Daniel Pappas was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. He attends Eastminster Presbyterian Church at his home in Dallas in Grace Presbytery through the Synod of the Sun. Daniel graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Media Arts from Southern Methodist University and has constantly pursued his passion for filmmaking. He is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Peru for Paz y Esperanza in Moyobamba. He gives thanks to God he paid attention in Spanish class cause it's paying off now.
Like any good Texan I'm incredibly proud of where I'm from. I was born and raised in Dallas. I grew up in the Friday Night Lights football culture. The oversized-mums-sweet-tea-and-pecan-pie culture. We're home to Mathew McConaughey, Beyoncé, Owen Wilson, Wes Anderson, and 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin. We invented the margarita machine (you're welcome.) George Bush Jr. spoke at my college graduation ceremony. Whataburger is a State specialty and if you've never been to Bucee's then you've never really seen Texas at it's finest.
I'm proud enough of my heritage to claim ownership of it. By claiming ownership, however, I take responsibility for it's flaws as much as it's perks. That often means I have to explain when news stories pop up featuring discrimination, hate, aggression, or even violence. I have to explain to many people that Texas isn't only what you see in the news. Not all of Texas is represented by it's politicians or it’s businessmen. I have to apologize a lot, but I willingly accept this responsibility.
Michael Crichton once wrote “When we acknowledge a problem we accept responsibility for it.”
By denying a problem exists we aren’t required to address it. That’s exactly the same mindset major corporations prey upon. Climate change naysayers repeat over and over again: “The science is inconclusive.”
Nobody can say oil and gas companies ruin our environment because theynever witness it. News may leak every now and then about a horrific spill, but the daily horrors never get noticed. Like Thomas, we have to touch the wounds with our own hands to believe.
Unlike Thomas, however, many of us have seen, but continue to disbelieve. What can we do about an issue as big as our planet? How can one person contribute to ‘defeating’ environmental degradation? That’s the American mindset.
Peruvians live amongst the catastrophic consequences of unchecked mining, oil, and gas operations. Entire tribes fall sick because of runoff into their water source. Major corporations buy up their land, evict them, and leave them with nothing and nowhere to go. I know. I’ve seen it firsthand. I witnessed the kind of desolation and destruction caused solely by these businesses. However bad I could imagine it; it was significantly worse.
Stop Feeding the Bears
Rev. Jacob Bolton is the Associate Pastor of Huguenot Memorial Church in Pelham, New York. Jacob is a Certified Christian Educator and a GreenFaith Senior Fellow.
I was raised in a small town in rural Michigan. We had forests and fields, we had ice and snow. As a child I would hike through the woods with friends, not needing trails, to take us “there and back again;” just needing our sense of adventure and our canine companions. We would swim, we would sail; I learned through my outdoors familiarity that one could experience, could immerse one’s self in the divine while in nature, for experiencing creation provided me with an opportunity to participate with and praise God, in a fashion that in my formative years seemed pure and true. Now along with hiking, camping and the like, one of my most vivid childhood memories, a memory I have of great bonding, is that we would hop in our family car, drive to the dump, and feed the bears.
Now feeding the bears may sound a tad bizarre, but that is what we did for fun, along with a good portion of our village, on random summer nights. We would order two pizzas from Jim’s Pizza Shop, one for us, one for the bears, drive out to the dump, where we would all have supper together. I vividly remember my dad hand feeding black bears slices of pizza from the front seat of our car.
Of course I was never allowed to feed the bears by hand because I wasn’t old enough; I had to sort of lob slices of pizza toward them. And by the time I was around eleven or twelve, the dump closed so the fun was over. But as I reflect on this fond memory, it has become clear that this was not the greatest of pass times.
Let’s look at the issues; first our town had a dump. Not good. Second, we were infringing on the bears habitat, they were not learning how to hunt, scavenge or act as bears do, and they merely became entertainment. But third, what was the message that was being passed on to younger generations, or the message to new people who moved into town when we showed them that this was a really great time? Who was looking at this situation and saying, “This isn’t right. Enough already.”
Now I am not throwing my parents, or grandparents, or anyone’s forbearers under the bus here. As a father of two, I know the spiritual undertaking of raising children. The holy duty has only deepened my prayer life. But, we are certainly not the first generation of people to realize that there has been a shift in our reality that a new way of thinking has emerged. There is wisdom to share and it is imperative that we seize the moment and act. Sacred texts from all traditions share the wisdom of generations; wisdom that we must interpret and put into practice, as we strive to heal our world and ourselves.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has played a faithful role in interpreting that wisdom and then applying it to the world. There is no doubt that she has left her mark on the minds and hearts of those who will shortly gather in Portland. And when it comes to caring for creation, it is in fact the Weaver of the Universe that calls us back to protect, to till, and to serve it. And so friends, our time is now. We are called to act upon that wisdom, as a people and community of faith.
Which brings me back to the community feeding bears at the dump. While this may have been a thrilling activity, I certainly can’t look back on that experience without chagrin. This unintentional “eco -tourism” was certainly not healthy, or safe, for either the humans or the bears. This juxtaposition represents a much larger issue that the world faces in relation to the concept of earth care, and that issue is our relationship with fossil fuels.
The way we destroy the foundations of the earth, rip apart the birdsong canopy, and suck dry the underground oceans of carbon that fuel our lifestyle is wearing away at our collective souls. Not only are we depleting our resources viciously fast, but people are benefiting from the complete exploitation of entire communities. Neighborhoods are raising a generation of children who suffer from asthma due to intense smog. Watersheds are being destroyed. Multi-year droughts are happening right now. As a people of God, as a denomination, we are at that time when someone must stand up and say, “Enough, this isn’t right. There has to be a better way.”
And so PC(USA) it is time to stop feeding the bears at the dump. I say this as a pastor in a community that is still emerging from Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it caused. I say this as we continue to experience the hottest years ever recorded. We need to divest from fossil fuels, and join the anthemic chorus of denominations, schools, municipalities, and institutions that are boldly proclaiming the time is now. We are all pilgrims along the journey of faith, and if the intention is to apply the sacred wisdom found in our sacred text, if we want to appreciate creation, in all her beauty and mystique, we must learn that we can no longer feed the bears. For the bears in my story were the harmless, oppressed members of God’s great Web of Life, but the bears we are feeding now are savage, and have already bitten us back. They have bitten us back in cycles that are incredibly difficult to escape, in cycles that perpetuate dependence and over consumption, and cycles that cast aside, “the least of these.”
The time is now. There has to be a better way. It is time to stop feeding the bears.
by Ben Heimach-Snipes
Discerning a faithful path for our financial relationship to the fossil fuel industry has been a major part of my experience as a leader in the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. As a new leader, I relied heavily on the wisdom of my elders who built the PPF endowment to maintain the work of peacemaking for future generations. Like all forms of divestment, there were questions about ethics, about the bottom line, and about our relationships to corporations and employees who would be affected. We took time to discern our answers to all these questions and found new ones too!
Finding a Foundation
I got excited about fossil fuel divestment at the 2014 General Assembly when I first found out about Fossil Free PCUSA. I supported their message as an advocate for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. There was obvious overlap between peacemaking and environmental justice, however this was a new issue to PPF, and our focus was on supporting divestment from three companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine. When the fossil fuel overture failed to pass, it still made waves within our group.
This became very personal for me as I spent the August 2014 in the farming communities of central Colombia where the oil industry has had a tremendous impact on local communities. My wife, Abbi, and I were part of a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation. We learned there was a direct geographical correlation between access to oil and incidence of violence. I learned from these communities that if their land becomes valuable because of a natural resource like oil, they are violently forced to leave, and there is no legal system to protect them. Many don’t survive. Abbi and I brought these stories back with us from Colombia.
Questioning Our Investments
In September, we flew to Stony Point in New York for the National Committee Meeting of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. On the first day we had breakout sessions to discuss organizational issues in greater depth. Abbi and I had our experience of Colombia fresh on our minds. As people spoke up to form groups I felt my heart start to race as my face got hot. “God, what does this mean?!” I thought. I needed to say something, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. At the last second before the groups split up, I raised my hand and said, “I need to say something about how we invest our money. We have divested from the occupation of Palestine, so what is next?” Somehow people spoke up and we formed a group.
I have experienced PPF as an older organization that is intentionally inviting and embracing my generation in its work and leadership. The National Committee had nominated my wife, Abbi, and me to join the leadership before either of us had a reputation for peace activism. We were quickly trusted and given authority to run with new projects. So, I was excited to gather in the empty Stony Point cafeteria with four other young adults in awe of our task to discuss the investment practices of our PPF family. After our conversation, Aric Clark wrote, “We believe it is time for us to commit to applying the logic of nonviolence thoroughly and sensitively to our finances… We envision this not as a once and for all event, but as a perpetual process tied to the liturgical structure of confession and repentance.” We were not seeking purity, but moral transparency. My generation of PPF leaders were enthusiastically affirmed by the National Committee who voted to take up this challenge starting with a closer look at the issue of Fossil Fuels.
Discerning Our Call
Our discussion group was recruited onto the endowment committee and by winter time, the committee had committed to six months of discernment around investments in fossil fuels. Our committee became a reading group. Colleen Earp brought PCUSA documents on fossil fuels as well as articles from Market Watch and even Rolling Stone to grasp what environmentalists and investors alike were saying about fossil fuel divestment. Terra Winston brought her experiences with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Colombia, Canada and Iraqi Kurdistan which have each experienced violence influenced by the fossil fuel industry. We discussed the long term impacts of global warming and the current impacts of the fossil fuel industries on vulnerable communities. Some of us had spent time in Colombia as accompaniers with internally displaced people in congregations of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia. Violence and displacement caused by land grabbing corporations was not a new concept for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. However, shifting our divestment approach from limited geographic boundaries, as in occupied Palestine, to global industry categories such as fossil fuels was a significant step to take.
Jan Orr-Harter articulated our main concern: divesting from the industry removed our influence as stake holders to demand change from fossil fuel companies. The problem with maintaining this form of influence, as Abby Mohaupt expressed to our group in the spring, was that demanding fossil fuel companies stop extracting, processing and selling fossil fuels is as futile as asking a beaver to stop damming up the river. That’s just what they do. It’s in the name of their industry. Stepping away from the industry does not make it more difficult to invest in sustainable energy companies. It allows us to move our investing closer to our ethical mandate as Christians and remove confidence from a violent industry.
This was especially evident as we looked into the technical process of divesting from fossil fuel companies. Our endowment is held with the New Covenant Trust Company, which came out of the Presbyterian Foundation and engages the values of the PC(USA). When we asked about divesting from fossil fuels, our investment manager gave us a Sustainability Survey where one of the many options was to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies. This was informed by the Carbon Tracker Initiative which creates an annual list of 200 companies with the largest reserves of fossil fuels in the world. This is the same research-informed list that Fossil Free PC(USA) is advocating for. By checking the box on this survey, we were able to divest from the companies that have the greatest influence on current and future violence related to fossil fuel extraction and pollution. They really made it that simple! Our committee agreed to recommend the divestment action for PPF.
In the Fall of 2015, the Activist Council met for the first time as the new governing body of PPF. The first action of the council was to divest from fossil fuels! Co-Director Emily Brewer said, “For our children, grandchildren and those who come after them, unmitigated climate change will lead to a future of war and violence… On this most complex issue, we act out of faith in a creator God and a love for creation itself.” One major aspect of this action was to promote alternative energy industries to counter act jobs lost in the fossil fuel industry.
Love for the earth does not make me stand against job creation. I believe in a world where there is enough creativity with God to create new jobs in old places, to protect our families with wind farms rather than warfare. I am proud of the work of PPF to divest from the Carbon Tracker 200 and will continue to seek ways to diminish fossil fuel use in my personal and institutional life. It is an affirmation of God’s gift of life to me.
Ben Heimach-Snipes is a resident chaplain at Rush University Medical Center and a candidate for ministry in Whitewater Valley Presbytery. He is now serving as the assistant treasurer of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. He lives in Chicago with his wife Abbi.
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, reminds us that we can use our moral authority to send a message to the fossil fuel industry. The time is now.
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