The Episcopal Church, Bain Capital and Heavenly Returns
By JAY AKASIE,
Posted: August 31, 2012
During his acceptance speech in Tampa Thursday night, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said that he was risk-averse during the early years of establishing his private equity firm, Bain Capital. So he didn’t approach his elders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to ask them to invest a portion of their pension fund in the venture. But, he said, one of his partners snagged the Episcopal Church’s pension fund, set up to fund the retirements of that denomination’s clergy.
“That shows what I know,” said Romney. “Another of my partners got the Episcopal Church pension fund to invest. Today there are a lot of happy retired priests who should thank him.”
They should indeed, and they could thank their pension fund managers while they’re at it. Though it hasn’t fared quite as well over the last few years, the Episcopal Church’s pension fund, with some $9.5 billion in assets as of March 31, 2012, is one of the best run and most successful around.
That may come as something of a surprise to anyone who has heard many of the Mainline Protestant clergy preaching left-wing, anti-capitalist messages from their pulpits every Sunday. When masses of privileged college students and aging hippies pitched their tents in Zuccotti Park one year ago, for instance, prominent Episcopal parishes in New York — including the venerable Trinity Church, a parish that derives much of its operating income from its well run and closely guarded Manhattan real estate portfolio — threw their public support to the anti-establishment rabble … even though they continued to hit up their well-heeled, Wall Street banker parishioners for money.
There’s a growing conflict between religion, ideology and wealth derived from capitalism. A decade ago, a group of ideologues from Harvard University – faculty members so far to the left that they could make the Episcopal Church clergy green with envy — objected to the salaries being paid to the managers of the Harvard Management Company, the sterling investment group that oversees that school’s $35 billion endowment.
The protesting faculty members had no clue as to how top-flight investment managers are compensated. Tired of trying to explain to a bunch of Ph.D.s how Wall Street works, many of Harvard Management’s stars left the firm and set up shop on their own.
Across the pond, the Church of England recently decided to divest its pension fund’s stake in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Although that media company has provided the Anglican clergy’s pension fund with solid returns over the years, they apparently weren’t too fond of Rupert Murdoch’s penchant for free and unfettered capital markets.
The question now is whether the clergy of the Episcopal Church will do the same — considering, of course, the Church Pension Fund still holds a stake in Bain. But in the world where parishioners are admonished to “do as I say, not as I do,” I suspect the Episcopalian clergy are just fine with their lucrative Bain Capital investment.