Welcome to St. Louis! I have been a resident of this intriguing and complicated city for the last two and a half years and I am also an active member of the Presbytery of Giddings- Lovejoy – your host presbytery this week. I am speaking to you today as the Overture Advocate for Overture 08-01 which calls for denominational divestment from fossil fuel companies. I also speak as the former Moderator of the 215th General Assembly.
I have four grandsons – Declan (5), Raymond (4), Quinn (3), and Elijah (1). According to earth scientists when these little boys are my age, the sea level will have risen 6 inches – immersing large parts of the Florida Peninsula, and coastal areas around Long island and Norfolk – not to mention Pacific islands where some of the poorest people in the world live. All because of global warming, caused in large part by the insatiable hunger of North Americans for fossil fuels. And that doesn’t even describe the severe weather patterns, droughts, floods, and life- threatening diseases caused by carbon pollution. This is not the world I want to live in – or that I want to bequeath to my grandsons. I believe that to perpetuate this desecration of God’s glorious creation is nothing short of blasphemy.
Two years ago, the General Assembly asked MRTI to create a process of corporate engagement that would measure and judge the efforts being made to control fossil fuel emissions made by companies holding PCUSA investments funds – all as a way of encouraging these companies to do the right thing. And MRTI has faithfully and competently carried out that General Assembly mandate.
And yet progress has been incremental even as the devastation of global warming escalates - destroying lives, crops, islands, animals, and environmental health. There is an urgency to this issue that must be met with decisive and prophetic action. A multi-year process of corporate engagement is not an adequate response to this sense of urgency. I believe that divesting from fossil fuel companies – and then reinvesting funds in renewable energy companies – will more boldly proclaim to our communities and our families that abundant life for all God’s creatures is our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I have been a proud Presbyterian for 69 years, and have cherished the prophetic witness that our denomination has made over the years related to global and justice issues. But, today, it is hard for me to be proud – when we continue to invest our sacred money in companies that are helping to destroy the earth. The Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalists, the Church of England, the United Church of Christ, the Lutheran World Federation, The Rockefeller Foundation, the City of San Francisco, and 30 other religious, educational, and municipal organizations – have all divested from fossil fuel companies. By continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry I believe that we in the Presbyterian Church USA are on the wrong side of history.
It was at the last General Assembly that I learned about the Pax Global Environmental Markets Fund – the option now open to all Presbyterians with Retirement Savings Accounts. I immediately went home and transferred all my Retirement Savings through the Board of Pensions into that environmental fund. The returns on those investments have been equal to or greater than they would have been in other funds, but the financial bottom line was not my main motivation. I want to make sure that the values I cherish – including creation care for the earth - are reflected in the decisions I make about my hard- earned money.
Last year, my husband, Sim, made an even braver decision. When his mother died several years ago he inherited some of her family’s Chevron stock – a legacy passed down by generations of Kentucky Arterburns. For a while, he held onto the stocks for sentimental and legacy reasons. But then he realized that money is not the legacy he wants to leave to Declan and Ray and Quinn and Elijah. He wants to leave a legacy of beauty and justice and financial integrity. So Sim sold all his Chevron stock at a considerable loss, and has reinvested it in companies that uphold the values of life that we both hold dear.
In the Genesis creation story, Adam and Eve are shaped and called forth to keep and to till the earth. And in Genesis 9, God promises never again to destroy the earth through flood or environmental disaster. Friends in Christ, as heirs of that covenant promise, we are called to do the same.
For the love of God, for the love of the earth, for the love of grandchildren and generations to come, I urge the Commissioners of the 223rd General Assembly to vote in favor of Overture 08-01.
by Timothy Wotring
Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.
If there was one Scripture that I’ve read more times in my life, other than John 3:16, it would be this one. Now, of course, my interpretation of this passage has changed over the years. And I no longer think as I did as a child that the first half of the passage is for my spiritual self and the second half is for how I interact with others.
Because I do believe and please Take Heart that neighbor is not just about the one who I am closest to, although that it is true, but that our neighbor is also the Earth and all who dwell here.
So I love God with my heart, not just by praying for Creation and for fossil fuel companies to repent of their Earth hurting ways, but also by praying with my hands when I plant tomatoes in my church’s rooftop garden.
And I love God with my heart, not just by weeping with those who weep or rejoicing with those who rejoice, but also by amplifying the voices of forefront communities who are affected the most by the effects of climate change.
And I can love God with my heart, not just by going to see the sick in the hospital, but also by being repairers of creation, advocating for Earth-justice, planting trees, and getting my friends and loved ones to join in the struggle.
As the great poet Sufjan Stevens once sang, “I use my hands to use my heart.”
And with this incredible witness that the Louisville to St. Louis walk to divest participants have shown us, it’s that sometimes you need to “Use your feet to use your heart.”
So let us continue to follow in the Way and to get in the way with our hearts on our sleeves, pushing for eco-justice, for an end to environmental racism, and a healthy Earth for us and generations after us!
June 3, 2018
Paoli Presbyterian Church
There are two things that I carry in my wallet at all times—besides the expected collection of credit cards and coins and cash.
The first is my clergy card, verifying that I’m officially an ordained minister in the PCUSA. I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do with it, but whenever I see it, I’m reminded of the larger church I belong to, the call that God has placed on my life, and the communities to whom I’m responsible.
The second is a slip of paper covered in my grandmother’s handwriting. It says *read from it*
She meant those bonds to help pay for my undergraduate education, but I didn’t cash them until I started coursework for my PhD. I can’t tell you why I didn’t cash them in before then, but using the funds to help me buy books for my first semester of coursework made me feel like she was with me.
She died in 2008, and I missed her fiercely when I started seminary and when I went through the ordination process. My grandmother was the person in my life who first taught me about sociology and helped nurture my love of creation, and I always felt her pride when she and I talked about eventually becoming a pastor.
I think she always dreamed I’d be a pastor in a church, not a pastor covering 260 miles mostly by foot, but she also taught me to be fierce and stubborn… and to stop being polite when you’re not being heard. Taking her money with me into my PhD work which has in turn shaped my ministry felt like she was coming with me into this next phase of my life, when I would need a little bit of her ferocity with me. She put a little bit of her treasure in me and my life, and in doing so, she was telling me that her heart would be with me too.
Because where we put our money is a symbol of where we put our hearts.
Money and religion are two things that polite people do not talk about, and this is a sermon about both those things.
But it’s also about how money and our faith can change things when we have courage to understand that
how we live out our faith and
where we put our money
This scripture from Matthew is part of the larger selection of verses that is in the lectionary for Ash Wednesday every year. Ash Wednesday—the day when we repent and remember that our lives will one day end and we will return to the earth. Ash Wednesday—the first day of Lent, those forty days of repentance where we turn around and try again to face the direction God calls us to.
This text is part of the Sermon on the Mount and comes just after the part when Jesus tells his listeners to be quiet about their faith—to not trumpet their good deeds and holiness in the streets and to pray in secret instead. And when you fast, Jesus says, do it not with sadness and publicity… do it in secret and in your hearts. Do not be arrogant in your faith but humble. Make the change not to be showy or to seem holy, but actually change your heart. Do it not for the glory and publicity, but because it is the right thing to do.
Now these verses seem a little strange to reference on day three of our 15 day walk to raise awareness that the PCUSA needs to divest from fossil fuels as a public witness to the sins of climate change. Indeed, part of our work is to publicly—and in the streets—call for a change of heart and mind and practice. We’re not acting in secret.
But our walk isn’t a walk of holiness. It is a walk that is calling the PCUSA—and all of us—to repent. This is a walk that understands that the litany of environmental injustice and climate crisis is one we must confess.
We must confess. And then we must repent.
A few years ago, I was leading a retreat with a church in California about how ecology and earth care could be incorporated into worship. We spent an hour on each section of worship and when we got to the section on confession, we started a litany of all the ways creation is hurting.
You could come up with your own list—and I’m sure you have thought through this list before.
In the retreat I was leading, as we started working on the list of things to confess as our ecological sins, the group wanted to know if we could stop after just 15 minutes… they so desperately wanted to skip on to the part of forgiveness and hope—in a lot of ways, they wanted to move from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
As you might imagine, I said no. We needed to confess—we needed to stretch out that time of confession when we named the ways we have broken our relationships with God and creation and other people… we needed to name—publicly—the ways we fall short in caring for God’s good creation with love.
In our very public walk, we are also doing the internal work of trying to turn our hearts back toward God with each step we take… confessing our complicity in creating climate change, and trying to do that with great love.
In one of the defining texts of the Old Testament, we read the second scripture that has been so important to the divestment movement: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5).
What if we loved God through loving God’s creation with our whole selves?
In the PCUSA, we have tried to love God’s good creation with our heart through resources for lessening our carbon footprint. We have tried to love God’s good creation with our soul through worship and community resources. We have tried to love God’s good creation with our strength by leveraging our collective voices in public witness.
Climate change means we must change how we treat creation and God with all our soul, all our strength and our all our hearts, and because our hearts are where our treasure is, it matters where our money is.
Where we put our money defines us and has great power. That power is why it matters what we buy at the supermarket (buying organic and local food creates greater demand for more organic and local food), why it matters what kinds of cars we buy (buying less gas for a hybrid vehicle creates less demand for fossil fuels), and why it matters what products we fill our lives with (even changing to recycled toilet paper changes demand for paper!) Where we put our money shows where our hearts are. As a denomination, if we love God and God’s creation with everything else but not with our money—we are not yet loving God with our whole selves.
These two texts—Matthew and Deuteronomy—have been two of the grounding texts for the divestment from fossil fuels movement because it reminds us that we put our money where we have our faith. This is not just true about the people in Jesus’ day or just for my grandmother —when we give money to an organization or when we buy a product or do anything with money we show what companies and industries we believe in. And if we believe too much in that money, we begin to serve that money—and the profits therein—over God.
And so it matters where we put our investments—how we make money is a symbol for who we are as people who follow Jesus, people who are called to love with our whole selves. If we make money from fossil fuel companies, it doesn’t matter if we put that money back into local food or hybrid cars or recycled paper—it’s money that comes from companies that burn fossil fuels and wreak havoc on the planet.
We live in a world whose climate is already changing. Last year we passed a tipping point in climate change that climate scientists have said will be irreversible in our lifetimes—that there are 400 parts-per-million carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, more than ever before. The people who are already experiencing the effects of these changes are people who live in the global South and on islands populated by people of color, people who are least responsible for climate change. The people who have emitted the most carbon are people who live in the Global North and West, communities who have yet to experience many of the effects of climate change and who sit at the powerful tables of climate policy making.
We need to repent and we need to change our hearts as we change our money. Money is symbol of where our hearts are….for where our treasure is, so are our hearts. But—our movement is more than just about money. Just as we carry more than just money in our wallets.
Those two pieces of paper that help define who I am—I carry them in my wallet because I carry my wallet everywhere with me. One piece of paper reminds me that I’m accountable to the church and to the Scriptures and to God who loves all things into creation.
One piece of paper reminds me that I’ve been loved into this work by the generations before me and I am accountable to the generations to come. This morning, I carry in my heart the treasure of my niece Cordelia who already knows what it’s like to know and love creation. Early in her life she knew how to point out the beauty of the flowers and now that she’s two, she knows how to recycle and shout “I love you, tree!” and find joy in water in puddles left by the rain. She’s already as stubborn and fierce as the other women in our family and has already learned that if you ask for something enough times, you will eventually be heard. She—and all humans to come after us, no matter their race, class, gender, orientation, or country of origin—deserve a world where they can breathe and live and love.
We must be willing to live out the Gospel because the whole world is at stake. The Scripture this morning reminds us that we cannot serve both money and God—which will we choose?
 Brian Kahn, “The World Passes 400 PPM Threshhold. Permanently.” Climate Central. Published September 27, 2016, Accessed April 22, 2017, http://www.climatecentral.org/news/world-passes-400-ppm-threshold-permanently-20738.
 See more on climate debt in Klein, 408-410.
by Aida Haddad
I was on my knees sifting through beetroots as their leaves glistened with early morning dew and their emergent fruit waited to be picked. Beads of sweat were forming on my back, and hot, angry tears streamed down my face. It was unseasonably warm for October; I was incredibly sad in the wake of my grandfather’s death. I had been at the farm a few months now, spending my morning harvest time praying for the improvement of my grandfather’s health and my afternoons driving home to memories of our time together in Lebanon that past summer. I wondered if they were the last moments I would ever have with him - I had just started getting to know him as Dr. Fuad Haddad, neurosurgeon & humanitarian. “God, do you know what this will do to my grandma? And why are you taking away my hero?”
As I placed the beets in my basket and walked them to the store, I knew this anger was only the beginning of my grieving; I had read on this topic in practical theology courses during my time at seminary, and I had preached on the apostles’ reactions to Jesus’ death. The grieving process ran the gamut of emotions from denial to anger to depression to acceptance. Only after Jesus’ resurrection did they express hope. But Jeddo (“grandpa” in Arabic) was not coming back.
Before Jeddo died, I twice faced the choice to become a medical doctor: the choice to take up a legacy passed from Jeddo to my father, and from my father to me. During my undergraduate career, I had worked towards medical school, but junior year I became frustrated, believing medicine to be monolithic and not seeing my place within it. I instead pursued environmental advocacy and pastoral ministry, leading me to seminary. There, I befriended third-career seminarians; and, as they shared their stories, I noticed variations of a similar theme. These future pastors had spent multiple careers prior to seminary believing the pastorate excluded them from this vocation. They eventually realized their understanding of the pastorate had been too narrow, and I was confronted with the similar question of whether my earlier view of medicine was incomplete. I wondered: what if I needed to reassess my role in medicine like these seminarians did with their role in the pastorate? The answer to this question found me during my final year of seminary, beginning on that warm October morning.
After I dropped off the basket of beets in the store, I returned to the garden, angry that this morning was the beginning of a lifetime of mornings without Jeddo. That anger galvanized me to honor him through my grieving, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I would strive to continue honoring him through future work in the medical field. As morning dews became frosts, I continued to say goodbye to my jeddo, watching my beautiful beetroots wither as winter beckoned their rest. The following spring, when we prepared seed blocks in the greenhouse, I allowed some sentiment of new life to revive me through the cracks of my broken heart. Jeddo was never coming back as I knew him, but I could feel him in my increasing motivation to live into our family’s legacy in the medical field.
With this new momentum, I renewed my pursuit of medicine with my graduate thesis, in which I investigated the topics of addiction, autonomy, and the history of racialized U.S. drug legislation. By exploring the physiological, philosophical, and political roots of addiction, I dismantled my preconceived idea of what a medical career might look like. I realized I could be a healthcare provider as well as an advocate and counselor. And with this thesis in my toolbox, I graduated from seminary and finished my premedical coursework, eventually shadowing doctors in rural North Carolina and urban Ecuador. Both clinics continued to build my newfound understanding of my potential as a doctor. In rural North Carolina, I met migrant workers and poor whites, many uninsured, suffering from layered chronic conditions rooted in socioeconomic oppression. In urban Ecuador, I conversed with teen patients on their second or third pregnancies due to inaccessible healthcare fostered by a culture of machismo. These shadowing experiences were the final focusing events that have brought me here.
I began with a scientific mind for medicine in college, and during seminary I focused on reconciling aspects of Christian thought with my own moral philosophy. This wrestling strengthened my propensity towards social engagement in the clinical setting. In moving from grieving Jeddo’s death to remembering his life, I feel called to carry this type of engagement and its accompanying tensions into my own medical career as Jeddo did in war-torn Lebanon.
The Presbyterian academy taught me to investigate oppression and poor health outcomes in the US and abroad, but my grandfather’s life and death required me to create the foundation of Christian hope on which I stand: there is a season for everything - dew and frost, life and death, listening and implementing. With this, I will be the doctor who can readily transition from evidence-based medicine to bedside care and back, treating the whole patient, considering her social position, and ultimately becoming part of systemic change in medicine.
As a Christian environmentalist, joining the Fossil Free PCUSA witness to fossil fuel divestment is directly tied to this dream. I walk for our Biblical responsibility to engage science in mitigating climate change and I walk for my future patients who have been further marginalized in its wake. And as I walk, I’ll be praying with my feet.
Aida Haddad is an Indiana native, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and will pursue an M.D. this fall. She is participating in the PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World.
,by Laurie Fisher
This blog post is in response to author Steven Webb of ACSWP, along with MRTI staff, in Unbound, May 29, 2018.
I do appreciate MRTI’s efforts in corporate engagement on a variety of issues. We are a church, a community of faith which believes our investments should reflect our values.
Missing in this article, however, was any sense of remorse that as a community of faith we are profiting from fossil fuels that are harming the earth; missing any sense of remorse that right now the poor, the marginalized, millions around the world are suffering tremendously from the reality of climate change.
MRTI joined Climate Action 100+ to engage as shareholders. But companies such as ExxonMobil really are not interested in changing their business plans. In its 10-K report to the SEC released earlier this year, EM continues to project increase in demand for its products. ExxonMobil is not alone, either, in paying to fund disinformation campaigns, and contributing to lawmakers who will do their bidding. Though they say they support the Paris Accords, the company is still lobbying for policies that would lead to a 3 to 4 degree Celsius warming.
Also concerning in MRTI’s approach is the talk of “5 years”. We don’t have 5 years. It is true that it takes time to “turn this big ship around”. That is why action is required now. The PCUSA can divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy, and MRTI can keep shares worth $200K with each company and continue to urge ExxonMobil and others to change their business plans. Contrary to what MRTI states, now is the time to divest. The fossil fuel industry is facing increasing threats from potentially costly litigation from climate change impacts and international policies that could limit carbon emissions.
Most importantly, by divesting, we as the PCUSA will take the moral stand that we no longer will profit from the destruction of lives and of creation. We are a community of faith, first and foremost.
We the undersigned stand in unity with Fossil Free PC(USA) in calling on the denomination to divest fully from fossil fuel industries within our Presbyterian holdings.
Scripture calls on humanity to care for God’s creation. We are commanded to “keep,” that is, to protect and preserve, God’s garden (Gen 2:15). We are called to bear God’s image by exercising “dominion” in ways that are salutary and sustaining rather than exploitative and destructive (Gen 1:26-28; cf. Ezek 34:4). But we continue to fail. Through shortsightedness and greed, we are eroding the soil, decimating the forests, polluting oceans and rivers, destroying mountains, and pushing many of God’s creatures to extinction. Ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising as we continue to pursue an economy based on extraction and ever-growing consumption. One tragic result is the increased suffering and death of our most vulnerable neighbors around the globe, those who are the least responsible for this planetary-wide crisis. The cry of the earth accompanies the cries of the poor. By continuing our extraction and burning of fossil fuels, we are failing to fulfill the second greatest commandment (Matt 22:39; Lev 19:18) as much as we are failing to love God by honoring and caring for God’s creation.
As pastors and theologians of the Presbyterian Church (USA), we lift our voices on behalf of a ravaged and depleted earth. It is time to cry out, “Enough!” We can no longer inherit wealth at the hands of the fossil fuel industry while losing our inheritance in creation. We can no longer profit at the expense of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we cultivate and share with God’s wild creatures (Gen 1:29-30). Instead, we call on the church to follow God’s lead in “making all things new” (Rev 21:5). We call on the church to remove its investments from an industry that continues to destroy rather than preserve and renew that which gives us life. We consider divestment to be both a faithful response to God’s call and an effective response to signal the church’s stance on behalf of creation’s healing.
We, therefore, concur with Hudson River Presbytery’s overture on the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation to seek immediate divestment of our portfolios from fossil fuel industries. We also urge, in turn, that these funds be moved into a renewable-energy portfolio.
Rev. Dr. Laurie Garrett-Cobbina, San Francisco Theological Seminary*
Wendy Farley, San Francisco Theological Seminary
William Brown, Columbia Theological Seminary
Anna Case-Winters, McCormick Seminary
Dawn DeVries, Union Presbyterian Seminary (faculty)
John Carroll, Union Presbyterian Seminary
Margaret Aymer, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Rev. Dr. Leanna K. Fuller, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Christine Roy Yoder, Columbia Theological Seminary
Rev. Dr. Christine J. Hong, Columbia Theological Seminary
William Yoo, Columbia Seminary
Martha Moore-Keish, Columbia Theological Seminary
Rev. Dr. Tim Hartman, Columbia Theological Seminary
Jacob D Myers, Columbia Theological Seminary
E. Elizabeth Johnson, Columbia Theological Seminary
Anna Carter Florence, Columbia Theological Seminary
C. Clifton Black, Princeton Theological Seminary
Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo, Tampa Presbytery, GreenFaith
Matilde Moros, PhD, Virginia Commonwealth University
Rev. Dr. Jennifer R. Ayres, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Mark Smith, Princeton Theological Seminary
Rva. Migdaleder Mazuera, PCUSA - Milwaukee Presbytery
E. Carson Brisson, Union Presbyterian Seminary
Rev. Dr. Rodney S. Sadler,Jr., Union Presbyterian Seminary
Paul Galbreath, Union Presbyterian Seminary
Samuel E. Balentine, Union Presbyterian Seminary
John Bowlin, Princeton Theological Seminary
Patricia K. Tull, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary
Helen Blier, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Reverend Dr. Joanne Lindstrom, McCormick Theological Seminary
Hunter Farrell, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Ken Sawyer, McCormick Theological Seminary
Robert C. Dykstra, Princeton Theological Seminary
*institution included for identification purposes only.
by Ashley Bair
“We survived the Ottomans; then we survived the British; then we survived Saddam Hussein. After all that we’re still here, but the oil companies may be the end of us.”
These words were shared by a villager in the town of Haji Ahmed, Iraq. The past two years of his life and those living in his village were spent working to protect their land from fossil fuel companies. The land in Haji Ahmed is being used by Exxon Mobil as a drilling site.
Two years ago I, and a team from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, met this villager when we traveled on a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan to learn more about how the fossil fuel industry was impacting villages in the Middle East. This June I will walk 260 miles from Louisville, KY to St. Louis, MO for the PC(USA) 223rd General Assembly to raise attention about the need to divest from fossil fuels. As I prepare for that journey, I am reflecting on my experience in Iraq with people and families who welcomed us alongside their journey to resist this industry for their land and lives.
The two largest oil and gas companies in Iraq are Exxon Mobil and Dana Gas. Haji Ahmed is one of the many villages impacted by fossil fuel extraction. Similar stories were told by others in villages we visited on that delegation: the land is drilled for oil and gas, the companies use the village’s water supply for their own purposes, promises are made for job opportunities and prosperous futures. The reality is that the fossil fuel companies have destroyed many acres of village farmland, water wells have dried up, jobs are given to outside recruits and not to villagers, roadways are destroyed, and the livelihood of many families who have lived in these villages for countless generations are gone for the foreseeable future. I will never forget a village leader who told me, “This land has been in our family for a long time. You see that path beside the house? That path is older than Islam.”
The extraction of fossil fuels in this region are compromising the villagers’ access to basic needs for survival. Two villages we visited had to import bottled water for drinking and cooking. Roads are controlled and closed by the companies, limiting access to hospitals and schools. It would seem that there would be help from the government to work with fossil fuel companies and negotiate considering how they are treating the villagers’ property and humanity. However, many of the companies are drilling with the blessing of the Iraqi government. The government has security teams overseeing the sites and is under contract with fossil fuel companies to make money annually. They are supposed to be compensating the villagers for the destruction of their land, but at the time of our visit no villagers had been compensated and they are not offered work. What’s more, much of the land still has remnants of war from Saddam Hussein’s regime which left landmines all along the sides of the road which are accessible to them.
The villagers our delegation met with were striving to act against the fossil fuel companies non-violently. They organized and protested the companies. They met with members of parliament and advocated for their land, compensation, and for work. They resisted in every way they know how. In Haji Ahmed, the villager’s efforts did lead to Exxon Mobil’s exit from their land. However, that result was not typical of resistant efforts, nor made with a promise not to return.
I journeyed alongside the villagers for three weeks, but this reality is their everyday life.
The fossil fuel industry is continuing to contribute to climate change and environmental disaster, impacting those who come into direct contact with them in devastating ways. Two years ago our delegation team left Iraqi Kurdistan with a deep sense of urgency to to help eliminate this devastation and our connection to fossil fuels to the best of our abilities. Today, the resolution we thought best still stands.
We need to divest from fossil fuels.
Enough is enough.
Climate science consistently produces evidence of the irreversible changes that will impact our world––we need to also listen to the voices of those who are most impacted by fossil fuel extraction. These are the voices that speak truth into our present world, like the villagers in Haji Ahmed, people in the disappearing wetlands of Louisiana, and others on the margins. These are the voices telling us time is up––the time to change is now.
Two years later, I have seen little difference from companies like Exxon Mobil and Dana Gas. It’s time for us, as the church, to declare that what is happening is wrong.
In Mark 12, when Jesus is asked, What is the greatest commandment?, he answers, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
It is our call to love God, love creation, and love people above all else. Divesting from fossil fuels will show the world that we are a church that believes this call from the Gospel and listens to the needs of our neighbor.
As we left the villagers, we asked them what it is they thought we could do to help in their resistance efforts. They responded with this request: “Speak about us. Tell your people we need their help. Do not forget us.”
1. The science is clear. Climate change is happening faster than originally scientists predicted, with consequences which are increasingly catastrophic for our planet and all people..
2. The need to act is urgent to keep global warming under 2 degrees centigrade. The longer we wait the harder it will be to roll back emissions..
3. As a first stepThe PCUSA is leader in climate change education, denominational policies and worship resources. As a next step, the PCUSA should take the moral and prophetic step to Divest Now.
4. We are blessed that commissioners at GA will consider various responses to climate change. Multiple overtures advocate for other climate change actions. Together they are a powerful response. We support all of these recommendations:
The act of the church divesting is critical to living out our faith, because all the good actions and writings of our denomination to respond to climate change are for naught if we continue to fund the industry that is harming God’s creation.
It rained and poured for 40 days and nights on Noah. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness. When the number forty appears in scripture, someone is usually being tested.
When facing climate change and issues of environmental conservation and justice work, there are two tests going on. The first is taking care of the earth, which we have collectively not gotten a passing grade on for some time now. The second test is what we’re going to do about it.
As of this week, this week of Earth Day, Earth Day, we joyfully and gratefully announce that 40 presbyteries have voted to support Overture 08-01 on Directing the Board of Pensions and PCUSA Foundation to Divest from Fossil Fuel and Actively Invest in Securities that Focus on Renewable Energy. See the list of forty presbyteries.
Forty. Several are part of the Synod of the Northeast, which has already decided to divest from fossil fuels as a council. Quite a few of the concurring presbyteries are in coastal regions, facing new threats of potential offshore drilling. Some are in the middle of the United States, with pipelines passing through with great risk, connecting their regions to bigger port cities. A number of these presbyteries are actually in historic fossil fuel extraction regions, too.
No matter where these presbyteries are, we are all complicit in harming the planet. However, we can also hopefully look to the future and do all we can to serve and preserve the earth. This Earth Day, people are celebrating canvas bags, reusable straws, walking and biking, high efficiency appliances, hybrid vehicles, composting, eating local, and recycling among other ways of reducing the human impact on the planet. We are grateful to these forty presbyteries that have voted in favor of adding divestment—and reinvestment in renewable energies—to the many ways we are already trying to care for creation!
by Robin Blakeman
Although held in early spring for the past two years, I would describe this event as a “gathering time”.
This is a Biblical Beatitude reference, in the sense that everyone who has attended for the past two years had, at some point in time, the seed of Creation Care values planted within them. This may have happened from faith based teachings, or could have happened when an ancestor took the time to teach the value of the natural world’s gifts, or from childhood experiences that instilled these kind of values. All attendees seemed to have a story of this kind of heritage which lead them to the gathering of this conference – held in the beautiful surroundings of Pipestem State Park. People came, despite lingering winter weather predictions, from almost all states in the Appalachian region, plus some outlying areas. Approximately 90 attended the conference, from all over West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and further away places like the DC area. There was a spiritual energy in the room which could preclude a revival; at least, I hope so.
Members of the Friday afternoon keynote panel gave the following quietly revolutionary statements (paraphrased from my notes):
“We [Christians] have the tools to show others that we are bound up in Creation… Creation can do quite well without us. Yet, God yearns for our companionship. People of faith can frame the relationship with Earth as not dominion over, but partnership/relationship with… and this framing can lead to governments protecting people over profits” – Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland, North Carolina
“We need to get beyond the perceived divide between working class and the educated – or elite – class in Appalachia” – Ms. Jessica Lilly, West Virginia
“We are now exiles in Babylon; memories of our glory days, (e.g. memories of “Jerusalem” and/or fossil fuel boom times), prevent us from making our way out of the slavery, (e.g. dependence on an oppressive mono-economic system, based on fossil fuel extraction), we are trapped in.” – Pastor Harold “Jake” Jacobson, Pennsylvania
The hope of this gathering is that all who were present will return to their communities to plant more seeds, increasing connections (or harvest) in future years. The social justice minded folk who attended this conference have a lot to offer our Appalachian communities, most of which are dealing with economic transitions, drug abuse, poverty, and environmental justice issues. The Poor Peoples Campaign drew quite a bit of discussion and a leader of that campaign, Rev. Barber, spoke in Kentucky and West Virginia during the week after the conference. Another discussion involved people who were highly concerned about the effects of Unconventional Oil and Gas Development (UOGD) in the Ohio River watershed. A working group to develop some means of community education and outreach to faith communities may soon be focusing on that topic, as our region seems to be ground zero for a new wave of fracking and petro-chemical infrastructure build up.
There were also discussions centered on responses to the opioid epidemic, sustainable climate solutions, and constructing a uniquely Appalachian theology. As we gathered together in the context of 2018, we were also reminded of those who gathered before us, in similar rooms for foundational gatherings of the Coalition on Religion in Appalachia, (CORA), and the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Consortium (AMERC).
This year’s State of Appalachia conference was a wonderful opportunity to network across state lines, with people in similar yet unique communities across the region. It is possible that future years will bring state specific gatherings of this type. It was a renewing and invigorating time for all; let’s hope that energy multiplies and spreads across our region like Dandelion seeds in the spring time.
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