Both FFPCUSA and MRTI recommendations can pass the General Assembly
We are living amid an existential and devastating climate crisis, demanding a moral and theological response across global institutions. The urgency of this crisis has only escalated since fossil fuel divestment was first introduced at the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly in 2014.
At that time and in the years since, there is one thing that Fossil Free PCUSA (FFPCUSA) and the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) have agreed upon: the gravity of the crisis requires an urgent and robust response.
More people than ever before are experiencing stronger and more frequent storms and higher temperatures. More people than ever before have faced flooding and droughts and loss of livelihood and homes. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (which is compiled by scientists and researchers who are experts in their climate-related fields) suggests that the world has only until 2030 to make meaningful changes before some of the realities of climate change will remain inevitable.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) needs to be part of that meaningful response. Over the years, we — FFPCUSA and MRTI– have disagreed on the strategies to be included, but this year we have aligned on what action should be taken at the 225th General Assembly. In a few short weeks, commissioners will have several different options to consider regarding divestment from fossil fuels. However, there is one strategy that assures that the Presbyterian Church (USA) does more than engage in performative activism. It makes a bold and prophetic statement that singles out the worst actors on climate change and environmental justice. It is a strategy that has a brave vision and practical action steps.
ENV-07 “On Fossil Fuel Divestment” recognizes that fossil fuels have been useful to the world in the past but now cause harm to God’s creation. It commends MRTI for its ongoing work in shareholder engagement and names financial divestment from fossil fuels a tactic that will best create meaningful movement in this particular time of climate change. It calls for PC(USA) entities to divest and it calls for ongoing accountability to that process to go through MRTI. It casts a vision for a PC(USA) that does not rely on fossil fuels in our investments.
This prophetic overture can accompany MRTI’s recommendation, ENV-10, to add five companies to the General Assembly Divestment list: Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy. This recommendation comes after years of engagement and maps a way forward to hold accountable these companies most out of alignment with the General Assembly’s environmental policies,(see MRTI Guidelines Metrics).
MRTI and FFPCUSA also agree that these divestment recommendations do not go far enough for substantive impact on the ecological crisis. Our Reformed tradition teaches us to use our privilege and leverage it toward a most just world. The Gospel of Jesus prods us to continue across multiple spheres to organize for substantial change that disrupts the status quo and centers God’s creation.
Selective divestment, even categorical divestment alone, will not solve the climate crisis and the impact on our planet and the most vulnerable human beings of our world. But selective divestment is the best tool available to us at this time because it is the only way in which the investing agencies related to the General Assembly (the Board of Pensions and Presbyterian Foundation) can implement this type of divestment recommendation from the General Assembly. We also know it is a tool that gets the attention of companies that are not compliant with Presbyterian values. Companies take notice when they are called out specifically.
The 196th GA (1984) adopted the policy, “The Use of Divestment as an Ethical Strategy”. The detailed, thoughtful policy outlines seven criteria guiding divestment recommendations. Those same criteria guide trustees of related institutions and organizations throughout the church. MRTI works to faithfully follow this policy and ENV-10 outlines this in more detail.
At the core of our Presbyterian polity and theology is an understanding of mutual responsibility and accountability. We’re not just a collection of individuals; we’ve covenanted to be in relationship and community with one another, with the messiness that is part of living together and valuing one another in diversity and humanity. Thanks to FFPCUSA pushing MRTI, MRTI has very conscientiously engaged communities impacted by climate change and by corporate activities. MRTI has received international reports from mission co-workers and from communities losing their homes and livelihoods due to eroding coastline. These actions also align with the 1984 Divestment as Strategy policy.
We are grateful for the grassroots efforts that have kept the climate crisis front and center. And thanks to MRTI pushing FFPCUSA, these grassroots efforts have been more intentional about interrogating the role of racism in the fossil fuel industry and in the divestment movement itself. There is more work to be done here, as racial justice is climate justice and it cannot be performative.
MRTI’s work, our denominational work, does not end with this divestment decision. We will continue to engage with companies and push them to take meaningful action to address the climate crisis.
The work is not done. That means organizing to hold accountable policy makers as well as banks and insurance companies who finance and underwrite new fossil fuel projects. It means including climate and environmental justice in worship and Christian Education. It means listening to and centering the voices of communities that have been marginalized by fossil fuel companies because of their race and/or economic status. Our divestment from fossil fuels is faithful, decent, and in order. Our engagement and targeting of these five companies – companies disproportionately contributing to the climate crisis and leading to so much suffering – is faithful, decent, and in order. Our faithful response to the biblical mandate to love God, love each other and love creation does not end with divestment or engagement. As Reformed Christians, we will keep striving to meet God’s grace– together.
This Op/Ed was co-written by Fossil Free PCUSA and the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment of the Presbyterian Church (USA).