Why Quakers should divest from fossil fuels
Our Quaker faith, with its values of peace, stewardship of the Earth, simplicity, and equality points to climate change as one of the most pressing issues of our time, a crisis that calls for immediate action. In May 2013, the Earth’s atmosphere surpassed the carbon dioxide 400 parts per million level; climate change, with its ensuing extreme weather and rising sea levels, can no longer be stopped, only slowed, according to climate scientists. And slow it we must.
Recycling, reducing our carbon footprints, greening our meetinghouses are all valuable and important actions. But these actions feel inadequate in the face of a problem of such huge proportions.
Now Friends have an additional option: fossil fuel divestment. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, notes that when Nelson Mandela was first released from prison after apartheid ended, he didn’t go to Washington, D.C., to thank our government. He came to the University of California at Berkeley to thank the students, faculty, and regents for divesting from stocks of companies that supported the apartheid regime in South Africa.
While there are some differences in this campaign—the major one being that we are nearly all dependent on fossil fuels—there are enough similarities to make this strategy worth taking seriously.
Selling stocks in oil, coal, and gas companies will not bankrupt these mega-rich companies. In fact, they may be happy to have pesky shareholders out of their meeting rooms.
But divestment could spur conversation at policy levels, bring awareness to the public, and weaken corporate political power of these powerful industries. Making fossil fuel corporations as unpopular as tobacco industries would pressure both the industries themselves and policymakers to change. In 2008, an election year, Exxon Mobil spent $29 million on lobbying.
Many feel that owning stock means that you take responsibility for what that business or company does. If it and you profit from the destruction of the Earth, you share responsibility for that destruction.
We hope that politicians will legislate needed changes, but so often politicians will be the last to change. They are, after all, dependent on corporate financial support come election time.
We must look at our own investments and consider the harm they are doing.
Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC), a socially responsible investor based in Philadelphia, Pa., with $250 million in assets, holds assets for many Quaker meetings and organizations. In May 2013, FFC divested from coal companies. During that same screening and evaluation of their holdings, FFC also released its shares in Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Recently, it established a Quaker Green Fund that is fossil-fuel-free. Those of us favoring total divestment hope that Friends meetings and other institutions will move their funds to this Green Fund, which also features “cleantech” investments (see friendsfiduciary.org/quaker-green-fund for more information).
Regarding oil, FFC takes the engagement approach, or working from within. The summer 2013 newsletter from FFC states this clearly: “While divestment may be an appropriate strategy for some investors . . . Friends Fiduciary does not believe it is an effective strategy for those of us who are actively engaging with these issues.” FFC retains 3 percent of its holdings in oil and gas, which computes to about $7.5 million. In an ideal world, and perhaps eventually, FFC will divest totally from oil companies.
Some Friends will say that we are hypocritical to divest from oil if we are still driving our cars. Perhaps, but currently we have poor choices in public transportation, and few can afford an electric car.
Other Friends will say that reduction in demand and consumption, coupled with higher prices and higher taxes, are the only ways to achieve change. All these changes will help the cause. There isn’t only one way: divestment wasn’t the only tactic that dismantled apartheid in South Africa.
Funds divested from fossil fuel companies should be reinvested in companies expanding into renewable, efficient energy. Offering a green fund as an option is an important step in the right direction, though it is not as strong a statement as total divestment would be.
Some Friends meetings have begun discernment around this issue by watching the “Do the Math” video that 350.org distributes, and holding meetings to discuss options. Dover (N.H.) Meeting issued an epistle advocating divestment after several discussions and decided to divest its Vanguard funds, which had significant amounts of fossil fuel stock. Dover Meeting has developed a packet, listing resources, queries, and FAQs that they would like to share with other meetings to facilitate this process. The materials can be found through the Quaker Earthcare Witness website at quakerearthcare.org.
One of our most pressing tasks as a global civilization is climate change. Spirit calls us to act. Divestment is not a perfect approach, but it is one way to put faith into practice.
Staying and going
I am saddened to hear of Christian Friends who are unsatisfied with silent worship (“Quakerism Left Me,” FJ Dec. 2013). I certainly understand how it can be unfulfilling to be constantly seeking, when sometimes you just wish to be found. But Quakerism is just that: a constant journey looking to find something. I am happy among secular Friends, as Christianity was never a comfortable fit for me.
For Quakers, faith is the belief that we are all equal as human beings. More religious Friends speak about finding God in others, and spiritual Friends talk of the Light. I’m perfectly content to say that I look for the common humanity that I share with others.
Having been convinced young in the Liberal Friends tradition, I am fortunate my own meeting is lovingly accepting of my increasing interest in the more rigorous practices of programmed and Evangelical Friends. My partner, also in a liberal meeting, is marginalized because he points out his meeting’s failure to appreciate the value of 350 years of history for solving problems.
For those who have left their meetings, I suggest considering whether you have the capacity to start a meeting in your home. Remember that our fellowships began in small convinced groups.
Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, U.K.
I stumbled into a Friends meeting in Colorado in college. I learned from dedicated Friends who encouraged me to get to know “the variety possible among Friends” before applying for membership. What became the yearly meeting remained unaffiliated with any umbrella group until a few years ago when they joined Friends General Conference.
It was not until I moved to Philadelphia, Pa., 30 years ago that I experienced in full the liberal rigidities that still trouble me. This was not what I expected when I first encountered Friends. I am bothered by the lack of deep worship in some meetings and the emphasis on history rather than on living Christ’s message here and now. I am distressed by those who cling to institutional structures. I’m now in a meeting that talks about differences and accepts diversity (though not always easily). I still yearn for a composite Quaker experience. If that’s going to happen, I need to encourage it.
Our meeting has been experimenting with more outreach with good results. I think we need to get back to our very early Quaker roots so we can return to the “realness” modern seekers are looking for, reinterpreted for modern people.
Doing good well—and reporting on it
I was happy to see the article “Doing Good Well” by Charles Schade, which raised the issue of how to make wise decisions about giving to charities (FJ Feb.). However, I was disturbed to see the promotion of a decision-making model which I have found very damaging in my work with public schools
For the past few decades, our schools have been plagued by a movement to replace professional judgment by external testing. The result has been that our country has continued to fall behind other countries which have focused on strengthening teacher’s decision-making skills. I have found that the biggest danger of external evaluation is that it shifts attention and power away from listening to the Spirit and to the recipients of the charity and toward meeting the needs of the giver. For the recipient of charity, the focus can become “what do I have to do to get their money?” instead of “what do I need to be doing?” For the giver, it can become “how can I use my money to get someone else to do what I want?”
This year the Spirit seems to be leading me to listen more deeply in my own interactions with others in the organization I belong to and to trust the Spirit to lead us all toward right directions. We’ve made a lot of mistakes and have learned from them. I think things work best when I recognize my ignorance and play my small role in God’s work.
I was very disappointed in Charles Schade’s article. The subject is an important one, but he could have found better criteria. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance has a good list of standards for charity accountability on their website, Give.org. For non-religious charities, Charity Navigator tells how get to a charity’s IRS Form 990, which includes the percentage of a charity’s budget spent on program, fundraising, and administration, as well as the highest paid employees. I compare what a charity is telling the IRS with the claims in their fundraising literature. For Quaker organizations, I go back to my 1992 adaptation for Friends General Conference of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s program evaluation questionnaire, probably from about 1990. It was a very good one which deserves to be resurrected.
Elizabeth (Betsy) Muench
Thank you for publishing Charles Schade’s article “Doing Good Well.” I have recommended it to many Friends. However, as a member of the board of trustees of Right Sharing of World Resources, I was struck by the realization that many of the weaknesses Schade saw in the RSWR website are inaccurate or no longer current. The website has been much improved and now includes our mission statement; our most recent audit; a specific breakdown of how money was spent on what projects, and what those projects were doing (in the annual report); our recent 990s; and a Silver GuideStar participation award.
White Plains, N.Y.
Friends are poorly served by Friend Charles Schade’s article “Doing Good Well” in the February issue. Rather than being a review of 12 organizations’ practices (a gargantuan task), he admits to doing so by reviewing the organizations’ websites. Thus his article is little more than a review of websites, hardly a thorough evaluation. In my own experience, and as an officer of one of the named organizations, I can attest to frustration with our lack of timely information on our website. It amounts to a lack of human and fiscal resources, and a preference for putting our service in the field as a higher priority. I do not disagree that we need to do better in that aspect of our corporate lives.
Adrian Bishop (treasurer, Friends Peace Teams)
The article “Doing Good Well” is a positive contribution to Quaker philanthropy. Charles Schade raises many of the questions we ask at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL): how we conduct and assess our work; how we are accountable to our donors, the wider Quaker network, and the general public. Beyond the standard metrics for transparency of nonprofit management outlined in the article, is it also valuable for Friends organizations to have measurements relative to the Religious Society of Friends?
How is the organization governed? Do Quakers comprise the governing board? Is there an attempt to achieve diversity in terms of geography, age, gender, ethnicity, and branches of Friends? Are meetings held and decisions made in the manner of Friends? Are board members appointed internally, or do they represent yearly meetings or other Quaker entities? Does the governing board do long-range planning, establish priorities and budgets, review financial and program reports, and hire and evaluate the executive?
Does the organization have a robust financial management and planning system with sufficient reserves? Is the development program adequate to support program needs? Are funds managed and invested in ways that are consistent with Quaker values?
Does the organization devote sufficient resources to administrative functions and policies to adequately support its programs? Are the pay and benefits, physical workspaces, financial management systems, employee development, and fundraising capacities sufficient to achieve the organization’s objectives? How do Quaker beliefs inform personnel policies and business practices?
These are important and challenging questions.
DeAnne Butterfield (clerk, Friends Committee on National Legislation)
A better book for Charles Schade to have read would have been Theresa Funiciello’s Tyranny of Kindness, written from the perspective of someone on both sides of the welfare desk: suffering from the common condition of not receiving services when she needed money and of having put years into efforts to improve the system. Her comments on the practices of private charities are illuminating.
After several years on a local oversight board for American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and some time running a tiny nonprofit, my own reaction is that Schade’s criticism is simply wrong-headed. An organization with much chance of making a significant difference probably doesn’t have much money. Writing up proposals and justifications for funding, in a futile effort to cover operating costs while having to take on the additional projects described, simply distorts operations.
In AFSC’s case, remarkable effort is made to choose poster-child, dedicated geniuses to staff the projects. But this work is continually interfered with by lay oversight boards (which was my role at the time). The boards continually distract employees from that work with demands to measure results.
I agree that it would be good to have a better way to measure the effectiveness of various endeavors. But I think that the better way to do this isn’t to hire a team of statisticians, but instead for us to put away our checkbooks and roll up our sleeves.
San Diego, Calif.
Many of the concerns Charles Schade presents (including the presentation of goals and fiscal information to our Quaker supporters) are not so much problems with the work of the organizations but problems with their websites. This appears to be a systemic problem among Quaker organizations. I believe we can fix it, but it will take time, money, and volunteer technical expertise.
I have been a yearly meeting representative to several of the Quaker organizations listed in this review but most of my involvement has been with Friends Peace Teams (FPT), with both its Alternatives to Violence (AVP) work and its work in Africa. We are aware that there is a need for changes. Years ago when FPT was forming, a group associated with Friends General Conference helped us with organizational structure and formation. Perhaps there needs to be a group of Quaker techies that can help Friends organizations to be successful in the twenty-first century. We need volunteers with the skills and the time to help us convey our goals and fiscal needs in better ways.
The results of an AVP workshop are very difficult to measure. We see that our experiential nonviolence training brings opposing sides of conflicts together and lets the participants hear the voices of their supposed “enemies.” I am not sure how to measure these results except anecdotally, but there may be ways of which we are unaware. The personal testimonies can be very powerful: for example, a former child soldier told me after a workshop, “My life will be forever changed. I see now I don’t have to be the person I was before.”
I see Quaker volunteer organizations and non-governmental-organization groups as part of the Religious Society of Friends. They—we—are not separate from our yearly and monthly meetings but rather an extension of the Spirit that lives and transforms us and helps us reach out into the world. This Spirit is available in all of us, and anyone can become a conduit for transformation. I urge all Friends to reach out to a Quaker organization as you are led, and learn how you can help.
Words that still sting
I want to thank Friends Journal for publishing, and Kathy Beth for authoring, “Growing Faith in Blessed Community” in the January issue. For a long time I have wondered about the origin of the acronym FLGBTQC (Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bixsexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns) and how and why the name ended up as it has. Now I know.
Personally, I find the “Q-word” as offensive now as when I was a boy. It pains me to hear that word or see it in print. As a boy, I was taught, as were most of my friends, that the N-word and the Q-word were swear words of one kind or another and equally offensive. We learned never to use them.
This letter is not meant for the committee to change its name once again. It is meant solely to explain why some Quakers continue to be hurt by today’s use of the N-word in communities, the prolific use of the F-word on television and motion pictures, and the Q-word to identify some of our brothers and sisters all over the world.
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