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PC(USA) celebrates 50 years of Mission Responsibility Through Investment

A commemorative anniversary book traces MRTI’s history of corporate engagement

by Shani E. McIlwain and Katie Carter | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Let’s celebrate 50 years of MRTI!

Half a century ago, Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) was created in recognition of the church’s unique opportunity to advance its mission faithfully and creatively through the financial resources entrusted to it. MRTI implements the General Assembly’s policies on socially responsible investing (also called faith-based investing) by engaging corporations in which the church owns stock.

This year, in recognition of its 50th anniversary, the team worked diligently to create a resource book, “Reflections on 50 Years of the Presbyterian Church as Investor,” to help document what has been done and help future committee members serve effectively. It also serves as a memoir of sorts for the many faithful members and chairpersons who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the mission and vision of MRTI is carried forth.

The book outlines how through MRTI’s work with corporations, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a unique opportunity to advance its mission faithfully and creatively through the financial resources entrusted to it. The General Assembly’s investment policy identifies specific concerns that MRTI is to promote: the pursuit of peace; racial, social and economic justice; environmental responsibility; and women’s rights. MRTI then prioritizes issues on these concerns from General Assembly directives, PC(USA) policy and requests, and efforts by ecumenical partners, mid councils, and congregations. The book also outlines various tools MRTI uses in its engagements, including correspondence, dialogue, voting shareholder proxies and recommending similar action to others, and occasionally filing shareholder resolutions.

The Rev. Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, former lead staff person to MRTI, reflected by saying:

“When I started as lead staff to MRTI in 1984, apartheid in South Africa was center stage. Years of engagement with banks and companies had produced minor changes, but not an end to apartheid. The 1984 General Assembly adopted a policy on the use of divestment as an ethical strategy, identifying seven criteria for using divestment. MRTI was busy applying this policy to South Africa, and in 1985, my first General Assembly on staff, the assembly moved forward with divestment of four companies, and later added 12 more.

“Since then, MRTI engaged companies on a host of issues such as environmental and health and safety standards for both employees and international suppliers, mortgage lending practices, pay equity and equal employment opportunity, child trafficking, and climate change. While the committee and issues changed during my three decades plus on staff, MRTI’s effectiveness did not change. Neither did its commitment to following PC(USA) policy and the seven criteria for divestment.”

The Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment and staff are pictured at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. (Contributed photo)

The Rev. Kerri Allen, chair of MRTI, stated, “MRTI understands that our role as a committee is guided by the Holy Spirit. As Reformed Christians, we seek to be aware and attentive to what is taking place in the world around us, focused on how we might have a positive material impact. With that sensitivity, coupled with our belief, faith, and practice, we prayerfully discern the best way to embody justice and love in our work.”

Rob Fohr, former director of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement, reflected, “My time serving as the lead staff person to MRTI was a highlight of my career. We have encouraged companies in a variety of industries to improve their policies and practices on a wide range of issues, from human trafficking prevention and chemical safety to human rights in conflict-affected and high-risk areas as well as environmental justice and the climate crisis. We established the MRTI Guideline Metrics framework and carefully followed General Assembly policy to become the first entity to recommend selectively divesting from companies for environmental reasons only.

“Through it all, MRTI has been a faithful ambassador of Presbyterian values to publicly traded corporations, and I am excited to see that continue under the leadership of Katie Carter.” In October, Fohr joined the Presbyterian Foundation as Vice President of Strategic Alignment and Mid-Council Relations.

Carter, the new director of Faith-Based Investing and Shareholder Engagement, says, “I am grateful for the opportunity to follow Bill and Rob in leading MRTI. We have our work cut out for us. The climate crisis is only becoming more urgent and global conflict is only increasing. We are also seeing unprecedented attacks to shareholder rights and the ability to engage companies on environmental, social and governance issues.

“In recent years, MRTI has engaged with communities impacted by corporate actions such as communities in New Orleans impacted by climate change and coastal erosion. We look forward to continuing those community engagements and having them inform our corporate engagements as MRTI continues to bring Presbyterian values in front of companies.”

MRTI’s new associate for Corporate, Community and Church Engagement, Simon Doong, will be joining the team in January 2024.

Somplatsky-Jarman also said, “At my last General Assembly in 2016, Ruling Elder Charles Johnson of Blackhawk Presbytery made a succinct and accurate description of MRTI’s work to the Assembly that I will not forget. He stated that MRTI members and staff are ‘…missionaries in the capital markets which is an enormous and immense mission field in a way that the Presbyterian Church can have a powerful and prophetic voice in the direction of our companies, our capital markets and our corporations. We often don’t get the chance to be at the table, but God has blessed this denomination with sufficient resources to put us at the table and be taken seriously by these companies, and in the future we can do a tremendous amount of work to change and structure this nation in a way that we would like.’ That’s MRTI in a nutshell.”

Featuring reflections like those of Somplatsky-Jarman, Fohr, Allen, and Carter, the resource book provides a wealth of insight into the PC(USA)’s past corporate engagement efforts with the hope to inform future work. If you’re interested in obtaining a copy of the 50th Anniversary book, contact Dawn Nashid.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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