The following motion was passed by the diocese’s Synod last fall.
Because climate change caused by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions is an undeniable threat to our ecosystem and to life on this planet; and because we are bound, by our baptismal covenant, to “strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain, and renew the life of the earth”; and because we are committed to rebuilding right relationship with Canada’s indigenous peoples, the original stewards of this land, as part of our ongoing work of reconciliation; and because our theological commitments must be realized in all aspects of our corporate life, including our financial practices.
It will be moved by the Rev. Maggie Helwig and seconded by the Rev. Canon David Harrison that Synod acknowledges and applauds the efforts being made by the Investment Committee to withdraw from the most environmentally damaging of our investments, particularly those in tar sands oil; and Synod encourages the continuation of these efforts, in co-operation with our ecumenical partners and with national church structures.
Divestment is Un-Anglican
By Peter Bennett
When this motion came to Synod, I was of two minds on how to vote, but ultimately decided the motion was flawed. That it passed makes me more uncomfortable, but there we are. What it doesn’t preclude is a change of tactics, which is cause for optimism. For me, there are three reasons why I think the motion is problematic.
- Divestment as a strategy will have little impact on corporate behaviour, because one institutional investor (the church) will be replaced by another (a pension or hedge fund). As a financial advisor and member of the Responsible Investment Association, I know there are various ways to achieve your SRI (socially responsible investing) objectives. Positive or negative investment screening (of which divestment is a form) is one. Shareholder engagement is another: the SRI manager engages senior management in person or at shareholder meetings in an effort to influence corporate behaviour. My view is that shareholder engagement is a more effective long term strategy than divestment in changing corporate behaviour.
- At the risk of entering the theological quagmire of competing views of scripture, the Jesus I know was very much engaged in the public square. He saw the money-changers and confronted them. He saw the hypocrisy of the synagogue leaders and engaged them in debate. He didn’t divest himself from the sinner – he engaged with them. Divestment is another word for disengagement, and in my view, it’s not biblical.
- I view divestment as Un-Anglican. I recall a conversation with my father when ours was still a parent-child relationship. He was angry at “Red Ted” Scott, who at that point was chair of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. Dad was so upset with the WCC’s alleged support of guerilla forces fighting apartheid that he announced he was withholding his church collection in protest. I argued that his protest would mean nothing because nobody in the church would know why he was upset, and in all probability his collection would not be missed. If you’re upset, write a letter to the rector, get a motion before vestry, get yourself elected to Synod – in short, get engaged in the conversation! To his everlasting credit, he accepted my argument and recognized that “cheque book” protests were not very helpful. The Anglican Communion has numerous divisions of opinion. For some, the irresistible urge is to take your marbles home and not be in the playground anymore. For most of us, the overwhelming urge is to open or keep conversation going, to search for common ground, to find a way forward. I view divestment as a form of cheque book protest. It makes me feel good, but at the end of the day, have I had any impact on corporate behaviour?
I understand and agree with the premise that underlies the motion. However, as Archbishop Johnson said in his charge, Christians are called to be at the “edge of chaos.” Too far from the edge and we are frozen out. Too close to the chaos and we are consumed by it. Divestment freezes us out. Doing nothing consumes us in the chaos. For me the “via media” is engagement. Going forward, I hope we change tactics to achieve a common goal.
Peter Bennett is a member of the Church of the Redeemer, Bloor Street, and a member of Synod.
It is a tool for change
By the Rev. Maggie Helwig and the Rev. Canon David Harrison
We are, in fact, in agreement on many points. We too believe that Jesus was very much engaged in the public square and that we are called to active engagement in the pressing issues of our day. However, unlike Mr. Bennett, we believe that divestment is, in some circumstances, the best form of engagement.
Both divestment and shareholder activism have been employed as tools for change, and both have strengths and limitations. The church has already acknowledged that divestment may be reasonable: we have well-established exclusions on investments in alcohol, tobacco, and pornography, and we participated in the ultimately effective campaign of sanctions against apartheid in South Africa. We believe that this, too, is a situation in which divestment is an appropriate and effective instrument. Both the Church of England and the former chairman of Shell, Mark Moody-Stuart, have lamented the industry’s tepid response to shareholder engagement and have recommended divestment.
If we were the sole body to divest from tar sands oil, there might be more weight to the argument that the oil companies will not even notice. But in fact, there is a large divestment movement already underway, and it’s growing. By September 2014, over 800 organizations, with more than $50 billion in assets, had officially committed to divestment, including the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the World Council of Churches, the Church of Sweden, the University of Glasgow and Stanford University. Last spring, the Church of England announced its divestment from coal and oil sands (£12 million from a combined fund of £9 billion). French insurance company Axa has recently pledged to move €500 million out of coal investments and to triple its investment in green technologies and services. In the past few months, the United Church of Canada, the Diocese of Montreal and the Diocese of Ottawa have all voted to divest from fossil fuels. We are not isolated, and the cumulative effect is one which is very hard to ignore.
Mr. Bennett does not address some of our other points, most significantly whether investment in fossil fuels is actually fiscally responsible at this point. The recent slump in oil prices could be just the beginning of a much longer trend. “The impacts investors are seeing in their portfolio from the current oil-price shifts may be similar to what they can expect to see in the context of longer-term risks associated with the shift away from fossil fuels, particularly those associated with higher carbon emissions,” says Peter Chapman, executive director of the Shareholder Association for Research and Education. (Source: The Toronto Star, Nov. 2, 2015.)
Divestment cannot, of course, be our only form of engagement with this issue. In fact, it should be seen as a step which commits us to additional actions – to work actively to reduce our personal and institutional dependence on fossil fuels, to educate ourselves about the environmental costs of the fossil fuel economy, to advocate at all levels of government on issues such as carbon pricing and the reform of the National Energy Board, to support indigenous land defenders whose territories are threatened by fossil fuel development, and much more.
The Rev. Maggie Helwig is the incumbent of St. Stephen in the Fields, Toronto and the Rev. Canon David Harrison is the incumbent of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto.