Episcopal Church Votes to Divest from Fossil Fuels

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Thousands attend a church service during the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photograph: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Two weeks after Pope Francis released his environmental encyclical, the leadership of the Episcopal church voted to withdraw from fossil fuel holdings as a means of fighting climate change. While the vote only covers a very small portion of church holdings, it is still an important symbolic gesture.

“The vote says that this is a moral issue and that we really have to think about where we are putting our money,” said Betsy Blake Bennett, archdeacon in the Episcopal diocese of Nebraska, who supported divestment. “At a point where we are losing species and where human life itself is threatened by climate change, the church, by acting on it, is saying that this is a moral issue and something that everyone needs to look at seriously.”

The Episcopal church has taken a serious look at divestment for years. At the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2012, the church called on congregations, institutions, and dioceses to work for the “just transformation of the world’s energy beyond and away from fossil fuels.” And a number of Episcopal dioceses have already called for divestment including the Episcopal dioceses of California and Massachusetts in 2013.

The growing movement in the church culminated in the vote to divest approximately $380 million in church holdings earlier this month, despite arguments from a number of bishops who asserted divestment would do little to stop climate change. Church leaders rejected a proposal to divest from the $9 billion pension fund, the managers of which are understood to oppose divestment.

While the Episcopal church can certainly do more to limit funding to fossil fuel companies, their vote to divest is definitely an important symbolic gesture. Campaigners are hopeful that the vote will spur further activism and encourage more parishes and dioceses controlling approximately $4 billion in assets to divest from fossil fuels as well.

“The passage of this resolution will kickstart the diocese,” said Bud Cederholm, a now retired church leader known as the “Green Bishop.” He said he thought the timing of the Pope’s message also helped leaders decide to divest. “When the largest denomination in the world, when their leader makes a statement like that, it gets the rest of the Christian world’s attention.”

Hopefully, the Episcopal church’s decision to divest will get the Catholic church’s attention. Despite the plea for climate action and divestment in Pope Francis’ encyclical, the Vatican and many Catholic institutions have not made any move to divest.

Perhaps all religious groups can work to inspire each other at this critical time for our planet.

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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 .