When I first read the overture I thought the choice was obvious. Why wouldn’t we divest from these companies? Their entire business model is centered on products which are the direct cause of climate change. But as I read the opposing overtures, which recommended continued shareholder engagement and other solutions to combating climate change, I became thoroughly confused. The entire debate was bogged down in discussions of financial consequences and concerns about alienating people who worked in the fossil fuel industry. When I arrived in Portland for the 222nd GA I had no idea how I was going to vote. I never would have guessed that less than a week later I would stand in front of more than one thousand people to speak in favor of divestment.
That Monday was the beginning of the committee work. I arrived early to attend a meeting led by both rev. abby mohaupt from Fossil Free PC(USA) and the leader of Faithful Alternatives. The two groups represented opposite stances in the debate. I was impressed by the two leaders’ respect for one another, and how seriously everyone involved took the issue of climate change, even if they disagreed on the best way to address it. Leaving that meeting however, I still had not made my decision. That quickly changed as the committee got started. First on the agenda, the committee allowed any participant of the assembly to speak for up to 1 minute for or against any overture. The vast majority were there to speak to the issue of divestment, but one in particular stood out in my mind. Marta Muñoz, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) spoke of the impact of the fossil fuel industry on her country, how Colombia has been exploited for its natural resources by these companies, and the harms brought against her people. Two years later I couldn’t tell you the exact words she said or the examples she used, but I remember the impact she had on me. In that moment I understood what we were really debating, and what was truly at stake: human lives. People are dying every day from climate change. People are losing their homes, livelihoods, and lives to companies that care more about profits than their fellow human beings. And the PC(USA) is profiting from their suffering.
Two years ago I was heartbroken when the assembly voted not to divest but to continue shareholder engagement, contrary to the committee’s recommendation. I was even more heartbroken yesterday when the overture was brought to the 223rd General Assembly and the very same occurred. Still, I know that my own disappointment pales compared to those in Fossil Free PC(USA) who have spent more than four years working for divestment. I could speak at length about my disappointment in how the issue was handled on the floor of the assembly, but that is not the point I’m trying to make today. While a roomful of Presbyterians, the majority of whom are white, privileged, and unaffected by climate change or the unethical practices of the fossil fuel industry, sat and debated the financial consequences of divestment and worried about their pensions, people around the world continued to suffer.
Money has become an idol. We continue to worry more about money than God’s own beloved creations. As Christ said “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Two years ago the assembly approved an overture “On Choosing to Be a Church Committed to the Gospel of Matthew 25.” That commitment was a major theme of this year’s assembly, and yet the assembly has once again failed to uphold this commitment. How can we call ourselves a church committed to caring for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) when we continue to choose money over the many around the world who suffer daily due to the fossil fuel industry? Does our commitment to the least of these end when money is at stake? The divestment debate has made it clear: we cannot uphold the Gospel if our first priority is money.
So I ask the church, especially those who voted against divestment at both the 222nd and the 223rd General Assemblies, who do we serve?