Pittsboro Presbyterian Church asks Salem Presbytery to add its name to the list of presbyteries in concurrence with the upcoming General Assembly Overture [OVT-034] On Fossil Fuel Divestment to encourage our denomination to divest its funds from corporations making their money off of fossil fuels. Parkway Presbyterian’s session (and possibly others) have also voted to join in urging the Presbytery to take this action.
The Overture with which Salem Presbytery is being asked to concur officially says:
This item was referred from the 224th General Assembly (2020) for consideration during the 225th General Assembly (2022).
The Presbytery of Monmouth overtures the 224th General Assembly (2020) to:
- Recognize that fossil fuels have been used by humans to create a better world for many people and that the time of their usefulness is now over.
- Recognize that divestment from fossil fuels is a viable approach to the climate emergency, which thousands of other institutions have used to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for their inadequate responses to this emergency.
- Commend Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) for their ongoing work with shareholder engagement to hold these industries accountable to the just and equitable values that Presbyterians seek to uphold.
- Call on the PC(USA), The Presbyterian Foundation, the Board of Pensions, and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, Inc., to divest from the fossil fuel industry, using the Carbon Underground 200 and the S&P Global Industry Classification Standard’s list of publicly traded companies engaged in coal, oil, and gas exploration, extraction, and production as the criteria to identify which companies are considered to be fossil fuel companies.
- Proscribe (stop) any new investments in fossil fuel industry securities.
- Instruct the Presbyterian Mission Agency, through MRTI, to correspond through form letter to all fossil fuel companies and presbyteries in which they are headquartered of the action and the theological and moral rationale for this decision.
- Encourage the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation to actively seek out and invest in securities of companies whose predominant focus is in renewable and/or energy efficiency.
- Direct the Presbyterian Mission Agency, through MRTI, to monitor the Board of Pensions and Presbyterian Foundation on actions to divest/invest and to report to the 225th General Assembly (2022) on their progress in implementing Recommendations 4-7.
The official language and rationale’s can be found at https://www.pc-biz.org/#/search/3000876.
Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.
More Articles of Information
By Rev. Christopher De La Cruz
How much longer do we have to wait?
With the existential crisis of climate change looming over our world, a global movement of over 1,000 institutions have made commitments (https://gofossilfree.org/divestment/commitments/) of over $11 trillion to divest funds from fossil fuel companies. Many major religious institutions have shown radical leadership, including the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the World Council of Churches. In fact religious institutions make up the largest share of those divesting. Mainstream institutions as diverse as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the University of Glasgow, New York City (yes, the government of one of the biggest cities in the world), and the country of Ireland have all committed to divestment.
But when Fossil Free PCUSA and representatives from 12 presbyteries – a group that has since then grown to at least 40 supporting presbyteries – called on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to join this worldwide moral movement to take a stand for God’s world and the future for our children, they were given a message.
Wait for the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) – for Presbyterians, there’s always a committee – to tell the fossil fuel companies to behave. We will sit down with them, we will have a seat at the table, and we will push them toward responsible behavior.
Well, after a directive at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) to establish standards to evaluate companies’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) issue, we now have the report card (https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/mrti-shares-first-round-of-general-assembly-environmental-compliance-scores/?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Presbyterian+Church+USA+Weekly+News&utm_campaign=Presbyterian+Church+USA+Weekly+News+%7C+Sep+04-10+2019) for nine companies – energy companies Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy and automotive manufacturers Ford and General Motors.
So how is waiting for a seat at the table going?
Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy, scored the lowest tier of “Red,” meaning “overall, company may have poor record of shareholder engagement, poor record on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Company may or may not acknowledge importance of ESG issues.” Chevron and Exxon are in the next highest, “Orange.”
No company scored “Green,” the highest tier. And the only companies that scored the next highest, “Blue,” were the auto companies – that is, none of the energy companies.
“We’ve communicated in writing to all nine companies and have had conversations with a few about the first-year scoring,” Joseph Kinard, chair of MRTI, said. “The companies are appreciative of our transparency.”
That’s great they’re appreciative. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that countries would have to cut their carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by around 2050 in order to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Basically, we have to be on a path to fall by about 45 percent by around 2030 to reverse the worse case scenarios. Even then, we are still looking at unsustainable migration, hurricanes, flooding, droughts, food shortages, unprecedented ecosystem disruption and animal extinction, and of course a level of human suffering that we have yet to see, and yet we have at least some control to act against.
How much longer do we have to wait?
“By the end of this campaign in 2023 we will have a clear idea which of these companies are moving towards a low-carbon future and which are not,” Rob Fohr, Director of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said.
So, 2023 until we can have an idea? People dealing with so-called environmental issues – the vast majority of which affect humanity the most – are often labeled utopian and idealists. But is there anything less practical and more idealist than truly believing we have all this time to write letters to multinational corporations hoping they may someday budge without a major incentive?
If you want to talk about the world as it is, the best way to move fossil fuel companies is a real show of denominational force as part of a global mainstream movement that includes major world cities and multiple educational and religious institutions.
We have waited long enough. Our children have waited long enough. Rarely in life does the clearly moral answer and clearly practical answer align like this. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), divest funds from fossil fuels.
At this point, divesting from fossil fuel companies is not even an overly outlier or idealist position, judging from the $11 trillion – and counting – already committed. Frankly, we can’t claim the mantle of radical leadership as much as simply getting onboard a moving train. Of course, when it comes to a moral movement with our world in the balance, better late than never!
But not too late. Time is ticking.
Rev. Christopher De La Cruz is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens.
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:
- The climate is always changing, so the burning of fossil fuels can’t be causing it.
- We all use fossil fuels, so opposing their use exposes us as hypocrites.
- People lose their jobs when we switch to renewable energy.
- Other countries produce more emissions than the US (naming China and India).
- We have no good alternatives.
- (And this one is new.) The fossil fuel companies are switching to renewable energy, so we should continue supporting them.
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:
- Request that a workshop be held at the presbytery meeting where we can propose our alternatives and answer questions.
- Distribute a question-and answer-handout in the commissioners’ packets that addresses what people may hear at the meeting.
- Ask in advance for support from informed supportive commissioners during the pro-and-con debate.
- Write columns in advance in the monthly presbytery newsletter.
- Address anticipated arguments in your opening remarks.
- Provide an insert for church bulletins.
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.
In January of 2019, almost one year ago, I was ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA). Being ordained meant a lot of changes. It meant I could now serve in my first call in a small church in central Arkansas. It meant I was given the title Reverend. It meant I could preside over communion, perform baptisms, and officiate weddings. It also meant that I became a member of the Board of Pensions (BOP).
In the past year, as part of my terms of call, my church has paid around $13,000 to the BOP. This money covers my insurance, as well as my pension plan. But the money paid to the BOP for my pension does not simply sit in a bank account. It is invested. When we debate whether or not our denomination should hold investments in certain companies, I think many people in the pews don’t fully understand where the money from investments comes from, and what it is used for. That is money that our members give in tithes and offerings each week. It is from the part of the budget used to support their pastors so that we may be free to do the work we are called to do. The earnings from those investments will be what their pastors live off of once we retire.
We should care what those investments are being used for by the companies that we entrust our money to. We should care where our investment earnings are coming from.
Three years before I became a member of the BOP, I was drawn, somewhat unwillingly, into the debate over fossil fuel divestment. In 2016, I was assigned to the committee for Immigration and Environmental Issues as a seminary advisory delegate to General Assembly. I arrived in Portland completely overwhelmed by the complicated debate and with no idea how I was going to vote. What ultimately swayed me in favor of divestment was the testimonies of human rights abuses committed by the fossil fuel industry around the world. Companies that we invest in are using our money, the money our members give each week to further the work of the church, to harm people and creation. I was already outraged, but when I became a member of the BOP a year ago it became even more personal. How can I in good conscious let my church send that money to the BOP knowing where it was going? How can I someday use that money when I am retired knowing where it came from?
Shortly after beginning my call, I received information concerning enrollment in the Retirement Savings Plan (RSP) offered through Fidelity Investments. This is an optional savings plan that PC(USA) clergy can choose to invest in, in order to supplement their pension income after retirement. Of the thirteen different investment options offered by the RSP, I was surprised to discover that only two follow the PC(USA) guidelines for divestment. Those guidelines lay out which companies we do not invest in for ethical reasons related to either business practices or what they produce. But for those, like me, who want to avoid investment in the fossil fuel industry, there is another option. I was able to use the guide written by Fossil Free PC(USA) to successfully enroll my retirement savings in the Pax Global Environmental Markets Fund, ensuring a fossil fuel free portfolio.[i]
But this raised the question: if Fidelity Investments can offer a fossil fuel free investment option, shouldn’t the BOP have the same option? Recently I contacted the BOP to find out if it was in fact possible to divest my own pension from fossil fuels. First, I submitted a request for a list of companies which the BOP invests in, as well as which companies my own pension funds are invested in. I was told the information was in the mail. A week later I received a packet containing the Annual Review,[ii] which is available on the BOP website and contained none of the information I requested. I contacted them again, this time by phone, only to be told that such requests needed to go through the same email I had already contacted before. So, I sent another email, this time specifying that what I had received was not what I requested and reiterating my reasons for requesting that information. They would not send information concerning which companies the BOP invests in and informed me that there is only one investment portfolio and therefore individuals cannot divest their pensions.
The time that I spent trying to contact the BOP and being passed from person to person seems to have been in vain, but it also raises several important questions. First, why is the BOP opposed to letting members know which companies our money is invested in? As members, don’t we have a right to that information? And second, why is the BOP unable to create a fossil free portfolio? Fidelity Investments offers a fossil free option for the RSP, and the Presbyterian Foundation now has an option for churches and mid-councils through the New Covenant Trust Company.[iii] While the BOP continues to fight against divestment at GA alongside MRTI, the least they could do is offer a fossil free option to their members who want to ensure their money is not being used to do harm.
Rev. Ainsley Herrick is Pastor of Morrilton First Presbyterian Church in Morrilton Arkansas.