Commentary: This is not okay. UM Pension Board video crosses the line

Editor’s Note: The General Board of Pensions & Health Benefits removed the original video mentioned in this commentary and replaced with the video below. Please be aware of this as you read this article. 

By Rev. Jenny Phillips

The United Methodist pension board is showing a new video at delegate briefings outside the US that directs central conference delegates on how to vote on socially responsible investing guidelines. The majority of central conference delegates are from countries in Africa, along with a significant number from the Philippines. These delegates serve the church on behalf people who are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change while being among those least responsible for its causes.

This is a REVISED version of the GBPH version released
after this commentary was written. 

The video opens with words about the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits’ commitment to invest in alignment with the values of The United Methodist Church. But if the board were fully committed to investing in alignment with the church’s values, it would embrace an open, fair dialogue on socially responsible investing that honors the wisdom and integrity of the delegates, trusting them to discern how to best express the church’s values rather than telling them what to do.

Then the video explicitly instructs central conference delegates how to vote and how not to vote on legislation related to socially responsible investment guidelines. This is wrong. People perceive the pension board to have significant power, not only because it is a general agency, but also because it manages billions of dollars in church assets and pension funds. The video takes advantage of those power perceptions, authoritatively instructing central conference delegates on how to vote rather than honoring their freedom to make the decisions they believe are best for the church’s witness in the world.

Watching this video, it is easy to forget something very important: The United Methodist Church has authority over the pension board. General Conference gets to instruct the pension board on the values that will guide the church’s investments, not the other way around. The church must have a voice in ethical guidelines that shape the ways in which money is invested in its name.

While the video implies that there is risk in implementing socially responsible investment guidelines, it fails to acknowledge the risk (as well as the actual losses our pension fund has incurred) from remaining invested in these volatile, unsustainable companies. It also ignores the deep spiritual harm that may come from diminishing the church’s moral voice on climate and continuing to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into these immoral companies.

The video closes with a particularly troubling remark: “Just because you vote against divestment doesn’t mean you do not care about the planet.” Delegates do not need the board’s reassurance that they will still have integrity even if their votes conflict with their values. What they need is the board’s commitment to affirm the work of General Conference and to follow its leadership, whatever decisions the body makes.

Originally published at http://www.fossilfreeumc.org/

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19 Comments on "Commentary: This is not okay. UM Pension Board video crosses the line"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Derek McAleer
Guest

Seems to me GBOPHB is arguing that constructive engagement of corporations as a shareholder is a more effective way of achieving social change than is disinvestment. We may or may not agree with that position. But it is sad that opponents portray that position as supporting injustice rather than selecting the best tool with which to fight injustice.

Tom Lambrecht
Guest
If it is wrong for GBOPHB to advocate against proposals coming before the General Conference, then it should also be wrong for other general agencies to support or oppose specific proposals. Yet this happens all the time. What matters is the reasoning behind that advocacy. If we are not prepared to prohibit all general agencies from advocating for or against specific petitions, then why pick on GBOPHB? We had Erin Hawkins speaking pretty forcefully at the pre-conference briefing against Plan UMC. Is that not the same thing? Or do we believe that central conference delegates are unable to deal with… Read more »
Paul W.
Guest
Tom is right. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Why the selective outrage only over advocacy that progressives dislike? Where is their similar outrage over the actions of CT, GBCS, and various Bishops concerning their explicit blatant advocacy for specific progressive social initiatives (that they often wrote) which they actively promote using the power and authority of their positions with the UMC? Again, why no outrage when these same folks explicitly use their positions to actively advocate against specific theologically conservative initiatives? David T and the author both seem unable to see beyond their own… Read more »
David T
Guest

Paul, in my opinion, that’s very dichotomous thinking (black and white, all or nothing, friend or enemy, etc.). As I thought I made clear, it would have been fine for the GBOPHB to advocate for what they think is best, but when you watch the video, you should easily be able to see (starting at 2’43”) that rather than sharing information useful to the coming discussions, they also clearly instructed the central conference delegates on how they should vote. That’s a step further than simple advocacy or education on issues, and that’s what we’re complaining about.

David T
Guest

Advocacy is one thing, but this video (both Barbara Boigegrain’s words and the text overlays) quite obviously went WAY beyond simply presenting rational arguments against divestment resolutions. No, the controversy over this video has nothing do with anyone’s opinions or generalizations about central conference delegates. In fact, the video itself treats them in the manner you claim, Rev. Lambrecht.

Tom Lambrecht
Guest

David, I think the video simply asked delegates to vote “no” on divestment. Isn’t that the same as saying “vote ‘no’ on Proposition 8” or any other political advocacy? Asking someone to vote “yes” or vote “no” is not “instructing them how to vote,” it’s asking them for their vote. I don’t find that patronizing.

David T
Guest
We’ll have to disagree on whether this video attempts to instruct the central conference delegates on how to vote–I think it does, you don’t, so it’s a matter of perception. The fact that they presented this *only* to the central conference delegates and didn’t make the same pitch to the US-based delegates supports my contention that it is treating them differently–something that you’re accusing the progressive UMs of doing, so that supports my statement. As for instructions on how to vote, there was a rather controversial effort by the “Reform and Renewal” coalition at the 2008 GC involving free cell… Read more »
Paul W.
Guest

The very inaccurate description of the events in your link is instructive. In other words: When you work closely with your coalitions to achieve your goals, that is good. When others do the same thing but are working against your goals, they are bad. Selective outrage is hypocrisy.

David T
Guest

I wasn’t there, Paul, so can’t speak to the accuracy of the description. However, I’m sure that there’s plenty of the hypocrisy you mention on all sides, but it’s also mostly in the “eye of the beholder.” Peace.

Wes Andrews
Guest

Seems quite patronizing to me….

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[…] change in the video was partially in response to an earlier critique from the Rev. Jenny Phillips, the coordinator of Fossil Free UMC, an advocacy group which wants the […]

David T
Guest
I have just discovered that in apparent response to the controversy, the GBOPHB has removed their original video (of which I have a downloaded copy), and replaced it with a new version which removes three graphical text overlays that were the most obvious examples of telling the central conference delegates how to vote. One was a red circle with a slash through “FORCED DIVESTMENT” that previously appeared above the logos of Caterpillar, HP, and Motorola. Also removed were the following two text overlays: “DO NOT vote for divestment” and “DO NOT vote to limit investment.” I believe, however, that the… Read more »
Tyler Wagner
Guest
Where do we think that the money comes from to invest in renewable energy? It often comes from the profits of oil and gas companies. Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil, and Total are some of the largest investors in renewable energy in the world. The reason, their customers demand it. If you want alternative energy, go and purchase it. The other way to create new energy investment is government which I figure I would rather purchase the products I want then have my taxes subsidize energy. Divestment of these companies accomplishes nothing except creating investment opportunities for other investors. I have… Read more »
Paul Black
Guest
What is lost in this discussion is that the General Conference has delegated the General Board of Pensions a fiduciary responsibility that is an executive function. Investment decisions cannot be legislated by the General Conference as long as the GBOPHB has the fiduciary responsibility. Should such legislation directing divestment in specific companies ever pass, it will never pass muster a Judicial Council review. The party crossing the line in this matter are those that think they can “strong arm” others in making investment/divestment decisions with their own interpretation of what is “socially responsible.” That responsibility has been given to the… Read more »
Hagen O\'Brien
Guest
Dear Rev. Phillips, First and foremost, I’m a former GBOPHB employee, and as such, my views expressed here are my own. As I reflect back on my training and tenure at GBOPHB, I recall an open dialogue with the Wespath Investment Team, where they explained their stance and practices on socially responsible investing. They were all-encompassing with their answer, and I recall leaving that meeting completely satisfied. I suspect that if you give them a call, they will happily arrange to have someone address your concerns. Given the nature of this article, I suspect a reply is more than likely… Read more »
Karl Kroger
Guest

The really disheartening for me, is how GBOPHB is trying undermine divestment movements–that at their heart, are about fighting for marginalized people: be it those most impacted by climate change or those living under occupation. And the Board’s tactic is to pit a significant number of other marginalized persons against them, by scaring them into thinking: if you fight against injustice, you’ll pay for it by losing your pension. This all falls under a larger board mentality of: “we know best, so General Conference, leave us alone.”

I’m deeply disappointed.

Kevin
Guest

We are dealing with simple Africans who have only rudimentary understanding of enlightened western values. Additional instruction and guidance is entirely appropriate.

Adam
Guest

Let’s hope that Kevin’s being sarcastic.

Kevin
Guest

I was and you were the first to pick up on that. Unfortunately that attitude prevails among many here in the USA.

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