Why Faith Leaders Are Divesting From Fossil Fuels (and You Should, Too)

copy_of_mu_blog_image_template-_horizontal_330x220_29Six months ago, at our Coming Together in Faith on Climate event, Blessed Tomorrow leaders Rev. Otis Moss and Brian McLaren stood on the stage of Washington’s National Cathedral to encourage a crowd of climate leaders to adopt five key climate solutions. Their inspiring words rang through the hallowed halls, now illuminated by energy efficient LED lights, in one of America’s largest standing cathedrals. Challenging leaders to engage, educate, energize, and vote, they called on congregations across the U.S. to swiftly divest from fossil fuel industries.
 
A lot has happened in the months since faith leaders Came Together in our nation’s capital. We have witnessed a unanimous agreement at COP21 Paris (finalized last week in New York), the release of Obama’s Clean Energy Plan, and faith leaders around the world raising their collective voice to engage on climate. These accomplishments were achieved in large part because faith leaders followed through on inspiring their congregations to forge climate solutions. But we also need faith communities to follow through on divesting their financial holdings from fossil fuel companies and to reallocate those funds toward sustainable investments.
 
Through organizations like DivestInvest, thousands of investors, including hundreds of churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples, have collectively diverted $4,715,012,908 away from fossil fuel corporations and reallocated those resources toward climate-minded institutions. The number of faith facilities divested is a great start, but we need more religious institutions to divest their holdings from fossil fuels just as United Church of Christ and many others have done, including Blessed Tomorrow leader Rev. Jim Wallis.
 
How do I persuade my stewardship committee to divest?
 
Managing a faith group’s divestment so it aligns with their stewardship goals doesn’t have to be a struggle between their financial board and their creation care team. Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, Senior Minister of New York’s Riverside Church, explains how both a faith community’s economic welfare and responsibility to God’s creation may be managed in tandem through open and honest dialogue. During a public discussion with Beth Ackerman, Head of Riverside’s creation care ministry Beloved Earth, and Lisa Hinds Salmon, Chair of Riverside’s Finance Committee, the three examined the role of church spending and the responsibility to use those funds in a way that exemplifies God’s will. (Divestment discussion begins at 28:14)
 

 
As Rev. Butler explains in her recent article for Patheos, the road to encouraging divestment is at times subject to linguistic pitfalls if we approach without the right tools in hand.

“When we’re not clear about what we’re talking about—especially in emotionally charged and potentially controversial conversations—those on both sides of the conversation often slip into using language as a weapon: accusatory, vague references to some shadow terror that only raises fear instead of leading us toward helpful and collaborative solutions. This creates enemies, not friends; combatants, not collaborators.”

The first step in avoiding these risks is to develop solution-based climate language that encourages divestment in a faith community while recognizing the restraints of their financial committee. Implementing inclusive communication tools that demonstrate not only a moral call to divest, but a financial one, is critical to persuading those still apprehensive about divestment. Blessed Tomorrow has developed engagement strategies that will steer the conversation in a positive direction with our latest report, Let’s Talk Climate.
 
Why should my faith community divest?
 
Fossil fuel companies contribute more carbon pollution than any other industry in the world. By investing in fossil fuels, churches, mosque, synagogues, and temples are enabling harmful practices that work against people of faith’s moral responsibility to care for God’s creation. Apart from our moral call to divest, investing in climate solutions also makes good economic sense.
 
The fossil fuel economy is dying. In the past few years, fossil fuel indexes have steadily decreased, opening a market space for renewables like wind and solar power. Redirecting your congregation’s funds toward these investments follows a larger market trend that will deliver competitive returns in a rapidly changing economy.
 
With financial gain comes an avoidance of risk. Fossil executives have mismanaged funds for years, inflating values and driving investors’ money into fruitless ventures. At some point, this reality will actualize and hurt those still holding investments. Watch this short video and find out how your faith facility may avoid these unnecessary financial risks:
 

 
Invest in change! DivestInvest Project Manager Jenna Nicholas shared during her TEDTalk earlier this year that “we are the first generation to understand the depth of the problem and the last to be able to do anything about it.” Explaining that by “owning fossil fuels, we own climate change,” Nicholas demonstrates how, by taking the type of action that once led to the fall of South African Apartheid, organizations like the Church of England and Rockefeller Brother Foundation are empowering social movements that have transformed the world. In joining faith facilities who have already participated in divesting billions of dollars away from fossil fuels companies, leaders may successfully wield their economic power to find climate solutions and to exhibit why they refuse to “own climate change.”
 

 
It’s important to remember that taking money away from the fossil fuel companies is only part of the process. By reinvesting your faith community’s holdings into climate solutions, you are accelerating an already rapidly growing economy based on clean and healthy practices. If you want a plant to grow, you water and nurture it.
 
Learn more and get started today at DivestInvest, where you will be shown a step-by-step breakdown for smart and sound climate investments.
 
Photo credit: Rodion Kutsaev
 
Ryan Smith is a Senior Writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master’s degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside. Contact him at [email protected].

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