Comment // Faith

The Church of England: Ethically investing in pornography, weapons and embryonic stem cells

When was the last time your local church ran an appeal for a beleaguered arms manufacturer? How about for a pornographer, or for research into cloning embryos? Church of England collection plates are most commonly tipped into the fund for the fabric of the church building, or for a charity with which the local community is linked. Each parish church must meet various annual financial demands, chiefly the parish share; and the way in which this is achieved may be massaged, to a degree, by the benefice or the diocese.

Outside of the day-to-day running of the Church of England as an operational entity, there is the very considerable job of managing its investments. Whether you are a Church of England congregant or not, it would probably seem reasonable to you that this be done according to certain guidelines and principles, and you would be correct. In fact, the investment of Church of England funds is ‘ethical’.

Ethical investment, as a practice, will mean different things to different people. For the Church of England, which has an awful lot of money to invest (see this previous UK Column article by Alex Thomson and Brian Gerrish), a body exists with the specific remit of guiding the investors in this regard. It is called the Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) and it reports to the three National Investment Bodies (NIBs) for the Church. In the words of the most recent statement on policy from the EIAG, this investment ‘forms an integral part of the Church of England’s witness and mission’. It goes on to explain that, the ‘purpose of the EIAG is to enable the NIBs to act as distinctively Christian—and Anglican—institutional investors’.

During the past few years, Church of England congregations across the land have had plenty of time to consider what might be meant by ‘distinctively Christian’ or ‘Anglican’, with the sound of church doors slamming shut still ringing in their ears. It is, apparently, ‘distinctively Christian’ to invest in a company which is involved in the sales of military weapons, as long as no more than 10% of turnover may be attributed to these ‘strategic military supplies’.

I don’t want to overblow it, but the next one is better still. A ‘distinctly Christian’ investment may be one in a company that ‘derives revenues from the production or distribution of pornography’, as long as this revenue amounts to no more than 3%.

For shock value—call me old-fashioned—investment in ‘human embryonic cloning’ has the most impact.

The specific clause from the EIAG Statement of Ethical Investment Policy is reproduced below. Making best use of modern parlance, the active patronage of businesses involved in lethal weapons, pornography and cloning is instead described as ‘Investment exclusions’.

At the close of this excerpt, it is stated that there are separate policy documents to ‘explain the theology, ethics and reasoning underlying the policies’. You can peruse each of these documents for yourself here. In summarising how these things can possibly be explained, the Ethical Exclusions webpage says (emphasis added):

We exclude from our direct investments companies involved in indiscriminate weaponry, conventional weaponry, pornography, tobacco, gambling, non-military rearms, high interest rate lending, human embryonic cloning, extraction of thermal coal and production of oil from oil sands, subject to revenue thresholds.

By that last getout clause, they mean they can and they will invest in such companies.


Climate change

Putting ethics to one side for a moment, the climate change policy may have caught your eye. Somewhat recklessly, the General Synod has committed the Church of England to ‘reach net zero carbon across our parish, cathedral, diocesan and school estates by 2030’. Like every other commitment made to achieve the same, the extent to which a fair wind must be relied upon cannot be overstated—you need only scan the dire results in the detailed tables produced for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to appreciate the fantasy.

Reluctantly, the Church concedes that preventing buildings from emitting carbon dioxide is improbable, and concludes that instead,

means of balancing our residual emissions by offsetting will be needed. This needs to be set against a real ambition that our aim is to reduce our emissions year-on-year and to reduce our emissions as much as we possibly can. Offsetting is contested as a solution and is never a replacement or compensation for not cutting emissions which can be reduced, and in fact a major net zero carbon standard is proposing that offsetting covers no more than 10% of emissions, meaning the majority of carbon emissions must be eliminated.

I will leave you to decide on the Church of England’s chances of getting to net zero by 2030, or ever. What jumps out though, is the rank hypocrisy of running this policy alongside that of actively subverting it with the possibility of investment in thermal coal and the production of oil. Either the Established Church is committed to net zero or it is not. However, having it both ways is something of a theme with this institution.

I cite the double standards on climate change policy as a means by which to highlight the mess of contradictions that the Church has wilfully put itself in. At the conclusion of all Parochial Church Council meetings, the agenda item which must not be skipped over is the now-ubiquitous ‘safeguarding’. Whilst it is fair and reasonable that effort is made to ensure those within a parish are well looked after, how can that be reconciled with enabling the exploitation of young women via pornography or the extinction of life that is inextricably involved in the manufacture and distribution of arms? Reports of the black market moving weapons systems that were intended for the Ukrainian Armed Forces into the hands of others are plentiful—and, frankly, to be expected.

Let us now take a closer look at the extremely thorny subject of the ‘Use of Embryos in Research’. The Church of England’s position is shown below.

Just as with its positions outlined above on the proliferation of weapons and pornography, the Church takes a conditional line. This subjectivity renders the goalposts very much liable to drifting. As an example of how the Church has man-marked the ever-shifting Overton window, look at how its doctrine has changed in the quarter-century since the Lambeth Conference of 1998. Resolution I.10 of that Conference stated (p. 9):

    This Conference:

    1. commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality;
    2. in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
    3. recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
    4. while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
    5. cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;
    6. requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;
    7. notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.

    In January 2023, the Church said sorry to people of the LGBT ‘community’, whilst just about holding its nerve in continuing not to bless same-sex marriages. This prompted the Peter Tatchell to say that the Church accords him fewer rights than a guinea pig, among other veteran homosexual campaigners to level similar accusations at the development. Moreover, last year, the General Synod was reported as being mired in controversy because of a member’s proposal to ban the flying of Pride flags on church buildings.

    St Peter and St Paul, Bromley, 2022

    In simultaneously employing the text of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and displaying such imagery on churches—or in saying sorry but not really appearing to mean it—the Church of England appears unsure about which stepping stones will hold its weight.

    Incidentally, the Marriage Act refers back to the Submission of the Clergy Act 1533, which makes one wonder where the cut-off fell to render Magna Carta 1297 ‘out of date’ during the lock-ups since 2020. Section 1 of Magna Carta is the ‘Confirmation of Liberties’, which reads:

    First, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the Freemen of our Realm, for Us and our Heirs for ever, these Liberties under-written, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of Us and our Heirs for ever.

    Holy Trinity, York



    To return to the stated position on embryos in research, the Church of England is pulling itself in several directions at the same time. How can one achieve ‘respect’ for an embryo which may not be permitted to ‘develop beyond the UK legal limit of 14 days’? Indeed, with regard to a ‘viable alternative method’, how does killing a human embryo align with alleviating human suffering? Below the text on embryo research cited above, there follows a paragraph on Gene Therapy which contains the question, ‘Even if all safety, efficacy and ethical issues were resolved the question would still remain: is it wise to proceed?’

    On this particular issue, the Church of England emphatically has put its pounds where its preaching is—or has it? Upon reading the background to embryonic research, stem cells, gene therapy and so forth which it has set out, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Church is minded to avoid actively supporting these practices. Not so. Of the Top 20 equity holdings most recently listed by the Church Commission, a full six of them are directly or indirectly enabling the research of human foetal stem cells.

    After even the the briefest skim through Scripture, it would be reasonable to conclude that the relationship between the Church and allopathic medicine is an uneasy one, at best. Perhaps I should rephrase that. It would be reasonable to conclude that the relationship between a person of faith and allopathic medicine is an uneasy one. After all, we know exactly what the position of the leaders of the Church of England and the other large historic denominations is: ‘Follow The Science™’ and ‘The Injection is the Gracious Gift of God’.

    One of the more grotesque spectacles of the Covidian era was a video of a gaggle of bishops telling people to take an unnecessary injection which had yet to complete some very compromised clinical trials. The Archbishop of Canterbury had the gall to intimate that Jesus would have got jabbed—which should have been regarded as a monumental own goal for the holder of that office; except it wasn’t.

    The degree to which the Church of England is sponsoring transhumanism (C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man) and the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution can be measured via an examination of some of the corporations listed in its aforementioned Top 20. Readers should be under no illusion about the direction of travel. Just before Christmas, a well-publicised story caused much consternation—the aspiration for a laboratory ‘baby farm’, with no requirement for human mothers to give birth to the children (horrifying artist’s impression shown below). For now, this century-old dream of ectogenesis can be filed under ‘Crackpot, Delusions of’; but soon enough we will need to ask again, with Anglican piety, ‘Is it wise to proceed?’

    The above image is the vision of a film-maker—for now.

    What do the Church of England’s major holdings undertake by way of embryo research?

    Baxter International is an American healthcare company that works with embryonic tissue. Its Bioethics Position Statement says that any ‘cell lines used, if at all, by Baxter or under its direction will utilize cells derived from human adults or human cell lines that were obtained as a result of a confirmed, naturally occurring event negatively affecting the continued viability of the fetus’.

    Almost hidden in the last paragraph is the much less reassuring sentence:

    Currently, Baxter does not utilize human stem cells or primary human fetal or embryonic tissue in its products (and its products are unrelated thereto) or for research (and does not participate in studies that do).

    Reading between the lines, as one is often required to do, it is clear that Baxter International requires aborted foetuses to conduct its business.

    Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD) manufactures tools for the enumeration and analysis of stem cells and is a leader in the expanding field of organoids. Debi Evans went into detail on organoids in her 15 November 2022 blog and on UK Column News of 16 November, at 1hr 12:30. Organoids are, in essence, laboratory-grown organs, now including brains. These are, originally, stem cells, and if you did not hear Debi speaking about this, I would urge you to follow the link.

    There has even been the suggestion that artificially-created brain tissue may be sentient. The BD motto is Helping all people live healthy lives— all lives, that is, except those that have been purposefully begun and ended by the company. The full literature on the subject is contained in its Stem Cell Research Source document.

    Henry Schein, Inc. lists a product called a Stem Cell Procedure Pack. While it is not made perfectly clear what this is, or what purpose it serves, the name of the product is—beyond doubt—associated with stem cells. The below screenshot that shows this listing marks the product as ‘Discontinued’, though not for any of the reasons you might first imagine. Henry Schein is also concerned in the production of vaccines and, through its subsidiary Covetrus, works with ‘veterinary stem cell technology’.

    Illumina, Inc. has a document on its website called ‘Responsible Use of Stem Cells’, in which it refers to the ‘complex ethical considerations’ in this area. The document quotes the guidelines from the American National Institute for Health (NIH), which states

    that embryonic stem cells can only be derived from human embryos that were created using in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for this purpose

    The way in which the English language can be deployed to strip away any sense of humanity is truly remarkable. Like the rest of the major Anglican investments I am examining here—and, indeed, just like the Church of England itself—Illumina maintains its view of the horizon with this concluding note:

    We will continue to evaluate and update our position as new developments arise.

    So, in this case, the Church of England funds the use of stem cells from human embryos that are ‘no longer needed’.

    Salesforce, Inc., whose core business is the application of IT systems to organisations, turns out to have a medical division which provides software to assist with the administration of a vaccination campaign. In fact, it even supported our ‘NHS Heroes’. On 25 July 2016, Dr Graham Downing explained to UK Column News (at 12:34) how foetal stem cells are used in the development of vaccines. Salesforce is credited by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a key driver of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Not only is Salesforce concerned with the harvesting of embryonic stem cells, but it is also pushing for a transhumanist world in which artificial intelligence controls all via the ‘internet of things’—and the Church of England is helping it do this.

    Moving to Korea, Samsung, under its Samsung Medical Center, runs a Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Institute, whose website does not even bother to qualify the ethical position of such a facility.

    Since nearly a third of the Church of England’s top equity holdings are in some way associated with such controversial areas of science, the pattern cannot be dismissed as accidental or coincidental. Should it come as a surprise to learn that the Church of England is not exactly practising what it preaches when it comes to ‘ethical investment’? After all, this information is very much in the public domain. Can these corporations have imagined that they would be able to rely on the Church of England to bankroll such a controversial area of science?

    As something of a side note, Tencent, the Chinese leviathan based in Shenzhen, is one of the pioneers of what is being called ‘Medical AI’—in other words, the end of humans helping other humans during times of illness. Debi Evans has researched this ominous development comprehensively in the UK and regularly forewarns UK Column viewers and listeners of what the NHS will persistently fail to reveal.

    Even if the Church of England’s ethical investors do sanction investment in arms manufacture, pornography, the harvesting of embryonic stem cells, production of thermal coal and plenty besides, it is not as though its National Investment Bodies have to invest in those things. It still seems barely credible that the Church, which allegedly studies the Bible, should have to be advised on the ethics of such investments, and it is not made at all clear why each of these categories is not simply cordoned off as a no-go area.

    The now familiar question arises again: ‘Is it wise to proceed’? Almost certainly not.

    What the Church Commission does not mention is how much involvement the rest of the Church of England, in its various other national, diocesan and local funds, has by way of such investments. The most recent report states that the Commission sits atop a war chest containing £10.1 billion, of which it disburses just £86.8 million (less than 1%) to ‘Supporting dioceses and the local church’.

    When parish churches do raise funds within the community, usually for long-overdue repair bills, would it be appropriate to set this within the overall context of ecclesiastical wealth? How pleased would parishioners be to know how much money the Church Commission has tied up in the business of extinction of life; either at the wrong end of a weapon or in a laboratory? Or, of course, in fighting against their own declared pursuit of ‘net zero’?

    I asked a Church of England official about wider engagement in the investment process and whether or not any of the details were promulgated at diocesan level. The line received from the diocese was that my questions were ‘quite leading’ and, therefore, would not be answered. I was certainly not asking that any of the investment policy be defended, but simply trying to ascertain how much was known and to what degree, if any, clergy can be involved in shaping this policy.

    Ironically, two of the pillars by which the Church Commission purports to be guided are ‘Respect for People’ and ‘Respect for the Planet’. The way in which the Commissioners invest would seem to be at odds with both of these, yet they are lauded for their ‘responsible investment approach’ by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Is it right that the Primate of All England should refer to a push towards transhumanism as ‘responsible’?

    It was only in 2017 that he wrote, in a piece for the World Economic Forum:

    The challenge, then, is to be increasingly aware of how money affects us as individuals, as well as at a systemic level. Very often, the more we have or are responsible for, the harder we have to work at maintaining this awareness and building habits into our lives that dethrone the emotional and ethical control that economics or money holds over us.

    His Grace has even written a book called Dethroning Mammon. Perhaps he has not had time to read it.