By Bishop Ann Svennungsen
In times like these, the social teachings of the ELCA are a significant gift as we in the church discern how to act in fresh, faithful, and wise ways in response to the issues of our day. I commend the social statements, along with the catechism, as good reading in this 500th anniversary year. (Go to the Social Statement webpage and follow the tabs for social messages and social resolutions in addition to social statements.)
Our ELCA Committee for Corporate Social Responsibility met in Chicago this week to discuss the resolutions from the 2016 Churchwide Assembly regarding potential investment screens for fossil fuels and for human rights in the Middle East. I am one of three bishops who serve on this committee.
The conversation was rich and lively – just the beginning of an important process of discernment.
However, one of the most troubling takeaways for me was the statement that only 25-30% of ELCA rostered leaders and staff with pensions managed by Portico choose the Social Purpose Fund for their investments. The impact of this is staggering:
- Portico invests $8 billion dollars a year.
- Following the instructions of its members, only $2 billion of Portico’s portfolio must be invested in funds screened for social responsibility; $6 billion is invested in funds which do not have to comply with ELCA-approved screens.
- Currently, ELCA-approved screens instruct investors to:
- Limit or prohibit investment in firms related to alcohol, gambling, weapons, pornography, tobacco, private prisons, and egregious environmental damage;
- Seek “investment in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations that promote national or international economic development of urban and rural communities and neighborhoods characterized by a high proportion of people living in poverty and/or people of color”;
- Seek “investments in corporations which are taking positive steps toward a sustainable environment.” (For more information about Corporate Responsibility resources, go here.)
THESE ELCA SCREENS ARE rather commonplace as screens go – neither overly radical nor onerous. In fact, Portico is careful to ensure that the difference between investment return on screened funds versus non-screened funds is less than one percent.
Pastor Luther Kendrick writes, “As one called to preach the gospel, including justice, concern for the neighbor and caring for the common good, where my pension funds were invested was a faith issue and not simply a financial question. I gladly invested my funds in those socially responsible options. I saw it as faithfulness and common sense. The returns of these socially responsible funds were nearly identical to the unscreened funds in the plan
Screening our investments for social responsibility is one simple action we can take.
Those who march for justice are often asked whether their marching will make a difference. “How will things be different?” “What will you do after the march is done?” Screening our investments for social responsibility is one simple action we can take. Perhaps, we could entice 90 percent of our synod’s Portico participants to make this commitment.
It is easier to make this change than to write a letter to Congress. Here’s how to do it. Sign in. Follow the prompts. Or (as I do), just call Portico and have them walk you through it.
In her book, Resisting Structural Evil, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda writes: “Christian ethics … is the art of coming to know ever more fully both God and the historical realities of life on Earth, and holding them in one breath, so that we may respond to the latter in light of the former” (p. 302). I thank God for the ELCA and our shared commitment to live faithfully in today’s world.