The 42 million-member National Council of Churches voted Thursday to boycott Royal Dutch-Shell and its subsidiaries because of the company's investments in South Africa.
"If they do not hear the appeal to morality, maybe they will hear the appeal to profits," said the Rev. Cecil Murray, of Los Angeles, an African Methodist Episcopal Church minister and chairman of the council's minority caucus.The vote, which came after an hour of heated debate at the close of the council's two-day board of governors meeting, was unanimous.
The council, representing 32 Protestant and Orthodox churches in the United States with 42 million members, is the latest religious body to endorse the boycott, which has already been embraced by the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the executive council of the Episcopal Church and others.
The economic impact of the boycott is hard to gauge, but Shell, which has long said it opposes South Africa's apartheid policy of racial segregation, had fought hard to prevent church leaders from lining up behind it.
Richard Tookey, an executive with Shell International Petroleum in London, urged the 260 delegates to delay their vote. However, the emotional debate was cut off after about an hour, and delegates, in a show of hands, approved the resolution without opposition.
When it passed, one delegate yelled, "Praise Jesus," and the room erupted in applause.
The resolution calls for a boycott of Shell products until the company divests itself of about $450 million in holdings in South Africa. It also calls on the U.S. government to apply across-the-board economic sanctions against South Africa and cut off all diplomatic support.
Royal Dutch-Shell has headquarters in The Netherlands. Shell South Africa Ltd. is one of the biggest companies in South Africa.
Shell's U.S. subsidiary, Shell Oil Co., is based in Houston.
The Rev. Avery Post, president of the United Church of Christ, in presenting the resolution, accused Shell of "taking profits off the backs of individuals who are being crushed by apartheid. . . . Profit at the expense of the oppressed is the ultimate in irresponsibility."
He said doing business with the government of South Africa was "a heresy."
Tookey said a boycott of Shell products sold in the United States would harm a subsidiary that has no ties to South Africa.
"Shell companies are operated by decent people of many colors and creeds," he said. "You are by de facto, denouncing them all."
He also said that if Shell would withdraw from South Africa, it would only be abandoning properties that the South African government would take over.