by Aida Haddad
I come from the Presbytery of Ohio Valley, and I am a proud Presbyterian, Princeton Seminary graduate, and environmental scientist.
I walked 212 miles from Louisville, Kentucky to speak with you today.
And somewhere along the way—as 60 mph semi-trucks zoomed past us unavoidably within a couple arms reach, as the abnormally hot sun beat down on our brows, as our many foot blisters stung with pain, and as radically hospitable churches opened their doors to us, I found clarity about who I am as a Presbyterian.
I found my prophetic voice, or, my ability to speak the truth about our present.
And the truth is we have sinned.
The truth is we have been complicit in creating climate change refugees and killing those who can not flee, here and abroad.
The truth is we are ‘studying’ and ‘engaging’ our way to extinction.
The truth is that Oluwatosin and Jose are losing their homes because of our hardened hearts.
The truth is our hearts are hardened because we are trying over and over again to love both God and money and that is Biblically impossible.
The truth is that all hope is not lost. The truth is that we can repent. And the truth is that divestment gives us the opportunity to begin doing so.
by Ashley Bair
MRTI writes in their report that the most efficient way to discourage the burning of fossil fuels is to aggressively engage and challenge companies to reduce their carbon footprint.
If we agree that climate change is real and that human consumption of fossil fuels is the cause, then shareholder engagement is a mute point. Because the product is what is killing our people and our future. We need to get out of it now. We have decided as a church not to put our money in alcohol or tobacco or firearms or pornography - because we know better than to expect that the manufacturers would engage us in reducing or changing their harmful, destructive, deadly goods. It is not the company, it is the product.
Knowing that wetlands are disappearing, communities are dislocated, oil and gas are clogging our air and water, disease is rampant and deadly - We do not have until 2020 to make a decision on which select companies to leave, we need to say no. It is the product of fossil fuels that are deadly and from that we must faithfully choose life and divest. Now.
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.
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