June 12, 2014

Activists Push for Fossil Fuel Divestment at Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly

Detroit, MI — Presbyterian activists will push for fossil fuel divestment at the Church’s General Assembly next week in Detroit, Michigan.

“We’re ready for the vote,” said Susan Chamberlain, who is helping coordinate the Fossil Free PCUSA effort and is a founding member of First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto’s Cool Planet working group. “The bottom line is, if it’s wrong to wreck the planet–which is what fossil fuels are doing–then it’s wrong to profit from wrecking the planet. It’s a moral issue, as simple as that.”

Twelve regional Presbyteries across the country have already voted to affirm the climate change overture. According to a February article in the Presbyterian News Service, church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) has already been discussing the measure. If the GA moves to approve the effort, it will likely go to the committee to determine next steps.

The effort in the Presbyterian Church comes fresh on the heels of an announcement that one of the most influential seminaries in the country, Union Theological Seminary, will divest its $110 million endowment from the 200 coal, oil and gas companies that hold the largest amounts of fossil fuel reserves.

“Scripture tells us that all of the world is God’s precious creation, and our place within it is to care for and respect the health of the whole,” said Union President Serene Jones. “As a seminary dedicated to social justice, we have a critical call to live out our values in the world. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”

The initiative is part of a growing effort by religious communities around the world to align their concern about climate change with their investment practices. Dozens of churches around the world, from Anglicans in New Zealand to Quakers in the United Kingdom, have divested their holdings. The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Oregon, the Maine Council of Churches, and others have all supported divestment. Nationally, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ voted last summer to begin a path to full divestment from fossil fuel companies, setting an example for other faith communities.

Perhaps the clearest commandment to divest has come from Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the most revered social leaders in the world. Tutu has said in videos and articles that divestment played a key role in liberating South Africa from apartheid and will be a successful strategy in the fight against climate change, as well.

“We live in a world dominated by greed. We have allowed the interests of capital to outweigh the interests of human beings and our Earth. It is clear [the companies] are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money,” wrote Tutu in an article for the Guardian earlier this year. “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”

The Presbyterian Church will have an opportunity to answer Archbishop Tutu’s call to action at their General Assembly next week. No matter the final decision, advocates like Susan Chamberlain are pledging to keep up their efforts to build a movement of congregations across the country.

“As people of faith, we are called to care for those in need,” said Chamberlain. “Climate change is creating increasing poverty, homelessness, hunger and disease and has a disproportionate impact on those already in poverty. We hope the Presbyterian church will take a moral and prophetic stand on behalf of those most impacted by climate change by passing this overture.”