The author would like to note that the opinions expressed here are the author’s alone.
When I came to General Assembly, I’d already spent three years of my life working on divestment from fossil fuels. Fossil Free PCUSA was born in 2013, and in the last year we’ve worked with Presbyterians around country to organize 31 presbyteries to concur with the overture On PC(USA) Fossil Fuel Divestment (9-01). Nine moderators of past General Assemblies have also signed a letter in support of divestment.
A couple of months ago at the NEXT Church Conference, I ran into my friend Rob Fohr, a staff member for Mission Responsibility Through Investments (MRTI), the committee that was tasked with responding to the 221st General Assembly overture on divestment. Rob and I talked about how we wanted to make the conversation about divestment from fossil fuels a faithful and civil conversation. So Rob introduced me to Mike Cole, from New Covenant Presbytery. New Covenant Presbytery had put together three overtures that offered alternatives to divestment.
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.
Mike and Rob and I (and several others) talked and worked together to prepare for General Assembly. And since we’ve been here, together (with Kerri Allen), we presented to the Young Adult Advisory Delegates. Together we prepared to talk to the Theological School Advisory Delegates. And Mike and I bought donuts for the whole committee 9 when we met with several committee members to talk about the overtures we supported.
It continues to be a gift to know each of these people, and I’m honored to call them my friends.
Later in Committee 9, I spoke as an overture advocate for 9-01, on behalf of 31 Presbyteries with almost 400,000 members saying:
As a teaching elder, I often talk with Presbyterians about how the authors of Genesis put forth our original vocation as human beings—to love creation—and that that love for creation is a response to God’s love for us. In the New Testament, Jesus reminds us that the greatest commandment is about love: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.” (Matthew 22, Common English Bible)
We have to love God and creation with our whole selves.
Climate change means we must change how we treat creation, with all our hearts, all our being, all our strength…and for us in the United States, a great symbol of that is our wallets.
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.
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.
But again, it’s more than just about money. Money is symbol of where our hearts are….for where our treasure is, so are our hearts.
After other overture advocates presented, the committee deliberated for many hours. They wrestled with how to respond to the overtures, particularly paying attention to how to care for people working in the fossil fuel industry as well as for people who are already directly affected by climate change.
In the end, the committee voted to approve Overture 9-01 without amendments (the vote was 31-25). They then removed any mention of divestment from 9-02, 9-03, 9-04, overtures that together with 9-01 create an incredible package of overtures that call us to do everything we can to care for creation. Finally, the committee recommended that 9-01 be a response to the report from MRTI (9-09).
The committee will report to plenary on Friday afternoon.
Since the committee met, there was been a minority report filed.
Additionally, two former moderators, Rick Ufford-Chase and Susan Andrews—who have in the past been divided on issues of divestment—penned a pastoral letter to the 222nd General Assembly, saying that they had heard the voices of concern for people. In addition, the letter says:
This overture came to our Assembly with support from thirty-one Presbyteries and represents a grass-roots movement of Presbyterians across the country who place this concern at the heart of their faith. We must not shrink from the call God has given us to care for creation. Our action to divest sends a strong message to these companies that we cannot and will not ignore this threat any longer.
Even as we act to divest from companies dedicated to fossil fuel extraction, we can and we must stand in solidarity with those who will feel the greatest burden. That is what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ. If we divest without a commitment to support one another, our action will fall short of God’s deepest desire for God’s people. But if we seize this moment to live boldly and with love, our care for one another can strengthen the whole church even as our prophetic action can make a critical difference in the global effort to stop climate change.
Their letter reminds us that as we go into a plenary discussion about divestment from fossil fuels, we must care for creation—and each other—with our whole selves. God calls us to it.
AUTHOR BIO: Rev. Abby Mohaupt is a teaching elder in Northern California serving a resource center for farmworkers and families. An artist and long distance runner, she is also a member of the Fossil Free PCUSA Steering Committee.