Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How a concern becomes a value

By Nevin Dulabaum, president of Brethren Benefit Trust

One of the characteristics that distinguishes most of the funds managed by the Brethren Pension Plan and Brethren Foundation is that they are socially screened for Church of the Brethren values. That means that we do not invest in companies that generate 10 percent or more of their revenues in abortion, alcohol, defense, gambling, pornography, or tobacco. We also do not invest in the top 25 publically traded defense contractors. These screens all come from statements approved by Church of the Brethren Annual Conference delegates.

So what would it take to add another concern to the list of investment screens? This past summer, Church of the Brethren Annual Conference delegates, meeting in Columbus, Ohio, considered an amendment to an unfinished business item pertaining to climate change. The amendment proposed that Church of the Brethren-related investments “should cultivate renewable energy production and use, and should screen out entities that prolong climate-threatening dependency on fossil fuels.”

There is growing momentum for this kind of a ban. According to the “New York Times,” 180 philanthropies, religious organizations, pension funds, local governments, and hundreds of wealthy individual investors have pledged to divest themselves of assets tied to fossil fuel companies in recent years.

When asked whether the amendment would be supported by Brethren Foundation (and BBT), Steve Mason, BBT and BFI’s director of socially responsible investing, reported that it would be best for the topic to be filtered through the Annual Conference query process as its own item of business, rather than being tacked on as an amendment to an existing item of business. This stand-alone process would allow the topic of the amendment to go through a seasoned process of discernment.

What is a seasoned process of discernment? Or to reframe the question, what is the proper course if one would like BBT/BFI to consider adopting a new investment screen?

A query for any topic needs to be submitted to the Annual Conference as a new business item. Queries can come in one of three ways: They can begin as a congregational concern that is approved and sent to the respective district conference, where it also is approved and is then sent on to Annual Conference; they can be drafted and sent to Annual Conference by one of the official Annual Conference agencies (Church of the Brethren, Bethany Theological Seminary, On Earth Peace, or Brethren Benefit Trust); or there can be a motion made to establish a new item of business from the Annual Conference floor. With regard to investment screens, BBT’s practice is to follow Annual Conference statements; we refuse to initiate investment screens on our own.

Once a new business item is discussed by Annual Conference delegates, the usual outcome of that initial dialogue is for a study committee to be created to discern the feasibility of the proposal.

Why this approach? The creation of a study committee means that a group of individuals who have various perspectives on the subject are able to collectively give the issue a seasoned response. When addressing divestiture of fossil fuel-related investments, such a process could shape the scope of the business item, making sure recommendations are practicable and could lead to meaningful implementation.

Investment screens can be a tool organizations use to effectively state their social convictions without hurting their long-term investments. Do you believe BBT/BFI should omit a certain kind of investment? If so, we welcome the conversation but encourage you to filter your concern through the query process. We believe the outcome will yield the best results for both conveying Brethren values and being a realistic investment screen.

-- Nevin Dulabaum is president of the Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust.

Source: 11/18/2014 Newsline

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