Light green investing endorsed by US Episcopal bishops

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church have endorsed a resolution calling upon the church to divest its shares in fossil fuel stocks. But it has excluded the Church Pension Fund from the green investment agenda.

Meeting on 28 June 2015 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, the bishops received for debate Resolution C045 “Environmentally responsible investing” offered by the Diocese of Massachusetts

The Rt. Rev. John Smylie, Bishop of Wyoming, chairman of Environmental Stewardship and Care of Creation, said his committee heard testimony calling for divestment, as well as staying invested in fossil fuel companies so as to influence corporate policy. The final draft presented to the bishops for their consideration called upon the Investment Committee of the Executive Committee, the Church Pension Fund, the Church Endowment Fund and the Episcopal Church Foundation to “divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in clean renewable energy in a fiscally responsible manner” and refrain from new purchases of fossil fuel stocks.

The former Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, rose and offered an amendment to the resolution, striking the Church Pension Fund from the list of named entities. It was “inappropriate” for the General Convention to direct the Pension Funds investment policy he said, noting they were two independent entities.

It was “not as simple as it seems,” Bishop Robinson said. Pension fund trustees under New York law are“not allowed to pursue non-fiduciary duties.” He said the Diocese of New Hampshire Foundation had invested in “socially responsible” projects “and had “gotten a lower return” on their capital. This was acceptable as socially responsible investing was an allowed activity of a church. This was not true of a pension fund, which was charged with maximizing asset value. Forcing a green agenda upon the pension fund was imprudent and unlawful, he said.

The Bishop of California, the Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, rose to oppose the Robinson amendment. He argued the resolution’s call for “fiscally responsible” investing answered the objections.

The former Bishop of Maine, the Rt. Rev. Chilton Knudsen supported the amendment, saying she was “wary of allowing General Convention to advise” the fund. This was a “boundary issue” as the resolution directed the pension fund to act, rather than suggest actions.

The Rt. Rev. J. Scott Barker, Bishop of Nebraska disagreed. “Money is power,” he said. “We want to see the power of the pension fund asserted.”

Liberal and conservative bishops rallied found the Robinson amendment. The suffragan Bishop of Dallas, the Rt. Rev. Paul Lambert argued “we need to be careful of the unintended consequences” of divestment. “It can put some of the younger clergy at risk.” While the Rt. Rev. Robert Johnson, former Bishop of Western North Carolina said the “money we are responsible for must provide for our clergy and lay employees.” Our “legal responsibility” is to the beneficiaries, he argued.

However, the Provisional Bishop of San Joaquin, the Rt. Rev. David Rice said he was perturbed by the direction the debate was taking, noting “this is the time to show our values. It is time to act.”

The Robinson amendment was put to a vote and passed overwhelmingly.

Discussion of the whole resolution ensued, with Bishop Barker saying the extreme weather of recent years was the result of global warming caused by fossil fuels. It would be “sinful” not to take action. However, the Bishop of Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton said he opposed the divestment resolution.

He considered himself to be a “green bishop” and had urged his congregations to pursue environmentally sensitive practices with a goal of having 40 per cent of power consumption generated from renewable energy. However, it was “disingenuous for us to do this when our parishes and people have not done” so. Discussion passed between bishops in favor and opposed, sounding themes struck earlier in the debate.

Bishop Rice, however, said “a bold response just like the Supreme Court decision” of 26 June 2015 mandating same-sex marriage was needed. “Our fragile earth, our island home is groaning,” he said.

“Mother Earth” was the true “beneficiary” of the Church Pension Fund, he argued. “We must make a moral choice.”

The amended resolution was put to a vote and passed. It proceeds to the House of Deputies for final action.

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