First Christian Denomination Votes to Divest from Fossil Fuel, Hopes to be Model for Others

UCC pastor Jim Antal at White House
UCC pastor Jim Antal at White House

The United Church of Christ, a reformed Protestant denomination of with more than 5,200 congregations and one million members, voted yesterday to divest from fossil fuel companies as a step toward serious action to combat climate change. They are the first church body in the world and the first national body of any kind to call for divestment from fossil fuel companies as a way of addressing climate change.

[This report is compiled from several news sources.]

“This resolution seeks to use movement toward divestment to increase awareness of the damage to our environment and to create public pressure on fossil fuel companies to leave 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves in the ground,” UCC pastor Vicki Kemper said at the annual meeting of the Massachusettes UCC region that sent the resolution to the General Synod. “That’s right – we’re essentially asking them to walk away from $20 trillion in resources.”

Kemper acknowledged that if all religious groups and colleges and universities – where the divestment movement began – divested, only 2 percent of fossil fuel stock would be impacted. But, she said: “The only power we have in this challenge is the moral, spiritual power to revoke the social licenses of these companies to continue to profit from wrecking the earth. The question is – will we exercise that power?”

According to the news report: The resolution, brought by the Massachusetts Conference and backed by 10 other conferences, calls for enhanced shareholder engagement in fossil fuel companies, an intensive search for fossil fuel-free investment vehicles and the identification of “best in class” fossil fuel companies by General Synod 2015.

By June 2018, a plan would be prepared to divest UCC funds in any fossil-fuel company, except for those identified as “best in class” which the Rev. Jim Antal, the major proponent of the resolution, called an “oxymoron,” noting that no such fossil fuel companies are likely to exist.

“Today, the national Synod of the UCC added another ‘first’ when it became the first national faith communion to vote to divest from fossil fuel companies – and to do it with the support of its major investment institution, United Church Funds,” Antal said.

“This resolution becomes a model for all faith communities who care about God’s creation and recognize the urgent scientific mandate to keep at least 80 percent of the known oil, gas and coal reserves in the ground. . . This vote expresses our commitment to the future. By this vote, we are amplifying our conviction with our money.”

The General Synod also passed a resolution on making UCC church buildings more carbon-neutral. Earlier in the week, the committee amended the proposal to call on UCC congregations to conduct energy audits on their facilities as the first step toward carbon neutrality.

Below is an excerpt of the resolution. What is your church, school, or denomination doing to support this social movement?


WHEREAS, the leaders of 167 countries (including the United States) have agreed that any warming of the planet above a 2°C (3.6°F) rise would be unsafe, and we have already (as of 2012) raised the temperature 0.8°C, causing far more damage than most scientists expected; and
WHEREAS, computer models show that even if we stopped increasing CO2 levels now, the temperature would continue to rise another 0.8°C, bringing the planet over three-quarters of the way to the 2°C limit; and
WHEREAS, scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below 2°C; and
WHEREAS the proven coal, oil, and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (e.g. Venezuela or Kuwait) which act like fossil-fuel companies equals about 2,795 gigatons of CO2, or five times the amount we can release to maintain a 2°C limit of planetary warming; and
WHEREAS the purpose of fossil fuel companies is to make money for their shareholders by providing for the energy needs of the world using the resources they currently own or have rights to tap – and if they simply continue to carry out this purpose, they will raise the temperature of the earth far beyond what is hospitable for life as we know it; and
WHEREAS, because we are a covenant people and affirm Jesus’ call to love our neighbors as ourselves, we join God in recognizing our moral obligation to take into account how our decisions and activities affect all of creation now and into the future; and
WHEREAS even though God loved the world and called it very good, humanity’s normal, everyday activity is putting God’s world in jeopardy; and
WHEREAS over the past five or more decades, many bodies of the United Church of Christ, including the General Synod on numerous occasions, have recognized our moral obligation to be faithful stewards of God’s creation as well as acknowledging, in one way or another, that wrecking creation is a sin; and
WHEREAS the Core Purpose of the United Church of Christ states (in part): “… we serve God in the co-creation of a just and sustainable world as made manifest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ,”
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Twenty-ninth General Synod of the United Church of Christ calls upon all Covenanted, Affiliated, and Associated Ministries (and their successor bodies), Agencies, Conferences, Associations, Local Churches and members of the United Church of Christ to:
a) Immediately stop any new investment in fossil fuel companies and instruct asset managers who work for those entities to do the same; and
b) Ensure that within 5 years none of its directly held or commingled assets include holdings of either public equities or corporate bonds in fossil fuel companies as determined by the Carbon Tracker list[13]; and
c) Release quarterly updates, available to the public, detailing progress made towards full divestment. …

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