Presbyterians Consider Fossil Fuels Divestment

At the booth at General Assembly. Photo on FacebookReligious organizations around the world are beginning to view divestment from fossil fuels as a necessary, moral step to protect creation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently compared fossil fuel divestment with anti-apartheid style boycotts that have worked to loosen the grip of South Africa’s oppressors. And UN Climate Change Secretary Christiana Figueres specifically called on religious organizations to take this moral step.

Many groups have divested, and now the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)  may be the next religious organization to take this bold action. The 221st General Assembly of PCUSA is currently being held from June 14th to 21st, and Presbyterians for Earth Care, as well as other environmentally-concerned Presbyterians, are making sure fossil fuel divestment is part of the discussion.

At a Presbyterians for Earth Care luncheon, Bill McKibben, the founder of and environmental author, urged those gathered to stand up to dirty power.

“Standing up to power is what we are called upon to do as Christians,” McKibben said in a six-minute video. “I know it can be tough to convince others, especially Christian communities, which tend to be conflict averse. There are times we are called to stand up to power, and there are no greater powers and principalities than those who derive wealth from fossil fuels and use that wealth to go to places we don’t want to go as a civilization.”

McKibben urged the 221st General Assembly to pass Overture 15-01 on fossil fuel divestment, which won committee approval Tuesday. The overture asks the Board of Pensions and Presbyterian Foundation to immediately stop any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and over the next five years to divest any assets the denomination already has placed in oil, gas, and coal firms.

“The truth of the matter is, with climate change the people who are wealthy will survive fine — it will be an inconvenience, but they will survive. It is the most vulnerable around the planet that won’t,” said Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest and executive director of GreenFaith, Interfaith Partners for the Environment at the Presbyterians for Earth Care luncheon.

Environmentalism isn’t new to many Presbyterians. The Cool Planet Working Group from the First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto, California, won the Restoring Creation Award for its leadership supporting efforts to divest PCUSA from fossil fuel companies. And Calvary Presbyterian in San Francisco, California is holding a special event this Sunday that makes the connection between faith and environmentalism.

But there are some who don’t believe divestment is the right move for PCUSA.

“I am very disappointed that General Assembly and PCUSA is spending time on this type of thing,” commented Marty Taylor on PCUSA’s website. “This political boondoggle is for the birds. I am all for protecting the environment, as was my father, a life-long oil company employee and Presbyterian Elder. But GA meeting about anti-fracking is a long way off what I believe is the purpose and mission of the church.”

Perhaps the Presbyterian Church still faces the challenge of educating its members that divestment is a moral duty, not a political issue. It is wrong for communities of faith to fund companies that use their money to sway politicians, limit energy innovation in a free market, and pollute air and water. Divestment is very much a part of the purpose and mission of the Presbyterian Church, as well as any religious organization.

Let’s pray that the Board approves divestment and PCUSA joins the many religious organizations around the world who are fighting to protect God’s creation.

News Source: Presbyterian Church USA

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .