What is each denomination doing on MRI?
Click below to see what your church’s view on MRI is and see what church activists are doing.
United Reform Church
Responsibility for decision making in the URC rests fundamentally with the congregations. The general approach is bottom up. This is now reflected in the principle of decisions by consensus and, if possible, unanimity. Therefore, concerns raised at a national level are unlikely to be resolved quickly and much time is taken in keeping as many churches and members as possible in agreement. This applies to issues on investment and social action as well as theology.
Decisions, including those concerning investment, are made at three levels, which also reflect the levels at which financial resources are held. These are
- local churches
- synods (there are 13 in England, Wales and Scotland)
Each of these levels can make their own choices and decisions about investment, although there is guidance from the national church. The amounts of money held by churches vary widely, with some churches being relatively well endowed and others struggling to meet expenses. Property such as church buildings and manses are the responsibility of the Synods and are held in trust. The Synods also have varying amounts of money to invest. In general, when capital is released by the sale of a building this is quickly used in new projects. The national church holds funds for ministerial pay and pensions. It is likely that the Synods also have some money committed to this too
From recent enquiries, most of the Synods and the National church invest through well known ethical investment funds. It is not currently clear whether anyone regularly checks these funds against the current URC policies on ethical investment or whether the fund managers are trusted with this task. It is almost certain that local churches do not independently screen their investments.
At present, national URC policy is as follows :- (taken from the URC website, July 2018)
- General Assembly recommends that trustees and all those with investment responsibilities connected with the United Reformed Church should avoid any investment in:
- a) companies directly engaged in the manufacture or supply of weapons;
- b) companies a significant part of whose business is in the manufacture or supply of: alcoholic drinks, or tobacco products, or military equipment (other than weapons); or the provision of gambling facilities; or the publication or distribution of pornography; or in the extraction of
thermal coal or the production of oil from oil sands;
- c) companies who benefit by offering credit at usurious rates of interest to those who do not have access to funds through normal lending channels.
General Assembly is of the view that in the definition of the activities outlined in b) above, ‘significant’ means that the share of turnover derived from the activity concerned is more than 10% of the company’s total turnover; for c) above the equivalent threshold should be 25%.
- In addition to the exclusions listed above, the URC’s investment bodies should reserve the right to avoid investment in companies whose operations are deemed to:
- contribute directly to human rights violations or support the maintenance of oppressive regimes who are guilty of gross human rights violations;
- contribute to a systematic, harmful impact on the social or natural environment;
- harm the society in which they operate more than they benefit it;
- promote injustice.
- Further, it is expected that governance standards of our advisers, our fund managers, their agents, and the companies in which we invest, both directly and indirectly, should meet internationally accepted norms. By focusing on these standards, investors will favour companies which will be seeking to develop their businesses sustainably in the long term interests of their shareholders and other stakeholders.
- Nestle Clarification: for investment purposes all companies should be treated in accordance with this ethical investment policy. There is no further requirement to exclude holdings in this company.
- General Assembly recognises that this policy cannot be binding upon those with responsibility for specific investment decisions but when these bodies seek advice on investment matters they should apply due diligence to ensure that the integrity and reputation of the United Reformed Church is, as far as is practical, protected.
While there is no specific statement regarding the situation in Israel Palestine, paragraph 2 could be interpreted as encouraging avoidance of investment in companies involved in the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as companies maintaining the separation barrier and in other ways breaking international law. Others will already be excluded by paragraphs 1a and 1b (with reference to military equipment).
What have URC activists done so far?
URC campaigners have started to gather information on how URC funds are invested at national and Synod level and whether this provides an adequate filter against investing in companies that support violations of international law. Several of the 13 synods have already been contacted by local campaigners, as well as the central Investment Committee which oversees URC investment policy. The COIF Ethical Investment Fund managed by CCLA is a popular choice for URC funds. It has a wide range of ethical restrictions but more investigation is needed to be sure it fully meets the Kairos criteria. It may be worth asking CCLA if it can provide a version of the fund that definitely does so as a “segregated investment” (https://www.ccla.co.uk/investment-solutions/segregated-investment-services). This would obviate the task of checking out each one of the large number of companies comprising many investment fund portfolios.
Quaker Involvement in the Middle East
Quakers have a long history of peacemaking in the Middle East, especially in relation to Palestine and Israel. In 2002, the World Council of Churches responded to a call from Palestinian Christians and set up the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Quakers are responsible for running it in the UK and Ireland. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) are sent out for three months to live alongside Palestinians and Israelis who are working for a just peace. As a result, Quakers now have a deep knowledge of the situation on the ground and campaign actively for an end to the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, and the protection of human rights.
Quaker Policy on Investment
Quakers have always stood for principles of ethical investment ie that money should not be used to invest in companies that go against Quaker principles of equality, human well-being, social justice and peace. Accordingly Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM – the national body of Quakers) state in their investment policy that no investments should be made in the armaments industry, gambling, or companies connected with tobacco, pornography or alcohol. More recently owing to a Quaker commitment to a low carbon economy, that list now includes the fossil fuel industry.
Investment in Companies that profit from the occupation of the West Bank
In Devon there is an active group on Palestine and Israel. In 2017, we decided to press for BYM to add to the above exclusion list companies that profit from the military occupation of Palestinian territory. BYM encourages participation in decision making by Quakers at every level. Decisions about day-to-day policy issues are taken by a variety of BYM committees but they are guided in this by a body called Meeting for Sufferings which meets every two months. So our working group put forward a motion via Devon Area Meeting to Meeting for Sufferings on this issue. The minute we sent read as follows:
What have Quaker activists done so far?
The working group propose that we ask Britain Yearly Meeting to consider adding to their current list of exclusions for investment purposes any company that is profiting from the occupation of the West Bank. This action is part of a campaign being organised by Kairos, “calling on churches to divest from any companies which profit from either the settlements and their associated economy, the building or servicing of the illegal separation barrier and associated checkpoints, or the exploitation of Palestinian natural resources”.
This minute is currently being considered by various BYM bodies looking at investments, including Meeting for Sufferings.
Church of Scotland
Most Church of Scotland investments are managed by the denomination’s Investors’ Trust. It runs three funds (growth fund, income fund and deposit fund) into which local congregations and national church bodies can put their money (although they may put it elsewhere if they wish).
The Investors’ Trust makes ethical decisions by “taking into account” the views of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, while not technically being bound by them. It operates negative screening by avoiding investment in any company substantially involved in gambling, tobacco products, alcohol, armaments and in other activities which are felt to harm
society more than they benefit it. There is also an element of positive screening; in general, investment is sought in companies that demonstrate responsible employment and good corporate governance practices, have regard to environmental performance and human rights and act with sensitivity to the local communities.
In December 2017 The Council of Assembly produced a statement of investment principles which can be accessed here:
In 2016 the Trustees agreed to avoid investment in companies which derive more than 15% of their turnover from extraction and/or sale of thermal coal and/or oil extracted from tar sands. This year the Church and Society Council asked the Assembly to “urge that if the business plans of oil and gas companies are not aligned with the Paris climate agreement within two years the Investors Trust and Pension Trustees withdraw from investing in them”. The Assembly however failed to approve this.
The Church is in the process of producing a report to next year’s Assembly giving a strategic view of the presence of the Church in Israel/Palestine and examining what would be the most effective use of Church assets there. The response to this may well affect the Church’s direction in future on investments in companies which profit from the occupation.
Roman Catholic Church
Background on the church with MRI
MRI would in general be seen against the background of Catholic Social Teaching (http://www.catholicsocialteac) which has developed over more than 120 years. Rooted in the Gospel, CST calls us to attend to the Common Good, to solidarity with all humanity, to an option for the poor, to protect the planet. CST calls us to act for justice, not merely in charity, alert to the ways in which social , economic and other structures can diminish life rather than cherishing and enhancing it. Such themes are strongly proclaimed by Pope Francis.
MRI is introduced as one expression of CST in some church-related investment policies.
Do we know of any investments the church has or has had that profit from the occupation?
See below for explanation of structure. Each diocese, the Vatican, individuals, charities and other organisations all have independent investments with their own policies and investment managers; the extent of moral or ethical criteria varies as does the engagement with seekign a just future for all in Palestine-Israel.
Have the church been receptive to this issue?
MRI is growing but not uniformly prioritised. The Communique of 2017 following UK Bishops’ annual visit to Israel and the OPT did call the faithful to prayer, awareness, action and solidarity. (http://catholicnews.org.uk/hl) It is not widely known or followed in your contributor’s experience. Most church engagement in Palestine-Israel is on the large number of initiatives and organisations engaged in the Holy Land.
What is the structure of the church and how can we influence their policies?
In 2011, in total there were roughly 5.7 million Catholics in the United Kingdom; 4,155,100 in England and Wales (7.4%), 841,053 in Scotland (15.9%), and 738,033 in Northern Ireland (40.76%). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_in_the_United_Kingdom with detailed references) Catholics worship in parishes within dioceses. Some investments are made by dioceses, some by the Vatican, and also by other Catholic organisations and communities.
In the UK, 22 dioceses’ bishops are in the Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales (http://www.cbcew.org.uk); 8 are in the corresponding Conference for Scotland (https://www.bcos.org.uk/). 6 are in Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Each Conference has a corresponding commission of justice and peace (https://www.justice-and-peace, http://www.justiceandpeacescotland.org.uk/, https://www.catholicbishops.ie/justice/ ). Many dioceses also have justice and peace commissions – comprising lay people and priests, these would in general would have a remit of supporting the Bishop and facilitating parishes’ justice, peace and integrity of creation groups.
What is the denominational group doing and how can interested parties get involved?
There is a newly formed denominational group engaging with the Catholic church, which is very small. To join, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.