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First, I am in favor of the Presbyterian Church divesting from our holdings with fossil fuel companies.

This week I am at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Portland. This is a body that deliberates and discerns the positions and postures of our denomination at a national level. Every two years we gather and discuss many important issues that impact communities large and small, that impact social and cultural change, that change our structures, that affirm and reject theological, political, or social doctrine — basically it’s a big ol’ family reunion where we CHOOSE to talk about all of those things that people say you shouldn’t talk about because folks will just fight.

And while we do not always “fight” well, I am one of those who believes that is it only through conflict and tension that we move into who God call’s up to become: as individuals, as communities, and, yes, as institutions.

You can follow along with the business of the church on PC-Biz, watch most of the plenaries online, and track it all on Guidebook, but the one questions before the General Assembly this year that is bound to receive a great deal of attention is whether or not our denomination divests from all holdings with fossil fuel companies.

As of now (and it will change as it goes through committee) the overture reads:

1. Express its profound concern about the destructive effects of climate change on all God’s creation, including a disproportionate impact on those living in poverty and in the least developed countries; the elderly and children; and those least responsible for the emissions of greenhouse gases. The 222nd General Assembly (2016) thus recognizes the moral mandate for humanity to shift to a sustainable energy regime in a way that is both just and compassionate. This mandate compels us to action as a denomination to divest from the fossil fuel industry even as we reduce our use of fossil fuels and shrink our carbon footprint.

2. Call upon the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation to:

a. Immediately stop any new direct investment in fossil fuel companies

b. Work to ensure that within three years, none of the Board’s or the Foundation’s directly held or commingled assets includes holdings of either equities or corporate bonds in the fossil fuel companies identified in the Carbon Underground 200 list[1] by:

i. Working with current and prospective asset managers to develop and implement institutional fossil free investment options

ii. Establishing within one year fossil free investment options for fund participants

iii. Actively seeking out and investing in renewable and energy efficiency related securities

iv. Notwithstanding the above provisions, retaining or acquiring minimal sufficient investment in fossil fuel companies to participate in shareholder engagement activities

v. Notwithstanding the above provisions, taking no action inconsistent with fiduciary duty or principles of sound investment, including the real and substantial risk of stranded carbon assets

c. Incorporate into public financial reports regular updates detailing progress made towards these ends

3. Call upon the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) to inform affected fossil fuel companies and the larger public of the passage and implementation of this resolution

4. Call upon, and provide instructional materials to assist all levels of the denomination (presbyteries, congregations, and individual members) in taking action to slow climate change, including: divestment of fossil fuel holdings; shareholder activism; investments in renewable energy; advocacy at local, state, and federal levels for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and local efforts to reduce carbon footprint consistent with the 2006 call[2] for denominational carbon neutrality, and the 2008 “Power to Change” recommendations.

Some former Moderators, including myself have signed a letter in support of the overture,

Climate change degrades all of God’s creation.  It disproportionately impacts those living in poverty and in the least developed countries; the elderly and children; and those least responsible for the emissions of greenhouse gases.

The fossil fuel industry has known about these impacts, from its own research, since the late 1970’s.  In response, it has used its enormous political and financial power to fund the climate skeptic movement, to prevent climate change legislation from passage in the US Congress through its lobbying efforts, and continues to receive billions in government subsidies while spending billions searching for new sources of fossil fuels that we can’t afford to burn. This is not an industry that is demonstrating an intention to change at anything approaching the scale needed to create a livable future.

Read the entire letter here. The following former mods are signatures.

  • Harriet Nelson, Moderator, 196th General Assembly
  • Benjamin Weir, Moderator, 198th General Assembly
  • John Fife, Moderator, 204th General Assembly
  • Robert W. Bohl, Moderator, 206th General Assembly
  • Jack Rogers, Moderator, 213th General Assembly
  • Fahed Abu-Akel, Moderator, 214th General Assembly
  • Susan Andrews, Moderator, 215th General Assembly
  • Rick Ufford-Chase, Moderator, 216th General Assembly
  • Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator 218th General Assembly

And these are some words from Gary Simpson . . .

What happens when the irresistible force of Mother Nature meets the immovable object of humanity’s decadence and depravity that place profits before people and the consumptive commerce of greed before the benevolent business of God? If life on a hospitable planet is to continue, something has to change. That something will not be Mother Nature. Her laws of physics are locked in time and space.

Therefore, we Homo sapiens must change.

God’s stewards of Creation are boldly and urgently leading the march to the moral high ground. By divesting their financial holdings in companies that refuse to “keep it in the ground,” they are witnessing to the moral imperative that proclaims, “If it’s wrong to wreck God’s Creation, then it’s also wrong to profit from that wreckage.”

The time has come and gone to ponder the past, deliberate options, and pray for patience. Now is the time for the PC(USA) to join with others who have faithful worked to bend the long arc of the moral universe in the direction of climate justice.

Because Nature will not move, let the people move to adopt the new and improved 2016 Fossil Fuel Divestment Overture with a loud AMEN!

Learn more about a Fossil Free PCUSA at or follow us on facebook or twitter.

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