Dear Brother ___________,
Thank you for contacting the Ellen G. White Estate. I am not a trustee of the Estate, but I serve on the staff. I will be happy to share with you my own understanding of these matters. Since you have clearly done your homework on this one, I won't need to cite examples to illustrate--I suspect you have already found them. The question rather is, how do we apply this to our situation today? The trustees have taken no position on the matter that I know of, so these thoughts will be just my own.
First, I believe the parable of the talents is about spiritual things primarily. But it makes this point by dealing with temporal things. Jesus offers no condemnation for the steward who multiplies his investment by ten times, or by five. And they did this not by placing their money with the bankers, though He did not condemn that, either. So I think the parable has application in both realms, spiritual and financial.
Second, what about Mrs. White's counsel? It does not seem to be wrong, in her view, to own stocks per se. As you found, she owned some herself, though I think this may only have been in church-related institutions. Still, the principle of stock ownership cannot be wrong by itself. Likewise, I do not see her claiming that a profit motive is wrong; many who invested in our institutions expected to have a return on their investment, and she does not blame them for that.
What I do see her protesting is a "get rich quick" spirit behind investing, the kind of spirit that would lead one to take undue risks in the hope of great gain. A prime example that she mentions is buying stock in a gold mine. This tends to be an "all or nothing" investment: if the mine brings a good yield of gold, you will be rich. If it doesn't, you will be holding worthless stock. Today one might invest in a gold mining stock, but due diligence would require the person to determine whether this is a major company having many productive and profitable mines already, substantial supplies of cash and of gold in hand to sell, and with further exploration not jeopardizing the solvency of the whole operation. The risk of such a mining stock would not be like the situation Mrs. White described. Even so, this might be a more volatile investment than many people would want to take on.
Mrs. White also objected to investments which offended the moral order. One you mentioned was selling city lots at exorbitant prices, evidently because one could indeed get such prices. In this case greed was overriding the sense of fairness and concern for others. But your primary interest was stocks.
Most people will agree (now) that in the latter half of the 1'0s stock prices were a bubble waiting to burst. Stocks were overvalued in relation to the profits the companies were recording. The bubble did burst, but it did not collapse down to historical fair-valuation levels. Now it appears to have reinflated somewhat, and valuations are high again. There is a present potential for experiencing losses from another burst of the bubble.
Yet the risk of loss is present for other more traditional investments, too, isn't it? If one invests in real estate, economic conditions might depress its value below the purchase price. One who owns a store buys merchandise for it, but who can tell whether it will sell at the prices expected? He may have to sell at a loss. Bank deposits are guaranteed by the government, but at the moment they are paying less than nothing in real terms (less than inflation). And if the government keeps printing money, inflating the money supply, eventually it will suffer from hyperinflation and then devaluation.
As I see it, then, the bottom line is that stock ownership is not forbidden, but it has its risks, as other forms of investment do. We should avoid the speculative investments where the risk of losing all of one's investment is great. We should avoid the temptation to try to get rich quick. We should make what we believe are prudent investments in sound vehicles (perhaps bank deposits, stocks of stable, profitable companies, etc.) and we should remember that the money is God's, not ours, and He may wish us to use some of it in His cause or to help others. Then we can ask His blessing on it.
I haven't told you what to invest in, and it's good that I haven't, because I don't know! But I hope that what I have said here may be useful to you in thinking matters through for yourself and coming to your own conclusions, which may well differ from mine. May God bless and guide you as you consider how to be a faithful steward of His goods.
Ellen G. White Estate
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904-6600 U.S.A.
Phone: 301 680-6550
FAX: 301 680-6559
Dear EGW Trustees:
As a longtime Seventh-day Adventist believer whose membership is here in Vallejo Central Seventh-day Adventist Church in California, I have often wondered whether investing in the stock market is biblical. There seem to be conflicting accounts in the Spirit of Prophecy.
We all know Jesus' parable in Luke 19 of the stewards given pounds to invest. The last servant hid his pound, as it were, in a mattress. The master rebuked him saying that the money would have earned interest if he put it in a savings account. Apparently, banks existed in their day! The first servant was praised for having his investment gain 1000 percent! He made a killing. What is the truth about this parable? Is it really teaching about money or a spiritual truth about talents? Which is it? Or
is it both?
In the Spirit of Prophecy, I discovered that some of the pioneers were stockholders, even EGW herself! In one instance the debt has to be liquidated by selling assets to pay creditors first and then whatever is left can be paid to stockholders, which today is a sound principle commonly practiced in liquidation cases: "It was at this discouraging point that my husband decided in his mind that the Institute property must be sold to pay the debts, and the balance, after the payment of debts, be refunded to stockholders in proportion to the amount of stock each held." (CH1923)
She herself was a stockholder!: "I stated that I was a stockholder and I could not let the resolution pass, that there was to be special light for God's people as they neared the closing scenes of this earth's history."
In this passage she seems to be speaking out against it: "There is hurry and excitement. Men feverishly invest their capital of money in bonds and stocks, become wealthy in a day, and yet are unsatisfied. They continue to invest with insane expectancy. The bank stock goes down, the millionaire in the morning is a beggar at night and the way they think best to end the matter is with pistol, rope, or the waters of the bay. Money is a blessing when those who use it consider that they are the Lord's stewards, that they are handling the Lord's capital, and must one day give account of their stewardship." (TDG 272)
"They fail to bless others with means that God has lent to them in trust, in order that they may be his almoners; and instead of dispensing it to the poor, like the slothful servant they bury it in lands or in stocks, or give it to their relatives, and the Lord receives neither interest nor principal." (RH 012295) This passage seems to be saying that it's okay to invest in stocks but only transitorily. That after some gain, then it should be used for dispensing to the poor, etc.
Here's her comment which is negative about the bourse in France: "Many were hoarse, and yet they shrieked on louder than ever. Hundreds were there, and men were coming and going, wrestling, crowding one another like madmen. And what was this all for? Trading in stocks. Some would gain, others lose. And it was all for a little of the inheritance in this life." (5MR328)
And here's another negative comment: "Dealing in mining stocks is a snare to any of our brethren who invest in them. And buying and selling city lots, selling the lots at figures far above their real value, is another species of robbery. It is not lawful business. It may meet the world's standard, but it cannot meet the standard of an impartial God." (15MR1150)
How do you reconcile these seemingly contradictory statements?
I need guidance as a small fry individual investor who nevertheless does not want to be involved in wordly matters.