Bold Action: Building Change Through Faith-Based Investor Leadership

Bold Action

By Richard Walters

The Pension Boards-United Church of Christ (PBUCC) recently participated in a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) as the United Church of Christ received the Founders’ Award as a founding member of ICCR.

Why the Pension Boards? Because PBUCC carries on the work and financial support of ICCR on behalf of the whole church and in furtherance of bold action for social change in the tradition of the United Church of Christ and its faith values of justice, compassion, and creation care; and because the Pension Boards is the largest investor and financial ministry in the UCC and the longest continuous member of ICCR in the UCC.

What is ICCR and what is its mission? How is this unique collaboration of 300 faith-based members having an impact? And how is the leadership of PBUCC making a difference on behalf of the UCC in its leadership of ICCR? Read on for the answer to these and other important questions.

But first, it is important to note some background. PBUCC is not an investor by virtue of ownership of assets, but rather as a custodian, holding in trust some four billion dollars in assets on behalf of the retirement savings of those who serve the church—clergy and lay church workers. As a fiduciary, and a ministry of the church, the Pension Boards has the dual mission of doing good for human rights and creation while doing well for our members in the pension plan in terms of wise and prudent investment of their savings.

The second thing to know is why investors, especially investors who have similar values and faith-based motivation to serve the same mission, can have a powerful influence toward a just world for all. It is because investors who own shares in publicly traded companies can have a moral influence upon those companies and upon those companies’ political spending to influence public policy. While faith-based activists are familiar with traditional methods of social justice work, many are still unaware of the power of ICCR to create change 50 years after its founding and first action, which was to end apartheid in South Africa through economic action. As ICCR obtained hundreds of agreements by companies over the last few years to transition to a net zero economy, to address systemic racism, to end mistreatment of supply chain workers and to end gun violence, the church is beginning to pay notice to the leadership of the Pension Boards in this work.

I work full-time for the Pension Boards as Director of Social Responsibility, and I am a principal liaison to ICCR on behalf of PBUCC. My participation led me to serve on the Investment Committee overseeing the endowment of ICCR; and the Impact Investment Committee of ICCR that promotes direct investment in companies having the greatest impact on human rights, access to education and healthcare, and climate change. The Pension Boards supports this involvement by paying dues and maintaining membership in ICCR on behalf of the whole church.