US Methodists to unveil proposals for divestment in Caterpillar

By staff writers
January 24, 2008

The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society in the US will unveil proposals to divest holdings in Caterpillar Inc tomorrow (Friday).

The 7.9 million member United Methodist Church's pension agency reportedly has $5 million in Caterpillar shares out of $15 billion in assets.

The Church's social action agency wants the denomination to divest from companies providing products or services used for 'illegal destruction' in Palestinian areas.

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

The first proposals emerged after the United Methodist Board of Church and Society's board of directors meeting held last September.

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, Illanois, 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 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."

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