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Signs of the Times: Finances as Ministry

by Joanne Safian, RSHMCategory: Updates

small clear class vase filled with coins, and a little green plant sprouting up from the middle
Photo credit: micheile dot com @ unsplash

“Finances as Ministry” might, at first glance, seem like a bit of an oxymoron. However, as we have fewer sisters engaged in full-time ministry, we have come to realize that using our financial resources is another way to fulfill our mission “that all may have life.” We are called by our Constitutions “to use the goods of this world according to the spirit of the Gospel” and by our Mission Statement to “place ourselves and our resources at the service of those most in need of justice.” In carrying out this ministry we collaborate with a number of organizations.

Investor Advocates for Social Justice (IASJ) assists religious congregations and other faith-based organizations in using their investments to advance human rights and environmental justice.

Two years ago, our RSHM Eastern American Area was the lead filer in a shareholder proposal asking Microsoft to commission an independent review of the human rights impacts when its surveillance technology and government contracts target Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Subsequent discussions focused on our concerns with the review and the report Microsoft issued. At present, we are also participating in dialogues between IASJ and several auto companies about electric vehicles, specifically concerns about child labor, violations of indigenous people’s rights, health issues, supply chain viability, and environmental damage from the mining of essential minerals.

Another dimension of “finances as ministry” is “impact investing,” whereby we can use our investments to support specific community development projects. Low-income individuals and nonprofit organizations in underserved areas often struggle to obtain financing for needed improvements like the construction of affordable housing and other neighborhood revitalization projects. Since 1983 we, along with many religious communities in the tri-state area, have invested in the Leviticus Fund. Since 1994, we have invested in the Florida Community Loan Fund. In both cases, we have offered to give back any gains we might realize. The result is that our original contribution and any increases in that investment are available to be loaned again and again. These investments provide capital specifically to communities outside of the economic mainstream. For example, the Collective Empowerment Group of South Florida (CEG) helps build wealth through homeownership in underserved communities of color. The Florida Community Loan Fund provided financing through a line of credit that will allow CEG to build an estimated 26 affordable homes in Miami.

In addition to our investments in revolving loan funds, in light of the need to work toward dismantling systemic racism, we have placed funds with Community Capital Management. This investment in their Minority CARES (Community Advancement Racial Empowerment Strategy) enables us to positively impact empowerment for minority individuals, businesses, and communities for local economic development, education, health and wellness, civic involvement, and energy efficiency.

There was a time when socially responsible investing was considered morally admirable, but not a very good business practice. That has changed. These days, investors like ourselves want to know about a company’s impact on the environment; they want to know about the working conditions of their employees and whether they pay fair wages; and they want to know about compensation paid to executives, the presence or absence of women and minorities on boards of directors, and to whom they are making campaign contributions. Positive reports about a company’s environmental, social, and governance practices can both benefit the investor and hold the corporation accountable.

Joanne Safian, RSHM, and Maria TImoney, RSHM

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