Wresting with Processes & Power When Seeking Corporate Change 

Presbyterians love policy.  We also love process. 

When it comes to justice issues, there are times when we wonder, “Does this process help us respond to the major justice issues of our time? Could this process be improved? Is our faithfulness to the calling of the Spirit or to our established process?”

In recent years, there has been critique of the PCUSA’s process regarding corporate engagement and potential divestment from companies related to climate change issues.  The most common criticism is that the way we come to a divestment decision is too slow to respond to urgent crises. 

Critiquing the process requires us to reconsider one of the denomination’s foundational policies, the PCUSA’s 1984 Divestment Strategy. The 1984 policy was created as the PCUSA struggled with how to respond to the racial segregation institutionalized by apartheid in South Africa.  The denomination asked the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) to investigate the options and determine if and when divesting from a company could be appropriate to address a justice issue, and how that recommendation could be implemented by the PCUSA’s investing agencies and communicated to the broader church and as a form of social witness.

The task required MRTI and the denomination to interrogate how stewarding our investments could be an instrument of mission, recognizing mission may include both monetary and non-monetary objectives. The monetary objectives include a financial return to support the work of the church; while the non-monetary objectives include using the investments as a witness of the church. There was also the acknowledgement that trustees (the investing agencies) ultimately make these decisions, as elected by the church and informed by the church’s witness.

In brief, the resulting report in the 1984 policy recommended seven steps or “principles” regarding divestment considerations:

  1. The issue must reflect central aspects of faith
  2. The church must have tried to address the issues through extensive corporate engagement
  3. The divestment recommendation must incorporate thorough analysis, cogent strategy and defined goals
  4. The recommendation should be done in consultation with ecumenical partners
  5. The process must show respect for dignity of those communities affected by the divestment recommendation
  6. The recommendation should describe precise measurement and evaluation of impact
  7. The church must provide adequate for communication, interpretation and care in implementing a divestment recommendation 

In the creation and following of these criteria, the PCUSA did divest from specific companies supporting apartheid in South Africa.  For more than 50 years since then, these principles have guided MRTI and the PCUSA whenever divestment was considered or implemented, with specific criteria or corporations added to the denomination’s divestment list. These categories currently include: Military-Related Production (1982); Human Rights Violations (1985); Tobacco (1990); For-Profit Prisons (2014); and, Environmental Concerns (2022).  More recent examples of the process in action include the 2014 divestment from three specific companies due to profiting from non-peaceful pursuits n Israel-Palestine.

The policy has served the denomination faithfully.  However, as Reformed Christians, we are constantly forming and reforming.  Even great policies can be improved or updated to better address current issues of our time such as climate change and increases in global conflict.  MRTI has heard critiques of the divestment process and, in response, we are recommending the creation of a task force to review and update the 1984 divestment policy as necessary.

This task force will be an opportunity to bring a diverse group of voices together, outside of those represented on MRTI. This includes representatives from the denomination’s investing agencies, entities responsible for mission, committees of the church focused on social witness, and individuals appointed from the broader church.  The group will review the policy and ask again, like in 1984, if and when divesting from a company could be appropriate to address today’s justice issues, and how that recommendation could be implemented by the PCUSA’s investing agencies and communicated more broadly.

Standing at the intersection of faith and finance, the task force’s work will live in the inherent tension between faith and capitalism.  We pray their work will be guided by the Spirit, as well as by process.

Reverend Marci Auld Glass, member-at-large, Marci Auld Glass is a graduate of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas and Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. She serves at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. Previously, Marci served as Pastor & Head of Staff at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho. Before moving to Boise, she served in Youth Director roles at churches in New Mexico and Washington state. She served on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board from 2014-2020.

She serves on the Board of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advocacy Board, Columbia Theological Seminary’s Alumni Board, and the San Francisco Interfaith Council.

Marci and her husband, Justin have two sons: Elliott, in Colorado, and Alden, who lives with his wife Katrina in Charlotte, North Carolina. Marci also has an older son, Eric, who she placed for adoption when she was in college. He and his wife Ashley live in Dallas, TX, with their daughter Audrey.

In her free time, she studies the Enneagram, hikes as much as her new bionic knee will allow, and plays the cello. She occasionally blogs at www.marciglass.com.

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth L. Hinson-Hasty is Professor of Theology and Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary and teaches primarily on the Charlotte campus. She frequently preaches and speaks on matters of faith and public life to congregations, non-profits, colleges, universities and seminaries. Elizabeth serves the church through her preaching, teaching, and advocacy work; she remains committed to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. She is currently a member at large of the PC(USA) Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment. Other contributions to the connectional church include serving on the Advocacy for Women’s Concerns, chairing the Design Team for the Churchwide Study of the Status of Women, and as a research consultant for the World Council of Churches’ North American Regional Forum and Hearings on Poverty, Wealth, and Ecology (2010-2014). A prolific author, she often writes about affluence, social justice, ethics, and mental illness. Her book, The Problem of Wealth: A Christian Response to a Culture of Affluence (Orbis 2017) won a Catholic Press Association first place award for a book on Catholic Social Teaching. She is currently working on a new project entitled Christian Freedom for the Present Moment.

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