Trinity Church sits in the shadow of lower Manhattan’s One World Trade Center, its brownstone Gothic Revival spire dwarfed by the Financial District’s surrounding skyscrapers.
On 9/11, Trinity provided refuge from the plume of debris when the towers fell just three blocks north. The church survived without much damage. Today, it’s a landmark and site of remembrance as much as a place of worship.
It’s also extravagantly wealthy, as far as Episcopalian churches go, thanks to the 215 acres England’s Queen Anne donated to the diocese in 1705, when the area was farmland. Trinity has sold most of that land over the years but remains one of Manhattan’s largest landowners. It estimates the value of its assets at over $2 billion.
One of the smaller investments in Trinity’s diverse portfolio: about $300,000 worth of shares in Walmart. This spring, the church will face off against the big-box giant in a court case that could change the way public companies make business decisions.
At issue, for Trinity: Walmart’s sale of guns with high-capacity magazines of the sort used in mass killings.
The church’s rector, Rev. Dr. James Cooper, says he isn’t seeking a ban on the sale of assault weapons at Walmart. Rather, he’s fighting to force the world’s largest retailer to include a shareholder proposal in this April’s proxy materials, to be voted on at this summer’s annual meeting.
Trinity’s proposal would require Walmart’s board to oversee the sale of “products that especially endanger public safety and well-being, risk impairing the company’s reputation, or offend the family and community values integral to the company’s brand,” as the document first filed with the Security and Exchange Commission last year reads.
“Somebody is making decisions about what they sell,” Rev. Cooper told Forbes in an interview at the church’s well-appointed Wall Street offices, with views over the Hudson River.
“Trinity doesn’t need to. We would just like them to tell us they have a system in place at the board level to protect the reputation of the company, its values, and protect the citizens who live in that community from extreme harm.”
The church has singled out high-capacity assault rifles as the sort of product that should require board approval before hitting store shelves, questioning in its proposal “whether these guns are well suited to hunting or shooting sports” and recalling that such weapons “enabled many mass killings” in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson and elsewhere.
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