“Sometimes quitting is the courageous act,” said Traci Blackmon. “Sometimes the courage that is needed is to stop doing what is expected in order to start doing what is necessary.”
Blackmon, associate general minister of justice and local church ministries for The United Church of Christ, was speaking to those gathered March 31 at an online gala to celebrate 50 years of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a New York-based coalition of more than 300 global institutions that has pioneered the use of shareholder advocacy to press companies on environmental, social and governance issues.
ICCR began its work in 1971 when lawyer and founding member Paul Neuhauser, who spoke at the event, drafted the first religious shareholder proposal with a social theme on behalf of the Episcopal Church and filed it at General Motors in March of that year. The proposal requested that until such time as apartheid in South Africa was abolished, GM withdraw its business from that country.
Tim Smith, a senior advisor at Boston Trust Walden and a founding member of ICCR, also spoke at the event, noting that this initial action made the front page of The New York Times.
Blackmon celebrated this history in her remarks as an example of the courage it takes to quit.
“Over 50 years ago now, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility made a decision to just quit,” she said. “It began with the courageous decision to stop funding apartheid in South Africa. But they didn’t stop there. This initial action included a request that not only they not invest but that General Motors make a concentrated effort and statement against apartheid by also choosing to quit doing business until the oppressive regime changed.”
Challenging societal messages that define quitting as resigning or giving up, she said, “such an action is not one of resignation, but rather of resolve.”
In his remarks at the event, Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, used the call story of Moses to remind participants that God often calls people of faith to difficult tasks — tasks that require the kind of perseverance ICCR has demonstrated over its 50-year history.
“Sometimes it seems that the journey is hard; sometimes it seems that the way is long,” Curry said. “But the god who is God is the source of all that is love and just and compassionate — and he will see it through with us.”
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof expressed gratitude for real progress on a broad range of social issues with which the faith community has been engaged but said, “That acknowledgement of progress has to be a spur to action and not a substitute for it.” Kristof noted new domestic challenges including the disappearance of working-class jobs and the despair that often follows in working class communities as evidenced by increases in substance abuse and suicide and a drop in life expectancy in the U.S. three years in row, even before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
David Schilling, senior advisor at ICCR, received the Legacy Award for his 27 years working on behalf of ICCR.
The nine founding members of ICCR — American Baptist Home Mission Societies, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, United Methodist Women — also were recognized during the event.
“ICCR continues to play a vital role in demonstrating that change is possible when communities of faith are resilient and persevere,” said Michaele Birdsall, deputy executive director, treasurer and CFO at American Baptist Home Mission Societies. “ABHMS looks forward to partnering, learning and growing with ICCR for another 50 years.”
Curtis Ramsey-Lucas serves as editor of The Christian Citizen.
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