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Some people invest in mutual funds just for the returns they hope to reap. Others base their investment decisions on portfolio style. Some are goal driven. And then there are the folks whose moral consciousness directs their fund picks.

Religious funds, (a sub-section under the socially responsible fund's heading), don't necessarily invest in the hottest IPO, Internet or drug stocks. Instead, before buying a share of stock the few funds in this group spend a lot of time investigating things like what a company actually does as well as how it's managed.

Take the MMA Praxis funds, for instance. Praxis, by the way, means melding your beliefs with your actions. This Indiana-based Mennonite fund family is made up of three funds that invest in quality-of-life companies. That is, ones that have responsible management's in place, and in some fashion do things that work toward economic peace, justice and human dignity.

While that all sounds well-and-good, don't investors give up performance when investing based on their morals? The answer depends upon whom you ask.

Laura Lallos, a senior analyst at Morningstar.net, said that investing into any of the religious funds today "probably means settling for a fund with mediocre performance". She thinks competition makes for better fund performance and as the number of these types of religious funds grow the likelihood is that their performance will too.

J.B Miller, national sales manager for the MMA Praxis Mutual Funds disagrees. He said that there is data showing that social screens don't always impact performance negatively. The performance benchmark socially responsible funds use are the Domini Social Index and the Citizens Index. And according to him, the year-to-date performance numbers through April 13, 1999 show the S & P 500 up 9.8 percent; the Citizens Index ahead 9.9 percent and the Domini Social Index ahead 9.3 percent."

Here is a look at a sampling of the religious funds:

  • Amana funds, 800-728-8763. These funds invest based on Islamic principles. That means the two funds in this family --- an income and a growth fund--use screens that won't allow them to invest in companies such as those involved in pork processing, casino gambling, pornography, liquor, and interest-based banks.

  • Catholic Values Investment Trust, 800-974-4486. This one fund family has an advisory board that invests its assets based on Catholic values. Companies, for instance, that have anything to do with abortions won't be found in this fund's portfolio.

  • Lutheran Brotherhood funds, 800-990-6290. There are eight funds in this family, four stock funds and four bond funds. All stay away from the basic sin stocks like alcohol, tobacco and fire arms companies. One sentence of caution: Call the 800 number and an automated voice will ask for your social security number. To avoid giving it and still get the information you'd like, simply enter in nine 0s.

  • MMA Praxis funds, 800-977-2947. There are three funds in this Mennonite family of funds---a bond, growth, and an international fund. What they won't invest in are companies that make weapons or receive defense contracts, produce alcohol or tobacco products, or are gambling or pollution related. Even Disney won't make it into their portfolios. because of the R-rated and violent movies the company has produced.

  • Timothy Plan, 800-846-7526. This small-company value fund invests as the religious right would. They won't invest in any company involved with abortion in any fashion---from corporations that give to Planned Parenthood, to hospitals performing abortions for-profit, to drug companies that make abortion producing drugs. Neither will the fund invest in companies that produce pornography, those that advertise in pornographic magazines, anti-family entertainment companies, or those who provide same-sex partner benefits to their employees. Even Amazon.com won't be invested in. The reason being they sell pornographic books and materials.

So who are religious funds ideally suited for? Stephanie Kendall a spokesperson at Wiesenberger, a mutual fund tracking company, says they are for people who pick investments based upon their moral beliefs.

To read more articles, please visit the column archive.

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