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How are defunding the police and divesting from fossil fuels related?

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship announces support for defund the police movement at Peace Camp

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. abby mohaupt led an activity at the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference at Stony Point Conference Center in August 2019. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Divesting from fossil fuels and defunding the police might seem like unrelated causes, but the Rev. abby mohaupt connected them Friday afternoon in the second teach-in of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s Peace Camp.

“If we want to love God with our whole hearts, we have to be mindful of where our treasure is, that is where our heart is also,” referring to entities that had divested from fossil fuel companies, said mohaupt, who prefers to lowercase her name. “That is a text that I have been holding in my heart as we in the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship have begun to support the call to defund the police; to divest from police brutality and reinvest in other things.”

In a statement emailed to Peace Camp registrants Friday morning, Peace Fellowship executive director the Rev. Emily Brewer said, “As we seek a faithful response to this moment, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship must be accountable to the commitment we’ve made to strive to be antiracist. White supremacy is the root cause and animator of the issue of police brutality, the constructor of all systems that oppress people of color and permit murder without consequence. As a predominantly white organization, we particularly name police brutality and the white supremacy that nurtures it as an evil that is our responsibility to actively uproot, not just a ‘Black issue’ with which we must empathize.”

The Peace Fellowship is a parachurch group, not formally part of the national church office, though it works regularly with official ministries of the PC(USA).

The Rev. Emily Brewer led a discussion at the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference in August 2019. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Brewer’s statement went on to talk about the role of police in escalating violence and prioritizing property over people, utilizing movements such as Occupy Wall Street and protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. Brewer detailed some policing alternatives that have been widely touted in defund the police conversations, including services to deploy social workers, mental health experts, and other professionals to situations that do not warrant armed police officers.

“These are the kinds of creative alternatives to policing peacemakers are being called upon to envision, and to help make a reality,” Brewer wrote. “This is what the demand to defund the police means: it is a call to expansive and hope-filled imagination.”

Brewer noted that the Peace Fellowship was making the call on Juneteenth, a day to celebrate the emancipation of people from slavery in the United States. It was also the opening day of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 224th General Assembly, which is being held online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Peace Fellowship’s Peace Camp was developed to still give voice to issues the Peace Fellowship champions that will not be on the agenda for this year’s GA, due to time and other limitations. One of those is divestment from fossil fuels, which the Peace Fellowship has advocated for in their entirety, while Presbyterian Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) has favored a strategy of corporate engagement to try to influence companies’ policies on greenhouse gas emissions and other concerns.

But this was to be the year MRTI was recommending three companies — Exxon, Marathon, and Valero — be added to the General Assembly’s divestment/proscription list, lamented mohaupt, moderator of Fossil Free PC(USA), a project of the Peace Fellowship.

Still, she said, Presbyterians have other alternatives than waiting for a GA vote in 2022, including divestment by presbyteries, congregations and individuals. The Peace Fellowship and Fossil Free PC(USA) will offer a training session on Aug. 19 for people who want to learn how their presbytery can divest from fossil fuels.

Alison Wood, accompaniment coordinator for the Peace Fellowship and an anti-oppression educator in Tucson, Arizona, talked about defunding the police in terms of “community thriving, which means building systems of care to replace systems of extraction and consumption.” She spoke about underlying evils in climate change and police brutality to dehumanize and treat the planet and people as disposable.

She also talked about the discussion of divesting and defunding as being similar because “it really is a divest-invest model,” where funds that have been used for one purpose are moved to another, in the case of defund the police, that would mean moving funds to other systems of response.

“I believe if we are called to love God with our selves and love God’s Creation with our whole selves, we must recognize that Black and brown and Indigenous people, that all people of color are beautiful, valued, precious children of God,” Wood said. “If we really believe that is true, what we are being asked to do now is engage with and move toward defunding the police.”

Summing up, mohaupt acknowledged defunding the police seems like a big thing to ask, as did divesting from fossil fuels.

“That conversation and that call for many of our partners and beloveds feels a little bit scary at first, seems impossible to divest from police brutality, and yet, we as a denomination have been calling for the divestment from fossil fuels for eight years, have lived into that call, to work for something that seems so impossible and believe that another world is possible — a world without fossil fuels, a world without climate change is possible,” mohaupt said. “In the same way, we believe a world without police brutality and the death of Black men at the hands of police is possible.

“Our hearts are big enough to work for the liberation of so many things at once.”

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