by abby mohaupt
Moderator of FFPCUSA
I went to Houston on October 9 to meet with Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), the denominational committee that does shareholder engagement with publicly traded companies in which the Presbyterian Church (USA) holds stock.
As a committee, they have repeatedly resisted categorical divestment from the fossil fuel industry for several reasons, even as they believe that climate change is real. In broad strokes, there is a sense on MRTI that they must be careful to follow their mandate from General Assembly. Some members of the committee think we can’t lump the worst actors in the industry in the same category as companies who are “better.” If we divest categorically from the fossil fuel industry, some members of MRTI say, we will be shaming members of the PCUSA who work for the industry, and other members and friends of MRTI have said we might push wealthy congregations in Texas (only Texas?) out of the denomination.
This was my fourth or fifth time attending an MRTI meeting, and I was prepared for at least a deep and complicated conversation that could pit us against each other—and I was exhausted just thinking about it. In the cab to the airport after my early morning flight, I could already feel my need for more coffee growing. I said a prayer to be open-hearted.
But then I stuck my head into the room at the church where the committee was meeting, and my heart leapt. I saw the faces of the people gathered around the table, and I remembered that we each had come to the table with a deep faith in Jesus, a deep hope in the church, and a deep call to respond to climate change.
Members of Faithful Action and I joined members of MRTI at the table. A member of MRTI asked me to talk more about FFPCUSA’s recent joining with Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and I talked about our commitment to working in solidarity with people on the front lines of climate change. A member of MRTI wondered if categorical divestment from the fossil fuel industry would cause another painful schism in the denomination in which wealthy donors (and faithful Presbyterians) would leave, and I wondered if we could serve both God and money. We talked about the metrics for engaging with companies in the 2017-2018 engagement year, and I said I love them and that I wished they meant MRTI would recommend at least a few companies for divestment at the 2018 General Assembly. (Instead, MRTI believes they need to give companies a chance to see the metrics and respond to them.) We talked a little bit about why individual action to respond to climate change isn’t enough, and that we need to raise our collective voices in addition to doing all the things that the denomination already promotes for caring for creation. (If you want to see why your own personal actions aren’t enough, go fill out a carbon footprint calculator like this one, put in all the most eco-friendly options, and see how many earths you still use.) I talked about who we’re accountable to as a church—that we must be accountable to the lives of people who are already suffering because of climate change.
After the roundtable, we heard from staff at Conoco Philips (including about their climate change policy)… and I wondered aloud just how little time we have left to respond to climate change. A member of MRTI wondered aloud how long it would take us to wake up and realize that we belong to each other.
It is urgent that we remember that we belong to each other—that we are called by God to love each other and to speak out on behalf of people who suffer. We have so little time to respond, so little time to wait for the fossil fuel industry to change their policies and business model.
As I hugged members of MRTI and Faithful Action goodbye, I said a prayer of gratitude for our shared commitment to work to respond to climate change. And then I said a prayer for courage for our denomination—that we would divest from an industry that has supplied our addiction to fossil fuels.
The time is now.