Board of Pensions responds criticism on divestment

In a press release issued yesterday, The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBPHB) reiterated its position on sustainable investment, and released a new video outlining their position which is being shown at gatherings of central conference delegates. Critics had complained about a previous version of the video, and GBPHB stated that they had edited the video “for clarity.”

The revised GBPHB video reiterating their position on sustainable investment

“The video program, posted on the agency’s website, is designed to provide information for delegates and others across The United Methodist Church in preparation for General Conference 2016, in accordance with the General Board’s fiduciary responsibilities,” GBPHB said. “The video advocates for active investor engagement to bring about change on key issues. It also addresses petitions and calls for screening or divestment of some of the companies held within the approximately $20 billion in assets GBPHB manages on behalf of 92,000 clergy and lay plan participants.”

In the video message, GBPHB states its position on several petitions that the 2016 General Conference will consider that would impact the agency’s fiduciary role. The agency stated that they remain firm in their commitment to explain to delegates and others why their investment approach to climate change and human rights issues serves the best interests of the denomination, while opposing screening and divestment petitions seeking General Conference directives.

The agency’s noted that their website cites a series of examples that demonstrate success in its longstanding approach to maintaining ownership and engaging with companies in which it is invested, leading to positive outcomes and ultimate change. The pointed to their response to the issue of climate change as an example of the benefits of remaining engaged rather than cutting ties with energy companies.  “GBPHB’s engagement,” they said, “has encouraged companies to be more energy efficient, to disclose greenhouse gas emissions, to set emissions-reduction goals, and to strategically factor potential regulatory changes into business plans and core operations—in order to reduce carbon-related risk.”

GBPHB stated that it continues to oppose petitions seeking General Conference investing directives that would be in conflict with its fiduciary role, entrusted to GBPHB by the General Conference. Since last fall, GBPHB representatives have been meeting with delegations in the U.S. and Central Conferences to state its position on divestment, the actions it takes to invest sustainably, and to provide the opportunity to address questions or respond to opposing viewpoints. GBPHB is opposing petitions that would divert the agency from the role entrusted to it by General Conference.

Rev. Jenny Phillips, Fossil Free UMC

Rev. Jenny Phillips, Fossil Free UMC

The 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 UMC to divest its holdings in companies focused on the extraction and distribution of fossil fuels.

I appreciate that the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits has removed language from its video that directly instructed central conference delegates on how to vote,” Philips said in a statement responding to the GBHPB press release. “However, I can’t help but observe that there is still a significant difference in tone between the live presentation given at the United States delegate briefing on January 22, and the video prepared for central conference delegates. The US presentation engaged the delegates in lively, critical thinking about the ways in which the the board is responding to climate change; the central conference video lacks a similar demonstration of trust in its viewers.”

The 2016 United Methodist General Conference will consider divestment petitions as a part of their work this May in Portland, OR.


UMReporter Staff

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David T

The only revision I’ve found to the GBOPHB briefing video for central conference delegatas was the removal of 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 original version has already been shown to a number of the central conference delegates, but I’m… Read more »

Richard F Hicks
Richard F Hicks

Can’t money be baptized? See JB Philiips’ Your God Is Too Small. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC


So they made one video for the American audience and another for the African audience. I am sure there was a difference in tone.

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