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What does our money say about us?

If "money talks," what does it sound like?
By William G. Sinkford
Spring 2008 2.15.08

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“Justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public.” These words of the Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson really caught my eye. What a powerful expression of putting belief into action. They also remind me of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “You will know them by their fruits.” As members of a religious community that puts its focus on the spiritual journey—valuing commitment to justice instead of creeds—Unitarian Universalists are called to bring love to bear in public.

I’d like to share a kind of “speaking in public” that often goes unrecognized: the way we invest our money. For many of us the subject of money can sound unpalatable, uninteresting, or maybe even offensive, but if “money talks,” as they say, what does it sound like in public? Do you “put your money where your mouth is”? Like all other actions, how we use financial resources is indeed a public expression of our hearts.

Consider the word investment. It connotes more than a transfer of funds. Investing carries also a sense of bringing resources to something, putting energy into it with the expectation of a return. Since an investment in anything is also an investment in the world, and since we affirm “the interdependent web of all existence” in our Principles (see page 6), we must bring our spiritual resources to the task as well. In what should we invest as UUs?

The answer can be surprisingly complicated. Should we invest only in companies with impeccable moral track records, and if so, what does that mean? Where would we find them? Do they even exist? If we find out a company is doing something with which we disagree, should we divest? How faultless do they have to be? And then there is the perfectly reasonable question of return on investment. Endowed funds are entrusted to the Association and congregations to generate earnings now and into the future. We have a sacred obligation to exercise great care in managing the money that supports our work in the world. Finally, very few people possess enough money individually to make a difference anyway. Some of us can barely get by. Then what?

Through the UU Common Endowment Fund, Unitarian Universalists are part of a movement to strengthen and promote social justice through conscientious investing and shareholder advocacy. Our Association’s endowment of $85 million is combined with the assets of more than 150 congregations valued at $50 million to be invested in a manner reflecting UU values while producing consistent income. Two committees oversee the investment of this $135 million fund: the Investment Committee, which is mandated by our bylaws to oversee our Association’s endowment, and the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, which provides guidance to the board and investment committee in keeping UU values central to our investment practices. The result is an ever-evolving way of using our financial “voice” in which good monetary returns are part of an overall practice that seeks to grow our faith, care for the interdependent web, and serve others.

Another exciting part of socially conscious investing is the responsibility and right to submit proposals for consideration at corporate annual meetings. Last summer a proposal submitted to Family Dollar Stores by the UUA in partnership with the New York City pension funds persuaded the company’s board to adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. By acting in concert with other concerned investors, a relatively small investor like the UUA can have outsized influence. Last year several of our resolutions addressing excessive executive compensation received majority votes at annual meetings. You can be sure those companies will be paying attention this year.

If your church is not yet one of the 150 congregations involved in the UU Common Endow­ment Fund, I invite you to join us. It is a compelling way in which we are better together, and in which we can share the fruits of our faith. Contact treasurer@uua.org for more information.

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