We Can Do This!: A Natural World Investment Screen

This summer, the Fossil Free UMC Blog will share stories of how people of faith are bringing the fossil fuel divestment conversation to their annual conferences. In this installment, Rev. Sharon Delgado, a pastor in the California-Nevada Annual Conference, explains how collaboration with colleagues helped her successfully transform her framing of a divestment resolution. 

Here in California-Nevada, we started Annual Conference on June 18, 2014, with a "Go Fossil Free" resolution, calling on the United Methodist General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (GBOPHB) to divest from coal, oil, and gas companies as a response to climate change, and calling on our congregations to study the issue. We ended up passing a substitute resolution, which I supported, calling for several Cal-Nevada boards and committees to consult with the GBOPHB with the goal of developing an investment screen reflecting Social Principles related to the Natural World. 

How did this substitute resolution develop, and why did I support it? The initial "Go Fossil Free" resolution passed in the preliminary voting Section with a two-thirds favorable vote. It would probably have passed on the floor of Annual Conference, but with much debate. 

After the Section vote, another approach came to mind. During a conversation with colleagues, it was pointed out that the GBOPHB's opposition to calls for divestment is primarily based on legalities: affected companies or any individual pensioner could potentially file a lawsuit against the Board. We began to discuss the possibility of working with the Board to accomplish our purpose while avoiding legal pitfalls by expanding the Board's already-established screening process. 

We also discussed the inadequacies of current GBOPHB investment screens. The Rev. Jenny Phillips of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference pointed out in a recent article, "What Are the UMC’s Social Values? Look at Where It Invests Its Money," that there are no screens that focus on concern for the natural world. The investment screens for the GBOPHB include all of the other categories of The United Methodist Social Principles (The Nurturing Community, The Social Community, The Economic Community, The Political Community and The World Community), but there are none for The Natural World.

A substitute resolution was drafted: "Resolution in support of an investment screen expressing United Methodist Social Principles on The Natural World." Instead of urging the Board of Pensions to divest from oil, coal, and gas companies on a company-by-company basis, this substitute resolution engages several of our Annual Conference committees and boards in a collaborative effort with the Board of Pensions to establish an across-the-board screen that would accomplish the same thing. The substitute resolution passed with no debate. The resolution also calls for a report to be made at the 2015 Annual Conference and "the timely submission of General Conference legislation for the denomination as a whole."

The immediate goal of this resolution is to create a screen that will allow divestment and prevent further investment in fossil fuels companies by GBPHB. However, this screening process could be expanded to include other companies (related to pesticides or GMOs, for instance) that do extensive harm to God's creation. Such a screen would also provide guidance to General and Annual Conference boards and agencies, as well as to local churches, about environmentally-responsible investments. 

We'll find out within the next months whether or not the Board of Pensions will take action in this direction. I hope people from other Annual Conferences will join us in this conversation with the Board of Pensions and in the decision-making process. This gives us time to decide what kind of legislation to draft for 2015, to forward on to General Conference. It's worth a try!