.com very shortly, as well.

JWK: But, I take it, the petition is a bit off to the side of the portfolio business.

BM: Right, yes. Timothy Plan definitely endorses it – so it’s coming from the company – but I am the originator.

JWK: Does Facebook get any points for reporting those child sex abuse figures themselves?

BM: I don’t see how it can. You can acknowledge a problem but the issue here that we see – especially in the past couple of years – is (that) Facebook has figured out a way to do some filtering of their own pretty well. It just depends on what they feel like they want to filter out. We have a pretty strong sense of what they can filter out (regarding) what they view as what might be considered “not-accurate” news reporting and spiking that with “False” warnings. They’ve gotten pretty strong on that. They’ve also gotten very strong on the whole COVID-19 issue…So, why have they not come up with the ability to stop something that is harming the most vulnerable in our society, our children?

JWK: That gets into the whole issue of censorship. On the one hand these companies want to be seen as operating a sort of cyber public square in which they are seen as not liable for what people post. On the other hand they take onto themselves to right to censor opinions.

BM: It’s an interesting concept. We’ve kind of waded into what you (might) refer to as the Wild West of Social Media where we have all this freedom in everything that we can post and (now) we realized that maybe that wasn’t always the greatest idea to just let anyone say anything at any time. So, we have to figure out a way (of) how do we go about this? Do we really want government stepping in here? I don’t know – but making Facebook the arbiters of truth as a company is questionable at best, as well. I mean it’s a challenge.

What’s really interesting is (a) ruling out of Texas where (a Texas court) ruled some of the sex trafficking victims can actually sue Facebook and other platforms that (allegedly) prey on children. So, we’re seeing some pushback definitely and now there’s money involved. Whenever there’s money involved, there’s usually change.

JWK: Now, isn’t there this thing – Section 230 – that protects Facebook and other social media sites from being sued because they’re supposedly just platforms? But, then again, they censor people – so that kind of makes the whole thing murky.

BM: It does. That’s what makes the Texas Supreme Court ruling so interesting. Even they readily acknowledge that Section 230 is vague. There needs to be some sort of reform that’s going to come out of all this. The question is how are we going to reform it?

JWK: Would Timothy Plan support a competitor to Facebook that does align with its principles – and is there one?

BM: That’s a big question. Are there ones? There are some smaller ones out there. I don’t know that any of them are any better than any others. In some sense, some of it just has to do with size. I mean you have something like Facebook with billions of users. So, you know, obviously there’s going to be a magnifying glass on that versus any one of these very small platforms that have kind of popped up – but, again, there’s no great alternative that I’m aware of at this point.

JWK: Facebook would qualify as a media company. You screen against media and entertainment companies that engage in what you see as anti-family entertainment through the promotion of “violence, language, sex and drugs through advertisements, media, games, stores, establishments, publications and the Internet.” Are there actually any major media companies that would get through that filter?

BM: That’s a challenge. Let’s take a look at the entertainment industry in general. You have Sony Pictures…They have a Sony Affirm division that puts out faith-based movies which have been pretty good. We know that they make a mild effort at that, at least. But, no, the entertainment industry as a whole is pretty much off limits on the Timothy Plan side of things.

JWK: Does Sony make it?

BM: No, they would fail.

JWK: How about Disney?

BM: Well, Disney now owns half of the movie studios out there…Of course, when they bought (movie and TV assets from) Fox they brought along a whole bunch of stuff that would fail our anti-family screen (but) Disney failed it before then because Disney’s really good at putting their Disney name on some family-friendly films but (there are) other films that are under Disney Studios that they don’t want their name on because it would be too violent or too inappropriate. They just leave that off as a division of their company. So, it’s interesting. They try to play both sides but it’s impossible.

JWK: You mention Fox. After the Disney deal they’re mostly left with Fox News and the Fox Broadcasting Network. People think of them as pretty conservative. Does the new Fox Corporation make it through your filter?

BM: No because, again, that might be part of what they do but the other part of what they do (is) they still have fairly unfamily-friendly films and things like that. As we go back to (my) original statement, the bigger the company, it can be very hard for them to pass a screen like this.

JWK: I guess part of the problem is that, like you say, these entertainment companies are so huge. People tend to think they’re getting all these media choices from so many different companies when, in reality, it’s a relatively small number of giant corporations that are pulling the strings on almost everything we see, hear and read in the media.

BM: Correct. You have a few large companies owning all of the movie studios that are putting out all the entertainment (and) the same handful of companies – Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google – that are delivering the Internet to us, by and large. Amazon hosts half of what’s on the Internet because of their web services. So, you know, these companies are really in control of a lot.

JWK: Do you have any position on companies invested in China – with what’s going on with the Uyghurs and all of that? 

BM: When we decided to do an international fund we had to take a good hard look at what we would do with a country like China because, once you start investing internationally, China becomes very attractive from an investment standpoint.  We had to, early on, make it very clear early that we were just not going to own (stock in) any government-owned companies in China and really strictly, strictly screen China because how could we, as a Christian mutual fund company, own companies out of China where they were persecuting the Church and pushing the Church underground?…All that they’re doing in general is just sickening.

JWK: And not just to Christians – even the Muslim community.

BM: Yes, even the Muslim community.

JWK: Your company is obviously against racism, any sort of bullying, cruelty or things of that nature. Do you have any guidelines regarding companies that support a Woke agenda – for instance publishing school material that proactively promotes transgenderism or Critical Race Theory? I guess Wokism is a relatively new issue.

BM: It is. Some of the issues we have to try to delineate between what we can cite as biblical – like the abortion issue and the pornography issue – and then what would be more political. So, it becomes a little bit murky – but a lot of these companies that are pushing these types of things are doing many of the other things that we screen for already. So, we kinda just did a look back and, quite honestly, without proposing a screen like that, we’re essentially screening the vast majority of these companies out…So, it hasn’t become an issue for us.

JWK: I recently heard a very interesting interview with a secular left-leaning fund manager who also manages investments with an eye toward having a positive social impact – at least from her point of view. I found it interesting that she told the interviewer that they will not only invest in companies whose products and policies they agree with – but also specifically in companies whose practices they don’t align with. The idea being that they can effect change from within through shareholder pressure. I guess that’s one way you get Woke corporations. Does Timothy Plan – or would Timothy Plan – ever do that?

BM: No, we have not gone that route – and mainly because when we set out we wanted to be a pro-life, pro-family place to invest. So, with the mutual funds and the ETFs that we have, we just want to ensure that we’re not going to own these companies because, at the end of the day, being a shareholder of a company – being part owner of a company – is a high-degree…piece of your stewardship. You are participating in what they do. Even if you’re just buying their shares on the secondary market – you’re not buying their initial public offering – you’re still a big cheerleader of that company. If that company’s business is manufacturing the “morning-after” pill, you need them to successfully sell as much of it as possible in order for them to be profitable. So, no, we wouldn’t take any kind of stance of trying to enact “change from within” necessarily – although we do send letters to every company that we will not invest in and tell them exactly why we will not invest in them.

JWK: Have you ever considered getting into venture capital to support startups whose values and goals align with your positions?

BM: No, that’s a bit beyond our scope. We are a mutual fund company and an ETF company so, essentially, we’re staying in that lane. We want to make it as accessible to everyone as possible so we keep the minimums extremely low to invest in Timothy Plan because we want every person out there that wants to invest with their values to be able to do so.

JWK: And, of course, along with the values, you take into account the likelihood that the company will actually turn a profit to help people finance their retirements and that sort of thing.

BM: Absolutely. All of our funds are sub-advised which is a fancy way of saying we have professional management on these different funds that specializes in the areas that they are in – whether it’s a value-type fund or a growth-type fund. Even with the screen that we do, we only remove less than ten percent of the companies that are out there. So, we remove some of the biggest names – like Facebook or Google – but you can still get very competitive performance working with 90+ percent of what’s available to you as a fund manager.

JWK: So, overall, how’s the economy and the stock market looking to you right now?

BM: (laughs) Get a crystal ball out! This is an interesting time. A lot of people are very nervous about inflation, very nervous about all the money that we’re putting into the economy. The government is continuing pump money into the economy. We’re continuing to get stimulus checks. I’m getting a stimulus check I don’t want for my child tax credit right now – which I can opt of and I’m going to. Can (the stock market) continue going (up)? We don’t really know. What’s interesting though (is that) we just put out two brand-new ETFs. They’re enhanced versions of the ETFs that we launched originally. These actually have some downside protection built into them where they can move to a cash position if the market were to catastrophically collapse. We know that investors are very concerned about this type of thing and we wanted to provide a product that helps ease their concern.

JWK: Where can people get more information about Timothy Plan?

BM: Certainly. The Timothy Plan website is TimothyPlan.com. You can also call us. We’re here 9:00 to 5:00 eastern time at 800-846-7526. We’d also love for you to join us in the petition which you can find on blog.TimothyPlan.com and sign that – because, again, Facebook makes moves when money’s involved and when voices get loud.

JWK: This question just popped into my mind. Does Timothy Plan have a Facebook page?

BM: Timothy Plan does currently still have a Facebook page. Here’s the thing that we have to consider – and we’re considering removing it – for this. There’s an abundance of ministries out there. You have American Family Association, you have big Christian groups, Focus on the Family, you name it. We all have Facebook pages. The question is can we take our larger audiences – especially larger groups like American Family – and push on Facebook to enact some change on this? Because, ultimately, unless all of us collectively remove ourselves from this place, we won’t be able to shine a light there and we’ll let darkness rule. It’s a tough challenge but currently, yes, we do still have it up.

JWK: Anything else you’d like to mention as we wrap this up?

BM: Really just, again, the petition is of utmost importance. The horrible thing about this COVID issue is that it has just exacerbated the problem with Facebook and sex trafficking because now you have kids at home. Instead of in school, (they’re) doing virtual school (and are on their) computers almost 24 hours a day. That just lends itself to even more issues with sites like Facebook and how these predators can get in front of these kids. I gotta say, from a personal testimony, I was impacted by just how staggering human trafficking is by attending a conference a couple of years ago. I’d really encourage people to get involved because it’s eye-opening how it’s happening right beneath the surface – just where we can’t see…how bad it truly is.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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