Last night many Episcopalians were shocked to hear Mitt Romney said that “The Episcopal Church” was an initial investor in Bain Capital:
So we started a new business called Bain Capital. The only problem was, while WE believed in ourselves, nobody else did. We were young and had never done this before and we almost didn’t get off the ground. In those days, sometimes I wondered if I had made a really big mistake. I had thought about asking my church’s pension fund to invest, but I didn’t. I figured it was bad enough that I might lose my investors’ money, but I didn’t want to go to hell too. Shows what I know. Another of my partners got the Episcopal Church pension fund to invest. Today there are a lot of happy retired priests who should thank him.
On Twitter, Diana Butler Bass and I immediately began tweeting about divestment, with Father Albert Cutie and others quickly joining the conversation:
By morning, the flare-up was the lead on Jim Naughton’s popular Episcopal Café blog, drawing comments from around the church about the specific Romney claim and about ethical investing generally.
Now, there are lots of things we don’t know about this statement. First, we don’t know if it’s true. Paul Ryan’s convention speech was so riddled with flat-out falsehoods that even Fox News described it as “deceiving.” Romney’s, according to fact checkers at the San Jose Mercury News, the Washington Post, and USA Today, was only slightly less mendacious; the continuing falsehood about cuts to health care providers spun by the Romney campaign as cuts to Medicare beneficiaries noted as among the larger whoppers propagated in the speech. It seems unlikely that the GOP candidate would flat-out lie about investment by the Episcopal Church, but on a convention in which Clint Eastwood berating what quickly became the Twitter meme #InvisibleObama was the central laugh line within and outside the house—for very different reasons—the campaign’s engagement with reality is certainly worth verifying.
Second, even if it is the case that the financial arm of the Episcopal Church, the independent Church Pension Group, did invest when Bain Capital when it was formed in 1984, that doesn’t mean that they continue to hold that investment within the firm’s nearly $9.5 billion portfolio. CPG’s 2012 annual report does not list individual investment holdings. But, with executive staff and trustees (who are elected by delegates and bishops at the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention) with deep ties to the investment community that has certainly lived well outside of the ethical standards one would expect for a Church-affiliated financial organization, it’s certainly fair for Episcopalians to demand more specifics in terms of investment history, current holdings, and, perhaps more important, the ethical principles that guide what many would assume, but which is nowhere stated on the CPG website or in the annual report, are socially responsible investing practices.
Tweeted cries to “divest now” from Bain may, at the end of the day, be misdirected. But they nonetheless raise important questions to which both the Episcopal Church and its financial affiliate, Church Pension Group, should be quick to respond. Likewise, it seems that church members at large would do well to use the brief kerfuffle over Romney’s mention of the Church to consider its role as an economic being whose actions have implications that extend well beyond church walls.
After all, if Romney himself worried that investing in the firm on behalf of the LDS Church might land him in hell, shouldn’t a generally progressive, mainline Protestant denomination be actively concerned about where and how it invests?