A Stumbling Block for Justice: Synod Resolution 16

A Stumbling Block for Justice: Synod Resolution 16

Patrick Cage is the climate justice intern for the Massachusetts Conference, UCC.

For a related blog post by Conference Minister Jim Antal click here.

In the United Church of Christ, we believe that God is Still Speaking, but a resolution proposed for General Synod will silence our collective ability to echo God’s cry for justice.

Resolution 16, proposed for the 2015 General Synod, would prevent Synod from calling for the United Church of Christ to divest at the National level and in other settings. By preventing divestment, that is, the withdrawal of investments from industries that profit from injustice, we lose access to an effective means of leveraging privilege for social change, a tactic that broke the yoke of Apartheid and slowed predatory tobacco advertising.

The measured tone of Resolution 16 sounds more like an agenda item than a political blockade, and its biblical arguments are misdirecting. Titled “Resolution Urging Socially Responsible Investment Practices,” this proposal appears at an uncritical glance to be a placid endorsement of socially just applications of our financial assets.

Yet read through informed eyes, we can see that the resolution serves to isolate differing settings of the church, such as the Pension Boards and United Church Funds (who are bringing forward the resolution), from the moral sway of the local church as represented at Synod. In doing so, Resolution 16 stands to cast a stumbling block in the path of needed and merciful justice, and destabilizes the UCC’s ability to continue our leadership as the mainline denominational voice on the frontlines of today’s pressing moral issues.  

Several lines throughout the resolution clarify its intended consequences. Line 37-38 carry the message that ministries should stay out of one another’s business vis-à-vis divestment, and lines 98-99 and 180-181 show a wish to impede divestment to nonexistence. Yet most important is the “be it resolved” portion, which contains the actual mechanism for inhibiting future UCC divestment. This operates subtly, by inoculating each setting of the church from each other’s moral compulsion. This function is most clear in lines 218-220, which proposes that General Synod “acknowledges, recognizes, respects and affirms that each setting and ministry of the church has unique and appropriate ways of responding to the call to implement strategies of socially responsible investing.” That is, no one part of the church can tell any other how to morally invest. Alongside this, the language of the entire section precludes divestment, as in line 215, which calls for the UCC “to continue shareholder advocacy.”

The impact is that only those directly involved in the National setting of the UCC would have the power to bring our denomination to divest. Those of us in the local church, as represented through our Synod delegates, could divest our individual congregations, but we would not have the power to divest our denomination. The prophetic leadership of two years could not happen again, when Synod voted for the UCC as a denomination to divest from fossil fuels.

To better understand the reality of this resolution, read it in the context of America’s past moral crises. Would we be proud if we had limited our action to shareholder engagement in the face of South African Apartheid? If we had limited our commitments in the face of child labor or slavery? If there had been no boycott against the segregated bus system in Montgomery? Resolution 16 limits our ability to leverage our assets for social change when confronted with injustices of a historic scale moving forward.

That this resolution dis-empowers us as ministers of justice is alarming enough. Yet there is another cause for concern that I find arresting at a personal level: Resolution 16 weakens the UCC in its role as the leading voice of justice and witness among Christian denominations in the United States.

Look at any publication that describes the range of institutions divesting from fossil fuels, and “the United Church of Christ” will be there. The impact of this ‘UCC first’ is huge, both in terms of publicity and solidarity. This prophetic leadership is the UCC’s particular form of creative evangelism that makes me proud to be a part of this church.

Alongside accomplishments through engaged shareholder advocacy, the United Church of Christ has a proud tradition of committing to not invest in the unconscionable. We keep our money out of military firearms and the tobacco industry, away from Apartheid and unfettered fossil fuel extraction. If we remove our ability to divest in the face of injustice, we stand to lose a piece of our UCC identity.

By cutting the body of Christ into separate containers on matters of socially responsible investment, Resolution 16 cordons off our ability to witness for one another. In doing so, Resolution 16 snips away at the strings of covenant between the settings of the UCC, and quiets our collective voice when the Holy Spirit moves us to the moral statement of guiding our denomination to divest.

This resolution is not merely a one-off scrap of a statement, blowing in the wind. This decision is not just about divestment in the face of catastrophic climate change, nor does it solely address Israel-Palestine. Rather, this resolution concerns the heart of the UCC, and the power of our denomination to be a leader when confronted with future matters of conscience. Organizing against this resolution is about keeping our voice, so that we might speak out faithfully on injustices not yet exposed to light, so that we might continue to sing full praises in the name of our still-speaking God.

As someone who was baptized and brought up in a UCC church, I ask with heartfelt sincerity, will we let a resolution pass that threatens to impede the flow of the Holy Spirit? Or will we let our baptismal fonts be full of “righteousness like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24b)?”

Informed Synod delegates have the power to stop this resolution. If you want to help remove the stumbling block this resolution presents, bring this to the attention of all Synod delegates and attendees that you are connected with. If you are a Synod delegate, share this with your delegation during your delegation breakfasts and discuss this with others during Synod.

To learn more about engaging with Resolution 16 at Synod, please contact cagep@macucc.org. Read the full text of Resolution 16 here.


Patrick Cage

Patrick Cage served as environmental intern at the Massachusetts Conference, UCC for six months in early 2015.  He is a recent graduate of Yale College where he was an environmental studies major with a concentration in religion and the environment,

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