US Methodists plan to disinvest from Israel and Sudan

By staff writers
September 20, 2007

The US United Methodist Church's social action agency wants the denomination to divest from companies providing products or services used for "illegal destruction" in Palestinian areas or that are doing business with the government of Sudan, reports Kathy Gilbert of UMNS.

Resolutions on the two divestment issues will be sent to the 2008 General Conference for consideration when the church's top policy-making body meets 23 April - 2 May in Fort Worth, Texas.

The resolutions came out of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society's fall board of directors meeting held from 13-16 September 2007 in the nation's capital.

A related resolution calls for the establishment of a churchwide "socially responsible investment task force."

"In a world primarily defined by economic transactions, the next steps should be targeted divestment with businesses directly involved with the oppression of Palestinians and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur," said the Rev Steve Sprecher, chairman of the Peace with Justice work area, which wrote the resolutions for the board's approval.

"Divestment and Caterpillar" calls for the church to divest from the heavy-equipment manufacturer based in Peoria, Ill., because of bulldozers and other equipment supplied to the Israeli Defense Forces used for the "illegal destruction of Palestinian homes, orchards and olive groves in the Occupied Territories and to clear Palestinian land for illegal Israeli settlements, segregated roads and the Separation Barrier."

Over the past three years, the board of directors has invited comments on possible divestment from various perspectives within the Jewish, Palestinian and Arab communities as well as representatives from the United Methodist Board of Pensions and Health Benefits.

"The United Methodist Church has a long history of unwavering support for Israel's right to exist," said Sprecher. "We have also long supported human rights for Palestinians. We, like many, are frustrated by the increasing harsh conditions Palestinians continue to endure under Israel's 40 years of illegal occupation."

"We need to do something now; there is an urgency," said Toyomi Yoshida, a young adult member of the work area on Peace with Justice.

Yoshida said members of the work area struggled with the decision. "We waited too long," she said. "There was a lot of resistance but, for me, it was the right thing to do."

If approved, the resolution calls for general agencies, annual conferences, local churches, conference boards of pensions, United Methodist foundations and all other entities that invest United Methodist funds to divest of all equity and debt holdings of Caterpillar Inc., by 1 January 2009.

The resolution asks every United Methodist to "prayerfully consider taking the same action with the personal and pension assets under their control, and request that other investment managers such as mutual fund companies, pension plans and bank trustees do the same."

The United Methodist Church has called repeatedly for action to end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and additional steps are needed to bring economic pressure on the government of Sudan "to end the genocide," states the resolution on "Divestment and Sudan."

"The Sudanese government is susceptible to well-placed economic pressure because of its dependence upon foreign investment," reads the resolution.

The resolution states the church "should not own or profit from companies whose products or services are used by corrupt governments or regimes to murder, suppress or displace its citizens and neighbors."

Targeted divestment from companies doing business with the Sudanese government will not harm those in need, according to the Sudan Divestment Task Force, a project of the Genocide Intervention Network.

The proposed "socially responsible investment task force" would include the United Methodist boards of Church and Society, Global Ministries and Pension and Health Benefits; the United Methodist Church Foundation; and the National Association of United Methodist Foundations under the leadership of the United Methodist Church Foundation.

Its purpose would be to establish a common standard for determining prohibited investments and positive investment principles consistent with the United Methodist Social Principles.

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