Pension Fund Flexes Muscles

By Zachary Guiliano

The House of Bishops began its work in closed session at 2:15 p.m. Sunday, as the assembled bishops discussed what Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori later described as an urgent issue. The closed session lasted until about 3:30 p.m.

The House’s consent calendar only listed four resolutions for the afternoon: two on ethical investment and two on marriage.

C045 (Environmentally Responsible Investing) was the first up for discussion; it had been heavily amended in committee earlier in the week.

The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, retired Bishop of New Hampshire, expressed concern that the resolution asked the Episcopal Church Pension Fund, among other bodies, to “divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in clean renewable energy.”

Bishop Robinson has served as a trustee of the Church Pension Fund’s board.

He moved an amendment that would remove the Church Pension Fund from the list of church bodies that should divest from fossil fuels. Bishops Robinson said the church and the Church Pension Fund have “two different missions.”

The church’s mission, he said, is to “love God and do good in the world. The Pension Fund’s mission is to ensure the pensions of our clergy and all our lay employees.”

“I want to talk about this for the church; I think this is inappropriate for the Church Pension Fund.”

A number of other bishops, either trustees or former trustees of the Church Pension Fund, testified in favor of Robinson’s amendment.

The first bishop to oppose Robinson’s amendment was the Rt. Rev. J. Scott Barker of Nebraska. “Money is power,” he said. “It’s precisely the power of the pension funds that we would like to see asserted in this fight.”

The House deliberated on this issue for some time without any clear direction: some bishops opposed the amendment and others opposed the whole resolution.

“We are not personally committed” to ending the use of fossil fuels, which would make institutional reform hypocritical, said Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland. He thought work should begin on the congregational and diocesan level. He also voiced skepticism about the effectiveness of divestment strategies.

In the end, C045 passed with the amendment intact: General Convention will not call on the Church Pension Fund to change its investment strategies, but the current form of the resolution does not spare the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, the Episcopal Church Endowment Fund, and the Episcopal Church Foundation.

Jim Naughton observed on Twitter, “If you think the LGBT lobby in the ‪#Episcopal church is strong, you haven’t seen the Church Pension Fund in action.”

The bishops would have considered another resolution on the environment, but it was postponed for a lack of time.

The bishops then heard a report from the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage on Resolution A036 (Amend Canon I.18, Marriage) and A054 (Adopt Resources and Rites from “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing, Revised and Expanded 2015”). Both resolutions would move the Episcopal Church toward approving same-sex marriage, although one had undergone amendment in committee.

The Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon, Bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, gave the report, but his presentation was troubled by a variety of problems: some bishops had difficult accessing the necessary resolution texts and other documents, others found it difficult to hear him speaking, and there was dispute about whether his method of presenting the resolutions was technically in order.

Bishop Whalon described the amended resolutions as “mostly unchanged.”

“What I can highlight for you, though, is the amendment from the committee to change the task-force proposal for the declaration of intent.”

While Bishop Whalon explained the changes, the presiding bishop moved to postpone the matter. She noted that it was almost 5:30 p.m., when provincial caucuses were scheduled to meet, even though the two Houses of Convention were also scheduled to meet. “I’m sorry,” she said. “The communications about this didn’t work.”

The House decided to recess. Consideration of the two marriage resolutions has been postponed until later in the week.

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