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UCC has toolkit for finding a better bank

By Lin Hagedorn

In 2011, I learned that the UCC’s General Synod 28 unanimously approved a resolution, “Putting our money where our values are: Evaluating church financial relationships.”

The resolution calls on all UCC churches and other UCC settings to “faithfully examine their relationship with financial institutions and, where practical and prudent, deliberately move toward relating to financial institutions that have records of fair lending, business and investing practices as each body discerns for its setting.”

I began thinking how our family spends and invests our money, and even though our resources are limited, our choice to align our values with our financial resources was an important step to take.  

In 2016, I decided to more fully participate in the PNC justice work and left a part-time job to join the inaugural year of the Justice Leadership Jubilee (JLJ) program, a sibling of the Justice Leadership Program (JLP) begun by the Rev. Rich Gamble of Keystone UCC.

JLJ is “a non-residential 10-month commitment for adults who want to deepen their faith and learn practical organizing skills with a community of their peers—skill building, community work, church engagement and collective reflection focused on systemic change and political advocacy.”  

I chose to intern with 350 Seattle, an environmental social change organization. Working with 350 Seattle, I was reintroduced to defunding banking and investments from financial institutions that support the fossil fuel industry as a way to support our planet’s health.

In an article, “Do Justice with Your Money: Financial Alternatives to Big Banks,” Brooks Berndt, UCC minister for environmental justice, said, “Did you know Jesus spoke more about money than about love? That is because money can both elevate and oppress people. Money is a form of power. How we spend our money, and where we save our money, are issues of justice.”

He spoke of campaigns to divest from unjust financial institutions, and said there are financial institutions which have the goal of doing justice in their communities, so switching financial institutions “is a pragmatic way to do justice.”

At a Northshore UCC (NUCC) Council meeting in early 2017, our treasurer, Claudia Farnsworth-Smith, gave the financial report and mentioned our banking relationship with Wells Fargo. My eyebrows raised and eyes blinked in disbelief.  We began a process of discovery at NUCC.

After several conversations with Claudia and the financial ministry team, we agreed to align our values at NUCC with our financial operations and investments, and to divest from Wells Fargo. The council unanimously supported the resolution, and the task of divesting/finding a better bank began.

Lynn Childs, past treasurer, did research into better banking options. We returned to council with a resolution to join the Mazaska Talks campaign and complete a plan for divesting within a year. Our vote to sign the Mazaska Talks campaign, made Northshore UCC the first religious organization to do so.

Renee Lumia, 350 Seattle JLP intern, added that Mazaska Talks, which is both an environmental justice and social justice movement, honors treaty rights which fossil fuel companies are violating by construction on tribal lands without permission from tribes.

The financial ministry team documented the process of finding a better bank, and defunding our banking operations was completed within five months after passing the first resolution. We have aligned our banking ties with a credit union that shares our values for a sustainable planet.

Alec Connon of 350 Seattle asked NUCC to create a UCC Find a Better Bank Toolkit, so other UCC churches interested in divesting have a guide to help them through the process.

Claudia, Lynn, Alec, Rev. Brooks Berndt and Rev. Meighan Pritchard all contributed to the Toolkit. The Toolkit is also being shared through The Pollinator, a UCC environmental justice newsletter; 350 Seattle JLP intern Renee Lumia, Steve Clagett, chair of our conference Justice and Witness Ministries Committee, and others.

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Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ News © February-March 2018


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