Every time the fossil fuel divestment overture comes before the Florida Presbytery, it faces strong opposition. This year was no different.
For twenty years, as the Caring for Creation Enabler for the presbytery, I have worked with its churches and members on climate justice issues, writing columns, holding workshops, sharing information and giving presentations. Members of this presbytery have had plenty of exposure to climate change information as well as to the reasons why fossil fuel divestment is important.
Since 2014, they have concurred with the fossil fuel divestment overture three times, resoundingly rejected it once and each time many vociferously opposed it. What is going on that makes divestment so controversial?
Having worked for this overture for our denomination for seven years at our church, presbytery and General Assembly, I have witnessed repeatedly how the false narrative of the fossil fuel industry continues to sway the hearts and minds of good people. For those of you looking to pass the overture at your church and presbytery, you need to fully understand the fossil fuel industry’s arguments. These are their points that we heard this year at the Florida Presbytery meeting:
Unfortunately, at the Presbytery meeting we are given no opportunity to oppose these points. We present our recommendation and commissioners alternating pro and con respond. Then they vote. We do have some options, though to address these concerns. We can:
At the last meeting, three of us presented the overture, explaining what it is and why it is important for the denomination to categorically divest all its fossil fuel holdings. My church has divested its endowment, so we gave a status report on how it is doing financially and our minister spoke passionately about the theology and morality of divestment. Two weeks in advance we provided a question-and-answer handout to all commissioners in their meeting packet. I wrote several monthly columns on divestment leading up to the meeting and two sympathetic commissioners at the presbytery meeting agreed to speak up.
Unfortunately, the number of people opposing the overture at the microphone seemed unending. This was a surprise given how long this issue has been around and how much information has been available on divestment. And much to our surprise someone asked that the vote be by paper ballot. We were stunned and prepared ourselves to lose, but surprisingly the overture passed, by a single vote.
The strong opposition to divestment is puzzling, especially given that our area has been slammed by climate change. It is still recovering after being hit by monster Hurricane Michael in 2018 that was fueled by our abnormally warm Gulf of Mexico waters. It destroyed Mexico Beach. Ten of our churches were damaged as well as our beloved summer camp and conference center, Dogwood Acres. Our increasingly long 100 degrees F plus summers should also be a wake-up call, along with the NOAA maps showing which streets, houses and businesses can expect to be flooded with sea level rise in the next twenty to thirty years. Yet the opposition persists.
Supporting fossil fuel divestment is crucially important and worth all your time and effort. If you have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pam McVety is the Caring for Creation Enabler for Florida Presbytery.
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