My travels with the Church had conventional beginnings, a childhood of regular Sunday services, Teaching Sunday school in high school, attendance at a prep school at a time when that meant daily chapel and mandatory religion studies. For the time, it was quite a typical relationship with God.
There were subtexts in my childhood. When I was about 14 I made some mention of Heaven. My father, who stayed home on Sundays, asked, “Do you believe in life after death?” I could tell by his voice that I’d surprised him so I answered, “I guess I hope there is.” He looked at me seriously and shook his head. “There is no life after death. I lived with the dead. I would know.” He didn’t explain and I was afraid to ask. We kids all knew that the War in Naples had been a terrible time and that it wasn’t to be spoken of. It wasn’t until he was an old man that I learned he and his brother had lived in the mass bulldozed graves for the worst weeks of the war. Hiding among the dead bodies until the Americans came. But I was troubled enough, at age 14, to hope that he was wrong, even to feel that he was wrong.
When I was 19 a girlfriend and I found ourselves hitch hiking from Dover, where the ferry from France landed, to London. I have no idea who picked us up. He was a scatty, enthusiastic member of the Anglican clergy and he cajoled us into making a detour to see Canterbury Cathedral. There under the soaring spires he spoke of St. Augustine, the missionary and the murder of Thomas Becket. And he spoke of the role of the Book of Common Prayer, of the power of a global faith communion and of his own delight at being granted the grace to be a part of God’s plan.
The years passed…
I began earning a living, I found myself fairly randomly assigned to the financial services industry. It hadn’t been an ambition. I was a photo copy clerk who worked her way up. But I was fascinated by the great game of finance, by the thought that everyone could all have books and cloths and food and shelter because of the symbiotic relationship between society and the financing of corporations.
Still, somewhere inside I was of the Kumbayah generation. It didn’t quite ring true. The military-industrial complex liked war and did not like environmentalists. Pinto cars and asbestos killed people, thalidomide deformed babies, lead made them (to use the vocabulary of the day) retarded and no innate sense of decency inside those corporate headquarters interfered with profit-making for the shareholders. A tickle of an idea had taken hold.
Meanwhile there was Canterbury, where the Anglican Communion met, and heard the cry of pain from their sister church in South Africa.
In the United States Ralph Nader was waging a campaign at General Motors. He got some action on his demands that the board of that company begin to represent the population at large. The Reverend Leon Sullivan, an African-American preacher from Philadelphia was named to the board.
Meanwhile the Anglican communion watched and saw an opportunity. Following the path of Ralph Nader, the Episcopal Church sent its Presiding Bishop to the annual meeting. He rose and asked the board to consider withdrawing from running operations in South Africa. Reverend Sullivan eventually spoke, pledging to create an accountability system that would spur corporations to be a part of the solution there.
The Episcopal Church accepted this approach and joined with other faith groups, forming the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. But the accountability revealed no progress and by 1986 a divestment movement was in full force. That year over $200 billion was purged of corporations doing business in South Africa. And in 1994, without bloody revolution, a transfer of power took place and the majority got the vote.
For the final ten years of the struggle I was privileged to be there, serving the SRI committee of the Episcopal Church as the representative to the board of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.
And the years passed…
Today it is accepted that ethics have a role in finance. Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, ABN/AMRO, and all the greatest research houses sell corporate social responsible information. 4,000 CSR reports have been published globally, some admittedly more worthwhile than others, but all representing legitimacy.
I learned how to read an annual report, from my grandfather. But he never read my book, Ethical Investing – it upset him too much, the idea of mixing sloppy values with money making. He was a devout Episcopalian, a vestryman wherever he lived. He loved to hear of my work with the Episcopal Church. He followed my fact finding trip to North Ireland, my efforts to move savings deposits into community development credit unions, my involvement with the interfaith community over bringing issues ranging from PCBs in the Hudson to Gender equality in the boardroom into shareholder meetings with great interest.
But he could never understand that for me, when a tobacco executive lied about tobacco, and through those lies, killed people, he’d broken a commandment.
For me, finance and capitalism are not exempt from God’s will. Investors are not innocent in the actions of the teams they enable. Right is right and wrong is wrong.
I am as forgiving as Christian as any but there are ways to make money that go beyond the reach of decency. Further, I found that when I let my “Jesus time” out of the Sunday morning box and into my career, I became a powerful force for good.
My father searched for faith among the dead and it eluded him, but a living Church found me and gave me mine.