Overture urges divestment in fossil-fuel companies

June 21, 2016

Bill Bess speaks to the Immigration and Environmental Issues Committee.

Bill Bess speaks to the Immigration and Environmental Issues Committee. —Michael Whitman

Portland

A recommendation that all agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)stop investing directly in fossil-fuel companies was approved Monday by the Immigration and Environmental Issues Committee of the 222ndGeneral Assembly (2016).

By a 31-25 vote, the committee recommended that the full assembly approve the overture when it is presented later this week. However, as with all other GA committee action, the recommendation does not become final until the committee submits its report.

The overture from the Presbytery of SanFrancisco, with the concurrence of 29 other presbyteries, calls on the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation to ensure that within three years, none of their assets are invested in fossil-fuel companies.

It calls for development of fossil-fuel-free investment options for fund participants, and for investing in securities of companies in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

It also calls upon church agencies to provide instructional materials to help Presbyterians at all levels – local, regional and national – to take action to slow climate change.

The committee considered and rejected a number of substitute motions before taking up the divestment overture. It heard from dozens of people on both sides of the issue.

Stuart Ours, who identified himself as an investor from Newton Presbytery, said the efforts of the denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investments “has made good efforts” to pressure corporations to change some of their practices “but to no avail.”

“For the sake of the good earth and pastors’ pensions,” he said, “we must divest with all deliberate speed.”

Others recommended a go-slow or selective-divestment approach. “We need to identify those companies who are not complying, and be prepared to divest from them,” said Mike Cole, general presbyter of the Presbytery of New Covenant.

Derek Browning of the Church of Scotland said: “Your mother church is waiting for you to join us” [in divesting]. Mother Nature is telling us something, too.”

Ron Sutto, general presbyter at the Presbytery of South Louisiana, argued that the church “must raise its pastoral voice and speak to those most affected by divestment.”

“You guys are killing me,” said committee member David Green of the Presbytery of the New Covenant, who lives in a region of the country – the greater Houston area – where millions of people make their living in fossil-fuel and related industries. “Please, please, please help me have something that says to them they have a place in the PC(USA).”

Nathan Lamb of the Des Moines Presbytery said the overture “sends a powerful statement, especially to our youth. This motion refers to the act of doing it right now.”

Doug Early of Seattle Presbytery said he favors the overture because “in my liberal city, it’s an evangelistic tool.”

Committee Moderator Peter Hulac of Denver Presbytery said that although the committee struggled for hours with “this serious overture, it was a creative struggle that I think got us where we needed to go.” He added, “It was good to know that the minority viewpoint was honored.”

Well into the evening, the committee considered overtures from the Presbytery of New Covenant affirming the denomination’s faithful response to climate change and its call to repent for Presbyterians’ “inadequate stewardship of God’s creation.”

Those overtures were approved with amendments.

Committee members decided that the MRTI report on divestment was answered by its action on this related overture.

The committee also approved, by a vote of 57-2, an overture from the Presbytery of Santa Fe urging the church to communicate its gratitude to Pope Francis I for his Encyclical, “Laudato Si’, mi’ Signore,” (“Praise be to you, my Lord”) which addresses the world’s ecological crisis. The overture also recommends that Presbyterians study the document.

  1. I question if any of the committee know that to plant, cultivate, harvest and process an acre of corn requires the equivalent of eighty gallon of diesel fuel. Are they ready to raise their own food? I doubt if any have ever walked behind a turning plow hitched to a team of horses or oxen. Maybe they should try this before making such a decision.

    by Danny Ball

    June 22, 2016

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