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Bill Seddon Scholarship

Bill Seddon Academic Scholarship Winner

Left to right: David Palmer (CEO, The Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church), Victoria Watson (Scholarship Winner), Bill Seddon.

Read the press release

Scholarship Winner Announced

Congratulations to Victoria Watson, of Woodhouse Grove School, Leeds. From October 2017, Victoria will be studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford. Victoria's essay showed real insight into the practical and philosophical challenges involved in managing the assets of the Methodist Church.

Victoria is pictured above receiving her scholarship award from David Palmer (CEO, Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church) and Bill Seddon. We wish her the very best of luck in her future studies.

The Scholarship

The Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church (the CFB) has established a new academic scholarship in honour of Bill Seddon. Bill stepped down as the CFB's Chief Executive Officer last December, before retiring in February 2017, having worked for the organisation for over thirty two years.

He worked tirelessly to promote a Christian approach to investment within the UK and overseas, bringing together faith groups and corporate management to address critical ethical investment issues.

Through the scholarship we are looking to honour Bill's legacy and find the next generation of Christian thinkers and leaders in the world of ethical investment.

Applicants were asked to write a 2,000 word essay on the subject:- "Investment outcomes balanced against ethical consequences - where should the line be drawn when investing the assets of the Methodist Church?"

We had a wonderful selection of entries and would like to thank each entrant for their efforts. The winning essay & other entrants can be found below.

Winning Essay

Victoria Watson - Scholarship Winner

Ethical decisions rarely involve the clean lines of 'right' and 'wrong'. This is particularly true when considering investments, all of which have the potential to do both harm and good. For the Methodist Church, making investment decisions must involve deciding if the potential moral consequences of an investment conform with the values and teachings of Methodism, as well as making good financial decisions. This is incredibly difficult to do. 'Ethics' and 'morals' are inherently subjective, even when interpreted within the Methodist doctrine and therefore are difficult, if not impossible, to apply consistently to the framework of investments. It is therefore necessary to consider not just where a line should be drawn when balancing the ethical consequences of an investment with its potential profits, but also how and whether that line should be drawn.

Within Methodism, the problems of investment are identified in John Wesley's sermon, 'The Use of Money'. Christians, he argues, should only profit through business that excludes anything that harms humans in body, mind, or spirit [1]. This includes our neighbours, and profiting at someone else's loss is not permitted, in accordance with the teaching of 'Love thy neighbour'. This immediately excludes many common areas of investment: arms companies, for instance, create goods solely intended to cause harm. Other areas which are often seen as unethical in this way include tobacco and alcohol. However, applying this ideal is very difficult. Alcohol, for instance, causes most harm when used irresponsibly; it is not necessarily an inherently unethical good. On these grounds, it could be argued that it is therefore not unethical to invest in a company that profits mostly from the sale of alcohol, even though the substance itself is incredibly detrimental to society. At this point, you have to decide whether a person is morally responsible for investing in something that directly causes harm, but only when it is misused. On the other hand, Wesley's ideal can also be used to exclude almost every area of investment, because they almost all have the potential to cause harm. A software company, for instance, though seemingly harmless, may sell code to a social media company whose product is used by terrorists. Every area of economic activity causes some form of negative externality, either through production or consumption. Wesley's ideas therefore seem impossible to equate with any form of investment. Looking at this alone, the Methodist Church should not invest its funds at all, unless it can be sure the investment will cause no harm whatsoever.

A further problem is that the creation of wealth in itself can lead to social and economic injustice and inequality, but without funds, it is almost impossible to actively address these problems. Is it therefore better to do nothing, if the most effective way to help only causes more harm? This is reductive, and instead, it is perhaps more useful to consider ways of investing money that both create profit and some form of collective good. This could be through, for instance, investing in a company that is focused on affordable housing. This idea leads to the question of whether it is enough for the Church to divest from harm-causing ventures, or whether it should only invest in ventures that actively promote social responsibility. Given that the creation of wealth leads to injustice, it would perhaps be necessary to focus on companies actively seeking to do good, in order to be considered morally responsible. This perhaps suggests that it is morally acceptable for the Church to invest money into profitable ventures, but only if those ventures aim to create a collective form of social good, which correlates with Methodist values, rather than seeking to promote activities which cause environmental and social damage for their own personal financial benefit.

A consideration of risk is also required. The Methodist Church, when investing, faces two risks. Firstly, they are taking the traditional risk of investment- that of loss. However, they face a second risk: that the way in which their money is used contributes to the creation of harm. To allow their funds to be used makes them responsible for the ethical consequences of an action. A modern day approach to religious investment therefore needs to consider the risks of potential harm, and the rewards of potential good.

If you could numerically evaluate harm and good, it would be theoretically possible to work out the balance between the harm and good caused by an investment in order to decide what constitutes an 'ethical' investment. This solution helps consider how far you can justify the potential harm caused by an investment with the obvious benefits of using its profits for good. This idea would have to take into account investment outcomes; for every pound invested, will the potential return (and the way in which these profits are used) be great enough to counterbalance any harm caused by the investment? This, of course, is impossible to practically measure either quantitatively or qualitatively. It is not possible to compare the mistreatment and suffering of a worker in a clothes factory with the benefit caused by using the profits from selling clothes cheaply for charitable work. It is unfeasible to factor in every potential risk for harm, and investment predictions are notoriously unreliable, making the moral balance of a potential investment impossible to measure.

A more practical way of deciding where a line could be drawn could be achieved by looking at the way in which companies behave, rather than the products they are involved in. By looking at the way in which companies treat their stakeholders, it would be possible to identify morally irresponsible companies and exclude these from investments. However, therein lies the main issue of ethical investments; divesting from these sorts of companies is regarded as far more likely to lead to lower investment outcomes. The so called 'sin stocks' (alcohol, tobacco, arms, gambling etc) are generally regarded as giving the highest return [2]. Should the Methodist Church compromise on investment returns in order to maintain ethical integrity? You can argue that it absolutely should, but this in turn leaves the Church with fewer funds to address the extant problems it seeks to solve. It could instead be more useful for the Church to operate a policy of engagement with companies in order to reduce their responsibility for harm. For example, a tobacco company could be considered almost entirely socially responsible if it sought to honestly inform people about the harmful nature of smoking. By engaging with companies that initially seem anathema to the values of the Church, it would be possible to both enact greater change, and have good investment outcomes. As an organisation with a large amount of funds at its disposal, the Methodist Church has the power to pressure companies in ways that individual investors do not, but it also has the moral values to ensure it desires change. You can therefore argue that, by investing in companies which are already socially responsible and morally upright, the Methodist Church would be wasting the considerable power it has to enact lasting positive change and ensure corporate responsibility.

The Methodist Church is an institution with strong values, and as such, all investment decisions it makes should reflect those values. However, it should also make its decisions pragmatically and consider which actions will actually lead to the best ethical consequences, even if this means making investment decisions that appear unethical. The Church should therefore focus on engagement with companies in an attempt to create the greatest possible good with the funds it has. The line to balance the outcome of investments with their ethical consequences is a line that needs to be readdressed with each individual investment situation in order to decide whether working with a particular company is going to create a generally good, or generally harmful outcome.

  1. Wesley, J. The Use of Money. Available: Last accessed 24/07/17.
  2. Mackintosh, J. (2015). Sin stocks pay as alcohol and cigarettes beat sober rivals. Available: Last accessed 24/07/17.