Saturday, September 5, 2015

Divesting: What's Love Got to Do with It?

For four decades Christians investors have used divestment to end apartheid, combat child labor, protect the environment, and bring about a host of advances in economic, civil and human rights.  In its 2013 General Synod the United Church of Christ joined the Episcopalians, the Methodists, the Ethical Humanists, and the Presbyterians and embraced a fossil fuel-free investment policy.  In 2014, the Presbyterians divested $21 million from three Israeli companies as a demonstration of their moral incongruity with investing in companies that profit from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. At its 30th General Synod in July 2015, mirroring the Presbyterian’s rationale, the United Church of Christ (UCC) voted to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. We have seen the enemy of a just world, and we have battled it with the justice of punishment of profit-seeking persons who do bad things (because after all, corporations are people too!).

I support and applaud the recent divestment decisions of the UCC, other mainline Christian investors, and those of the broader faith community. Divestment has been perhaps the most effective strategy in bringing about corporate social responsibility.  But in the words of the prophet Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Ardent supporters of Israel are consistent in marking any disagreement with Israeli governmental policy as anti-Semitic.  Not surprisingly, pro-Israelis quickly labeled as “anti-Israel” the divestment measures designed to help alleviate Palestinian suffering.  Christians who seek justice for Palestinians are accused of taking the side of people who seek to destroy Israel.  They are counted among Israel’s enemy camp; at odds with God’s Chosen People.  

The overuse of divestment as a tactic enables such zero-sum game logic.   As effective as it has been, divestment is essentially reactive, negative and unloving.  It is reactive because divestment is a punitive response to corporate misbehavior.  It is negative because it takes away investment with the intention of causing economic suffering of the corporation without regard to the effect of jobs lost, or the economic impact of decreased profitability of a company.  Divestment is unloving because even though its ultimate aim is the greater good of society, it achieves this greater good by doing harm.  Divestment is steeped in a theology of punishing all financial sin until it is no more. 

After 40 years, can we now use our imaginations to achieve the same objectives through more mission-focused tactics?  When the Presbyterians announced the $21 million divestment from three Israeli companies, not a single news outlet raised the question, “Where are you going to invest the $21 million?” There was no announcement of a proactive investment to advance the Presbyterians’ mission and goals.  Indeed, the UCC was pleased to announce that a year after the Synod resolution, the church had invested $20 million in fossil fuel free investments.  Is our Christian witness so tepid that we are proud to just NOT sin?  Imagine if our in-vestment was as bodacious as our di-vestment?

 Instead of leading with judgement and punishment, churches can invest proactively, positioning our investments to demonstrate love and justice.  Churches can deploy their assets for mission and speak with a bold, public voice about our well-doing.  Churches can invest to make an impact for Christ.  God calls us to use our money to spread love.