|Agency withdraws petition on Caterpillar divestment|
Sending a petition to the church's top legislative body
calling for divestment from Caterpillar has achieved positive results,
said Jim Winkler, top executive of the church's social action agency. A
UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.
By United Methodist News Service*
April 17, 2008
After direct meetings with Caterpillar Inc., the United Methodist
Church's social action agency says it will withdraw a petition calling
for divestment from the heavy equipment manufacturer.
The petition, sent to the denomination's top legislative body, charged
that the company profits from illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian
land and contributes to the occupation by supplying Israeli Defense
Forces with heavy equipment.
Sending the petition to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference has
achieved positive results, said Jim Winkler, top executive of the
United Methodist Board of Church and Society in Washington.
Since January, Caterpillar has opened discussions with the board, issued
a statement denouncing immoral use of its equipment, and agreed to
The 2008 General Conference will meet April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas. The legislative body meets every four years.
The Caterpillar statement sent to Winkler said, "Caterpillar's products
are designed to improve quality of life. ... We do not condone the
illegal or immoral use of any Caterpillar equipment. ... We expect our
customers to use our products in environmentally responsible ways and
consistent with human rights and the requirements of international
The statement affirmed the importance of continuing dialogue between
Caterpillar and The United Methodist Church. "We are committed to
further conversations and possible philanthropic activities in
About $5 million of the denomination's estimated $17 billion pension portfolio is invested in Caterpillar stock.
The Rev. Steve Sprecher, a director of the United Methodist Board of
Church and Society, was part of the committee that led the agency to
send the petition to General Conference. He called divestment "a
time-honored policy" within The United Methodist Church.
"We will report back to the 2012 General Conference on the progress of
our discussions with Caterpillar," he said. "Our church believes
strongly in corporate social responsibility."
The Rev. Steve Sprecher of the Board of Church and Society presents reasons behind the Caterpillar divestment
petition in this file photo. A UMNS
photo by Marta W. Aldrich.
Winkler thanked the Rev. Tim Bias, senior pastor of First United
Methodist Church of Peoria, Ill., where Caterpillar is based, for his
role in opening the dialogue. "Tim is the pastor to important
Caterpillar executives and graciously arranged meetings between us,"
"I got involved because there had been no conversation between the
General Board of Church and Society and Caterpillar prior to the filing
of the divestment resolution," Bias said. "One of the values we hold as
United Methodists is holy conferencing. If we are to bring
transformation to the world, we will do it by building and gaining trust
with persons of differing perspectives. We don’t do it by going toe to
toe; we do it hand in hand.
"When we sit down and find common ground, we begin a conversation," Bias
continued. Through the conversations between the board and Caterpillar,
"we have raised the consciousness of the issue of peace in the Middle
East and we have found a way to address it together."
"I am very pleased to see the statement from Caterpillar and to see the
positive fruits of dialogue," said the Rev. W. Douglas Mills, executive
with the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and
Interreligious Concerns in New York.
"I want to thank Jim Winkler and the General Board of Church and Society
for the constructive engagement around this issue. Jim's dialogue with
Caterpillar has been and will continue to be challenging to both The
United Methodist Church and to companies in which we invest church
"By engaging (Caterpillar chief executive) Jim Owen and Caterpillar in
this way, Winkler has helped us underscore the value our denomination
places on our interreligious relationships coupled with our commitment
to social justice."
The Rev. Timothy Bias inquires about dialogue between the Board of Church
and Society and executives at Caterpillar
in this file photo. A UMNS photo by
Marta W. Aldrich. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
Other churches act
Recently, the Presbyterian Church USA and the Roman Catholic
Dominican Sisters withdrew their shareholder resolution on human rights
to be presented at Caterpillar’s annual meeting. They withdrew the
resolution in exchange for discussions on the use of the company’s
products, in light of Caterpillar’s stated expectations that customers
will use its products in an environmentally responsible manner and
consistent with international humanitarian law and norms.
Caterpillar’s decision to open dialogue with faith communities is a welcome development, Winkler said.
The 2004 General Conference passed a resolution opposing Israeli
settlements in Palestinian land, and the agency has worked for the past
three years to seek the implementation of General Conference Resolution
312, "Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land." The United
Methodist Church opposes continued military occupation, confiscation of
Palestinian land, destruction of Palestinian homes and the continued
building of illegal Jewish settlements.
"Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land has continued for more than 40
years," Winkler said. "Undeniable misery is experienced every day by
Palestinian Christians and Muslims. Our church should not profit from
* Information for this report came from Wayne L. Rhodes, director of
communications, United Methodist Board of Church and Society. Paul
Black, director of communications for The United Methodist Church’s
Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, also contributed to this
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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