First Seminary in the country to divest from fossil fuels, adds momentum to growing effort by faith communities
NEW YORK, NY — In another win for the growing fossil fuel divestment campaign, the trustees of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York voted unanimously today to begin divesting the school’s entire $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuels, becoming the world’s first seminary to take this dramatic step in the fight against global climate change.
“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.”
Union’s decision to divest reflects a growing concern among faith communities about the dangers of climate change. Dozens of churches around the world, from Anglicans in New Zealand to Quakers in the United Kingdom, have divested their holdings. The United Church of Christ of Massachusetts and Minnesota, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Oregon, the Maine Council of Churches, and others have all supported divestment.
“Union is the cradle of progressive Protestantism in the US, so I expect this decision will have a major impact,” said Bill McKibben, 350.org co-founder. “Not only is Union a moral leader, it’s also a resident of Manhattan with long ties to the city’s leaders, meaning that divestment now has a foothold in the world’s financial capital. I predict this will be the first of many seminaries that heed the call to stand up for God’s creation.”
Next week, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) will consider a fossil fuel divestment proposal at its General Assembly in Detroit. Twelve regional Presbyteries across the country have already voted to affirm the climate-change overture.The Unitarian Universalist church will be debating a resolution later this summer, as well.
According to divestment organizers in NYC, Union’s decision will also increase pressure on the city to divest its pension funds from fossil fuels. “Now that divestment has a firm foothold in Manhattan, the pressure is building on New York City to divest its pension funds from fossil fuels. Union Theological Seminary has helped make the moral case crystal clear: it is wrong to invest in companies that are wrecking the planet and imperiling the future of NYC,” Lyna Hinkel from 350 NYC.
Union is also working with its students and environmental organizations to develop a comprehensive sustainability policy for its campus.
“Climate change is affecting this globe, it’s killing people, and it’s going to destroy what the world looks like as we know it,” said Michael Johnston, the head of Union’s investment committee and a former Executive Vice President with Capital Group Companies, one of the world’s largest investment management organizations. “As a seminary we have a moral obligation to no longer profit from the misery inflicted on God’s creation by the production of fossil fuels. I hope that people see our actions as a beacon of hope, and recognize that there are things we can do as a country and as a people to cut down on our greenhouse gas emissions.”
In addition to their divestment and campus sustainability efforts, Union will host a conference in the days leading up to the United Nations’ Climate Summit in September called Religions for the Earth. The event will culminate in an interfaith service and will be held in partnership with GreenFaith, the Interfaith Center of New York, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the World Council of Churches, and Religions for Peace. Attendees will also be encouraged to take part in the People’s Climate March also happening that weekend.
“Union’s vote to divest is prophetic and strong,” said the Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental group which has advocated fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment by religious institutions. “The seminary’s commitment highlights the grave danger posed by climate change and the fossil fuel industry, and is a model for seminaries globally.”
Full text of the resolution passed by Union’s board of trustees follows.
TRUSTEE RESOLUTION ON INVESTMENT POLICIES RELATED TO FOSSIL FUELS
As members of the Board of Trustees of Union Theological Seminary, we take seriously our commitment to assuring that Union live up to the educational and theological principles stated in Union’s Mission Statement. A key feature of that mission involves pursuing “care for God’s creation.” We are deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating state of the planet’s health, and we are actively committed to finding ever new ways to participate in its healing. Towards this end, we have developed investment policies that lessen the harm we do to the earth.
As we take this step, we are conscious of our several important obligations to Union, its faculty, its students, and its donors, to do no unnecessary damage to our endowment’s investment returns. We believe we can accomplish that end by proceeding patiently and thoughtfully with our longstanding investment managers as they accept our intentions in this regard.
We believe, as well, that giving our attention to these matters is an ongoing process and that our policies will develop over time. We also recognize that in addition to our investment practices, Union must have an integrated, campus strategy for addressing concerns about climate change and planetary health.
Below are the policies that the Seminary will implement going forward:
- We will ask the managers of each of our separately managed accounts to divest of, and not invest in, fossil-fuel companies, just as we have for liquor, tobacco and other industries.
- We will ask our valued, highly regarded managers of our commingled funds if the funds’ portfolios include fossil-fuel companies. If so, we will ask for the formation of a fossil-fuel free fund and indicate our desire to consider that refashioned fund.
- We will screen those commingled funds which are not central to our portfolio, and, if those funds will not divest of fossil-fuel stocks, we will withdraw from those funds and find some which will.
- For any future donors to endowed funds, we will work to provide a fossil-fuel free fund, if they so wish.
We ask the Investment Committee to take appropriate care to implement this policy in a manner that minimizes its impact on the overall investment returns that support the mission of the Seminary and that they periodically offer reports to the Board as to progress.
Our view as Trustees is that Union should take these steps on moral grounds. As people of faith and good will, we care deeply about our planet and all that dwells therein, and we are determined to pursue practices that heal, not harm, our environment.
About Union Theological Seminary
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York is a seminary and a graduate school of theology established in 1836 by founders “deeply impressed by the claims of the world upon the church.” Union prepares women and men for committed lives of service to the church, academy and society. A Union education develops practices of mind and body that foster intellectual and academic excellence, social justice, and compassionate wisdom. Grounded in the Christian tradition and responsive to the needs of God’s creation, Union’s graduates make a difference wherever they serve.
At Union we believe that a new interreligious spirituality of radical openness and love is the world’s best hope for peace, justice, and the care of God’s creation. Empowered by groundbreaking inquiry aligned with practical realism and a bias for action, Union is charting a radical new course for enduring social change. Our graduates make a difference wherever they serve, practicing their vocations with courage and perseverance, and speaking clearly and acting boldly on behalf of social justice in all of its forms.
Learn more at www.utsnyc.edu.