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Interview: Lorna Gold, incoming CEO of FaithInvest

25 August 2023

‘Not everyone can make choices. Changes will only happen if we come together’

FaithInvest is a charity which supports faith institutions to invest in line with their beliefs and values, for the good of people and planet. We ran several successful campaigns involving the Irish Bishops’ Conference and Church of Ireland in divestment at a time when nobody was talking about it. It was then I realised the power of faith as an ethical framework for shifting not just individual decisions, but the whole financial system.

We support organisations to review their investments,
and organise training and conventions, and produce research. We’re collaborating with the ecumenical charity Operation Noah, and running a conference with them on climate and investments in London in October.

I joined in 2020, and take over as CEO in September.
My Ph.D. examined links between Christian theology and alternative economic paradigms, focusing on the Economy of Communion started by the Focolare Movement in Brazil in the 1990s. I worked with Trocaire, the Irish Catholic development agency for 20 years on policy, research, and advocacy on development issues.

Pope Francis has had such a significant leadership role.
He’s reactivated older people and connected with the younger generation, encouraging their spiritual conversion around ecology. In 2015, when Pope Francis wrote Laudato Si’, I became more involved in encouraging faith communities to align their assets to climate action, particularly through divestment from climate destruction.

I’m a founding member of Laudato Si’
and still chair the board. In the first 18 months, almost 1000 Catholic institutions signed up to our online platform with their own sustainability plans, and we’ve trained up over 30,000 animators in local parishes. With 300,000 parishes, we’re only scratching the surface, but we aim to make this a normal part of being a Christian and a Catholic today. We’re also working at a high level around advocacy, and mobilising the Church to be more vocal.

After COP26, it’s very sad to see the Government’s U-turn.
It means the UK’s commitments on climate change will lose all credibility.

After I had children, my professional work became something of a personal crisis.
Writing Climate Generation: Awakening to our children’s future [in 2017-8] was the result.

Yes, we take local holidays
— cutting down on flights. We have installed renewable energy in the house, and have an electric car, but I’m reluctant to put us on a pedestal. These things are all very well if you can afford them, but that’s the nub of the issue for many. Thankfully, in Ireland, there’s very good government support for these changes.

The most important thing is to find your voice,
and join forces at a local level with others, because there’s more power for creating change in the community. During the lockdowns, when we were all more focused on our local communities, we all saw how important and effective community action is. Not everyone can make their own choices, especially with the inflation we’re facing now. Big changes will only happen if we come together.

Better alternatives to the destructive “extractivist” economic model exist.
Ernest Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful describes ecological economies, sharing economies, solidarity economies, circular economies — all operating to a different logic beyond simple ideas of growth or self-interest. Faith communities already practise a lot of these alternatives. They have more fertile ways of seeing and being in the world, in tune with human flourishing.

Faith communities also have considerable investment impact.
Collectively, the faiths are one of the largest investment groups in the world, with billions of dollars on the global stock markets, and trillions more in assets such as buildings, land, and forests. A study by the Oxford University Saïd School of Business last year found that, from the publicly available data — a fraction of the total — Christian groups alone accounted for over $250 billion in faith-aligned investable capital, and this doesn’t begin to account for the totality of their assets.

The Church Pension Fund manages a portfolio of $18.4 billion for the Episcopal Church in the US;
the Church of England has an investment fund of £10.1 billion and a Church Pension Fund of more than £3 billion. The Vatican Bank manages €5.2 billion assets for the Holy See and Catholic organisations.

Well-established groups like the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
have been supporting faith groups to use their voices as shareholders very effectively for many years now. They’ve shown that shareholder advocacy — discussions with management, shareholder resolutions, proxy votes, and other actions — have led to innumerable positive changes in corporate behaviour.

Each faith has a unique perspective on avoidance
— or negative screening. Many avoid investments in pornography, tobacco, and the arms trade. Some don’t invest in mining. Others avoid investing in countries with poor governance which could lead to investments landing in illicit activities or conflict. Many decided recently to end investments in fossil fuels. Increasingly, faiths are focusing on positive screens and impact investing: investing in companies that make positive changes in the areas of climate change, labour, and governance.

It’s not an easy path to be coherent and invest in line with your values.
It’s a narrow path to be chosen, but we exist to support faiths to make that path the mainstream. We encourage people to publish their investment policy and help them to learn from each other and become more consistent in investing in ways that reflect their mission rather than undermine it.

I grew up in Scotland with my mum and three siblings.
My father’s death in a car crash when I was six was followed by a terrible house fire the same year. I learnt very early in life what really matters.

My mother had a deep faith in a loving God,
despite everything. She also had a strong belief in education, and ensured each of us had the best education possible. I was blessed to go to a Jesuit college, St Aloysius. We’re a tight-knit family, though we’re spread out now. I’ve worked and lived in Ireland for the past 20 years.

My earliest experiences of God came directly from my mum
and her unwavering belief in God’s love, despite painful circumstances. She still projects a steadfast belief in an unconditional loving presence, and a divine plan of grace that unfolds in the present moment. Hers is a belief not so much in a faraway Father in the sky but a deeply rooted belief that God dwells in community, in communion, among us. It’s a very Trinitarian viewpoint. This was nurtured by our participation as a family in the Focolare Movement, an ecumenical movement which has a deep spirituality of communion.

I still believe God is present in community,
where two or three are gathered. For me, that communion is a universal communion with all of creation, with the cosmos — the deep story or the universal Christ story, as Fr Richard Rohr calls it. Laudato Si’ has ignited a new passion for faith-based ecology in the Catholic world and ecumenically.

Many things make me angry,
but, above all, the failure to take climate change seriously, and endless delays in tackling the ecological crisis — despite the fact that it is largely preventable. I sense that, however hard the efforts of many campaigners, we’re still on a collision path with Mother Nature.

I’m happy spending time with my family, seeing my children grow
. . . and my plants.

I love birdsong.

Despite the chaos and conflict we see, I have a deep-rooted hope.
It comes from faith, from a belief in the resurrection, which shows that history is not linear: everything can change in a moment. Things aren’t going in the right direction, but there are signs that the breakthrough’s happening, and there’s radical collaboration that can upturn the tables, as Jesus did in the temple.

I love to pray in nature each day.
It is like oxygen for me. I usually pray for my family and friends, especially for people I know who are sick or suffering. I pray for a generous change of heart for us all, and especially for those in positions of responsibility.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with my dad.
Because I lost him at six, I have so many questions to ask him, so many things I’d like to share. Apart from everything else, he was a stockbroker; so maybe he could cast some light for me on my new role as CEO.

Lorna Gold was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Climate Generation: Awakening to our children’s future will be reissued by New City Press in September.


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