The January meeting of the diocesan Board of Directors was dedicated to the issue of divestment from fossil fuels in the James F. Hodges Diocesan Investment Fund (DIF). The Board declined to direct the DIF Committee to divest of fossil fuel equities, instead directing the DIF Committee to “regularly monitor equities in companies which provide alternative energy sources, and actively invest in them as they are found to meet the investment policy guidelines.” These decisions came after more than 18 months of review, conversation, input from diocesan convention, input from congregations that participate in the DIF, a presentation on socially responsible investing, and consideration of alternate methods of taking action. Board chair, the Rev. Ann Lukens, summed up the impact of this process, “Certainly the BCE’s convention presentations and educational program, along with the Board’s conversations with DIF participant vestries and bishop’s committees, raised the consciousness and credibility of the issue across the diocese. The stock criticism ‘This is not the Church’s business’ is hardly to be heard.”
The initial request, sent to the Board by the Bishop’s Committee for the Environment (BCE) in June 2013 asked that “over the next five years the Diocese of Olympia divest from any direct ownership of fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds and refrain from adding to its portfolio from this time forward any new holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies.”
In the explanation for its decision, the Board noted that it “recognizes that climate change poses a grave threat to life on earth as we know it, and the Church has an important and legitimate role to play in calling for action which mitigates the impact on God’s creatures. However the Board does not believe that directing the DIF to divest of fossil fuel equities is a prudent action for four reasons:
- The Board plays a unique and trusted role as steward of assets belonging to congregations and diocesan organizations, whose ministries depend on DIF income; the Board must keep its fiduciary responsibility foremost, so the viability of grassroots ministries is not compromised. While a group such as the Bishop’s Committee for the Environment may pursue advocacy without compromising other ministries, the Board cannot.
- Divestment on its own, apart from a comprehensive, coordinated action plan for environmental advocacy is likely to become an eminently forgettable event.
- Prior to considering the full range and implications of social justice issues which might potentially drive investment decisions, it is premature to set the precedent of managing funds to make a particular social policy statement.
- Absent a compelling case that fossil fuel divestment will mitigate the potential impact of climate change, overriding the current DIF decision-making process is not justified.”
In directing the DIF Committee to monitor equities in companies which provide alternative energy sources and to actively invest in them as they are found to meet the investment policy guidelines, the Board stated that “it, like the 2013 Convention, is earnest in its concern about climate change” noting that the directive tone of the motion was deliberate. The explanation added, “Corporations in which our diocese invests can be viewed as enactments of our faith and values, therefore whenever the Board’s responsibility for supporting grassroots ministries can be sustained while simultaneously advancing the Church’s ethical agenda, the Board gladly pursues its own mission through partnering with ethical advocates.”