Following our Gospel values: did assembly drop the ball on ethical investing?Albert Einstein once said, "The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything. Can this language be applied to investment portfolios? Are investors, including corporate ones like churches, culpable Blameworthy; involving the commission of a fault or the breach of a duty imposed by law.
Culpability generally implies that an act performed is wrong but does not involve any evil intent by the wrongdoer. for their reluctance or failure to be intentional in ensuring that their investments are more and more ethically responsible? I wondered about this as I recently re-read the 2003 Assembly Council Report.
Three years previously a robust Round Table discussion on ethical investing ethical investing
See social investing. was held in Montreal. Apparently some members of that presbytery presbytery (prĕz`bĭtĕr'ē, prĕs`–), in architecture, the space in the eastern end of a church reserved for the higher clergy. It was also known in the early Christian Church as the apse, tribune, or exedra. took seriously the moral challenges from that event to urge our denomination Denomination
The stated value found on financial instruments.
This term applies to most financial instruments with monetary values. The denomination for bonds and securities would be face value or par value. to become more proactive about ethical investing. Their 2002 overture to Assembly argued that investments ought to be about more than maximum dollar income. In their view we ought to follow the Gospel to ensure that our investments do the least harm and provide the widest benefit possible. We should also seek to do this ecumenically.
In the 1980s, in response to apartheid policies in South Africa South Africa, Afrikaans Suid-Afrika, officially Republic of South Africa, republic (2005 est. pop. 44,344,000), 471,442 sq mi (1,221,037 sq km), S Africa. , investors started to use negative screens. They refused to invest in companies that did business with regimes that were oppressive. Gradually more positive screens were developed to reward those businesses that paid attention to the environment and dealt equitably with workers.
To be sure, making such decisions adds a whole additional responsibility for trustees. Which companies should be avoided and which should be supported? Should a minimum number of stocks be retained in a company like Talisman Energy Talisman Energy TSX: TLM is one of Canada's largest petroleum companies. It was originally part of British Petroleum, known as BP Canada, but in 1992 it became an independent company named Talisman Energy. to influence withdrawal from operations like those it once had in war-tom Sudan? The question of whether to invest in certain pharmaceutical companies is hard to answer. The ratio of scientists to drug salespeople visiting doctors has grown exponentially in the past 25 years, and this certainly adds to the costs. Do increasingly higher drug prices mean that some drugs are now beyond the reach of many who need them? One thinks particularly of the desperate need in Africa for antiretroviral drugs Antiretroviral Drugs Definition
Antiretroviral drugs inhibit the reproduction of retroviruses—viruses composed of RNA rather than DNA. The best known of this group is HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, the causative agent of AIDS. to survive HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome .
Our Assembly Council's 2003 report acknowledged the complexity of such factors. It also referred to a number of proactive decisions that our denomination has made with reference to South Africa as well as to Talisman Energy. In spite of such decisions, the report ends up defending the status quo [Latin, The existing state of things at any given date.] Status quo ante bellum means the state of things before the war. The status quo to be preserved by a preliminary injunction is the last actual, peaceable, uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy. and says, in effect, that to accept the overture's basic request would interfere with the fiduciary role of the trustees.
The Council's objections to the request include the surprising statement that the "investments held by the denomination are held for one reason only: to fund the ministry of the denomination." To underscore the singular financial objective of its investment policy, the report adds, "If less money is earned on investments, less money is available for ministry."
This sounds somewhat utilitarian. How we invest our church's money does not seem to be part of our ministry. Only the end result of having funds available for our various departments and programs appears to be what counts.
I submit that a theologically informed response has to recognize that our stewardship includes how we raise money and not just how we spend it. A covenantal understanding of economy includes how money matters can creatively impact the environment and thoughtfully foster human community.
Even our secular society is voicing a larger agenda. Deb Abby, in Global Profit and Global Justice, argues there is "empirical evidence that shows a positive link between companies that are socially responsible and strong financial performers." In the world of business there is a growing conviction that fiduciary responsibility also includes social responsibility. Churches have been in the forefront of the corporate social responsibility movement for decades and our Assembly Council seems to have forgotten this in drafting its response to Montreal Presbytery's overture.
We need to revisit re·vis·it
tr.v. re·vis·it·ed, re·vis·it·ing, re·vis·its
To visit again.
A second or repeated visit.
re the subject of ethical investing as a denomination. Perhaps we ought to ensure that here also we are seeking to live by values which fundamentally reflect our understanding of the Gospel and our calling as a church.
Arthur Van Seters is Principal Emeritus of Knox College Knox College can refer to: