While the Mission Responsibility through Investment (MRTI) committee of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is not recommending divestment from the PCUSA’s holdings in gas and oil companies, one overture is asking the assembly to go that route, and other overtures are addressing the issue in various ways.
The MRTI recommendation to the General Assembly – business item 09-09 – calls for engagement with fossil fuels companies, asking “all corporations to increase their efforts to address climate change through vigorous action.” It commends the corporations that are addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and use of their product, while calling on the corporation to increase those efforts.
However, business item 09-01 from San Francisco Presbytery, with concurrences from 25 other PCUSA presbyteries, asks the GA to call upon the Presbyterian Foundation and Board of Pensions to “immediately stop any new direct investment in fossil fuel companies” and to work to ensure that within three years “none of the Board’s or the Foundation’s directly held or commingled assets includes holdings of either equities or corporate bonds in the fossil fuel companies identified in the Carbon Underground 200.”
MRTI’s recommendation to the assembly asks that the committee be allowed to continue to “pursue its focused engagement process on climate change with all corporations, particularly with those in the oil, gas and coal sectors.”
PCUSA congregations and members are encouraged to continue to work to decrease their carbon footprints.
“Clearly, while the issue of global climate change and fossil fuel divestment finds church members and others holding differing views, well-meaning and faithful Christians share a calling to be good stewards of God’s Creation, one of our core of beliefs,” read the MRTI report. “The fossil fuel debate is being had because we all take the call to stewardship seriously.”
The report also acknowledges that all church members use fossil fuels. “They power our cars, provide electricity, heat and air condition our homes, are used to make medicine, cosmetics, plastic water bottles, televisions, tires, and even the toothpaste you use to clean our teeth. Yet, most acknowledge that action is required, even as we disagree on what the most appropriate action is.”
The report acknowledges that “We all agree that we must do something. The disagreement comes around this question: What is the most effective way to witness and accomplish change to the threat posed by climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels?”
The MRTI recommendation is in response to a referral from the 2014 General Assembly, which instead of voting for divestment, voted 469-109 to send the business to the committee for their input.
Item 09-01 asks the GA to “express it profound concern about the destructive effects of climate change on all God’s creation, including a disproportionate impact on those living in poverty and in the least developed countries; the elderly and children; and those least responsible for the emissions of greenhouse gases,” the overture asks the GA to “recognizes the moral mandate for humanity to shift to a sustainable energy regime in a way that is both just and compassionate. This mandate compels us to action as a denomination to divest from the fossil fuel industry even as we reduce our use of fossil fuels and shrink our carbon footprint.
“Our church invests hundreds of millions in fossil fuel companies,” according to the rationale. “We, as Christians, have the privilege, responsibility and obligation to speak with moral authority on issues of great importance. However, the power and clarity of prophetic voice is easily stained by hypocrisy and inconsistency. Many claim that it is inconsistent to divest from fossil fuels while we are members of a society that is addicted to them. This is true. But it is equally inconsistent to attempt to rehabilitate that society while invested in its addiction. Even as we continue working to mitigate the climate crises, we must shed the burden of our investments in climate destruction. This act will speak more loudly and more clearly than any prophetic declaration we have voiced to date. It’s time to put our money where our mouth is. It’s time to divest from fossil fuels.”
Other overtures on the fossil fuels and climate change issue include:
Item 09-02: Advocates an alternative to divestment from fossil fuel companies. It calls for the PCUSA, including all of its congregations, entities and institutions, to “to initiate, continue, and build upon steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to continue approval of lower-carbon and zero-carbon technologies and lifestyles. We acknowledge that the changes in behaviors are difficult, but affirm that we are prepared to align our behaviors with our calling and our advocacy in any event.” It also asks the PCUSA to “advocate for the reduction of greenhouse gases through the use of alternative, cleaner energy sources: natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar, and industrial-scale power storage.”
Item 09-03: Supplement the call to repentance with investment in sustainable alternative energy sources. This item calls for the PCUSA to “repent from our inadequate stewardship of God’s creation; recognize the Gospel’s call and the moral mandate for humanity to shift to a long-term sustainable energy regime in ways that are both just and compassionate; and acknowledge that this mandate compels us to action as a denomination to implement strategies and actions that directly engage climate change and that offer a realistic prospect of changing the behaviors that are at the root of the issue.” It also states that it is “imperative to all humanity to change our behaviors,” and calls on PCUSA congregations to join the Earthcare Congregation Network of the PCUSA.
Item 09-04: Effect climate change through political efforts at national and international levels. Stating that “divestment is a divisive strategy that pits faithful Presbyterians who work in or have retired from the fossil fuel industry against those for whom divestment has no personal cost,” item 09-04 calls for working with “citizens, voters, legislators, other decision-makers, and other organizations that have parallel goals to bring into effect national and international policies that create a consistent, rational, and escalating price for emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, which will reduce consumption and support investment in sustainable alternative energy sources.”
Item 09-08: Unleash the Washington and UN offices of the PCUSA to speak for the church and against the injustices of all modes of fossil fuel extraction. The overture calls on those two offices to “witness against environmental degradation and to affirm public policy that supports good stewardship of natural resources. With firm biblical foundation and the policies of twenty General Assemblies to build upon, they may give voice to threats to air and water quality; threats from fracking; threats from crude oil transport and storage and, indeed, all modes of fossil fuel extraction; and threats from methane that results from industrial processes. This empowers both offices to speak for the church to uphold the integrity of creation and speak against injustices.”
All of business items will be heard and debated by General Assembly Committee 9: Immigration and Environmental Issues. More information can be found at www.pc-biz.org. The 222nd General Assembly will be held June 18-25 in Portland, Ore.