Picture by Andy (cropped), Flickr creative commons.

By Rev. Jenny Phillips | Minister for Environmental Stewardship and Advocacy

Many United Methodists consider the Social Principles to be a foundational resource in understanding and interpreting the values of The United Methodist Church. But the church has another, even more concise statement of values: the investment screens used by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

The General Board says it works to invest in alignment with United Methodist Values and the Social Principles. Accordingly, it refuses to invest in companies whose primary business is any of the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Gambling
  • Pornography
  • Weapons
  • Private prisons

There is a glaring gap between the values expressed in the Social Principles and those expressed through our investment screens. The Principles speak to six communities of concern:

  • The Natural World
  • The Nurturing Community
  • The Social Community
  • The Economic Community
  • The Political Community
  • The World Community

Our investment screens represent a concrete expression of our concerns for the nurturing, social, economic, political and world communities. But none of the current investment screens serves as a meaningful expression of the values outlined in The Natural World.

The Social Principles note that climate change will bring “severe environmental, economic, and social implications,” which will “disproportionately affect individuals and nations least responsible for the emissions.” Fossil fuel companies’ share prices are based on the value of their climate change-causing fossil fuel reserves. The more fossil fuels consumed, the more money shareholders make. The beneficiaries of the General Board profit from fossil fuel companies, even as the business model of the fossil fuel companies undermines the ministries of The United Methodist Church by exacerbating hunger, poverty and disease through climate change.
[quote_box_right]The business model of the fossil fuel companies undermines the ministries of The United Methodist Church by exacerbating hunger, poverty and disease through climate change.[/quote_box_right]The General Board does engage in shareholder advocacy with fossil fuel companies. But such advocacy won’t change the fundamental business model of fossil fuel companies, which is to profit from the sale of fossil fuels. Shareholder advocacy within fossil fuel companies isn’t like asking Nike to improve its labor practices; it’s like asking Nike to stop selling shoes.

People of faith, students, and pension-fund holders worldwide are calling institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies. Earlier this month, Stanford University announced plans to divest its $18.7 billion endowment of coal stocks. Also this month, pension fund leaders from mainline protestant denominations met with agency staff and creation care leaders to discuss the implications of divestment. And recently, the United Church of Christ decided to create a fossil-free investment vehicle as a part of its pension portfolio.

We have the opportunity to join the conversation. Delegates to the 2014 Pacific Northwest Annual Conference will consider legislation inviting churches to learn more about divestment as a strategy for addressing climate change. The resolution calls churches to study divestment so that next year, we will be prepared to consider a resolution to send to General Conference calling the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to divest from fossil fuels. This is an opportunity to consider how our investment screens might more fully represent the values we claim in the Social Principles. Because where our treasure is, there our hearts will be.

Please come to the Creation Care Luncheon at Annual Conference on Saturday, June 21 at 12pm in the Pioneer Room at the Puyallup Fairgrounds to learn more about fossil fuel divestment and other ways to engage in creation care.

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