Its proposed overture is one of a handful commissioners will consider during this summer’s General Assembly
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians for Earth Care has joined a growing list of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) groups calling for a speedy divestment from companies that contribute to the production of the two major greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide and methane.
Nearly 80 people attended a Saturday webinar to learn more about PEC’s proposed overture, “The Time is Now to ‘Cherish Creation, Cut Carbon and Speak Up.’” Read the proposed overture and its rationale on the PEC website, found here.
For now, PEC members said during the webinar, the proposed overture has been written to promote conversations among mid councils as overture deadlines approach for the 225th General Assembly, set for this summer both online and in person for committee work at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Those deadlines are April 19 for overtures with financial implications and May 4 for those without. Learn more about the overture process here.
The PEC proposal joins a growing number of documents and overtures on improving care for God’s Creation that will come before the Assembly after having been referred by the entirely online 224th General Assembly in 2020. Among them: The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s “Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation,” the Presbytery of Arkansas’ “On Learning About and Starting the Process of Divestment from Fossil Fuels,” the Presbytery of Scioto Valley’s “On Creating the Presbyterian Tree Fund,” the Presbytery of Des Moines’ “On Reducing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Carbon Imprint,” Seattle Presbytery’s “On Affirming the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Paris Agreement),” and Hudson River Presbytery’s “On Fossil Fuel Divestment.”
Last month, the Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment recommended the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the General Assembly approve five companies — Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66 and Valero Energy — to be added to the PC(USA)’s Divestment/Proscription List.
Saturday’s webinar featured reflections by a pair of PEC members, the Rev. Fred Milligan and Burkhard Paetzold, who attended COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, held last fall in Glasgow, Scotland.
PEC’s proposed overture — it doesn’t yet have a sponsoring mid council — has nine recommendations, which Milligan outlined Saturday. Among them:
- Repent of Presbyterians’ participation and growing complicity in the processes that have “brought our planetary ecosystem to the tipping point” of unsustainability for humans and mass extinction of other species.
- Direct that all PC(USA) financial investments be withdrawn from industries that contribute to the production of carbon dioxide and methane, and “effectively end our investment in the production and use of plastics.”
- Direct the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Foundation to increase investment in low carbon emission renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage “in ways that complement policies to transition workers in our present fossil fuel industry into ‘green’ and sustainable energy sector employment.”
- Urge congregations and members “to become the needed, faithful change we seek by being carbon neutral, net-zero or even climate positive by 2030” and encourage congregations worshiping in historic buildings to retrofit their structures.
- Advocate through the Office of Public Witness, the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations and other denominational offices “to assist economically developing and emerging countries with recovery” from loss and damage resulting from the industrialized countries’ “disproportionate impact on climate change” as a “new and proactive stewardship of the Earth.”
- Direct OPW, PMUN and the Presbyterian Hunger Program to develop a 10-year “strategy of accompaniment and advocacy” before, during and after each of the annual UN Climate Conferences, utilizing both PC(USA) deployed staff and colleagues with the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches.
“I think it’s important for us to contribute to the voice of the religious community,” Milligan said. “We need to stay on the case and coordinate the voice and representation for feedback into this [COP] conversation.”
“Being at COP26 in Glasgow, you could smell the complexity and the different interests and positions of the nations involved,” Paetzold said. “We in the faith community felt strongly [the importance] to see not only climate change but also social issues, the issues of global justice.”
But transformation will require resources, and for some nations and peoples, these resources are limited, Paetzold said.
“We need to see both sides of the coin to include developing countries, women and indigenous communities who are the least protected and the most affected by climate disasters,” Paetzold said. “We must include them in economic benefits and not exploit them again.”
It’s important, Paetzold said, “to stick with justice, peace and the integrity of Creation that churches have strongly lobbied for.”
The Rev. Bruce Gillette, PEC’s vice-moderator, said the goal of the proposed overture is “to talk more about Creation care and talk about that at the presbytery and congregational level.” A presbytery that decides to sponsor the overture is of course free to tweak the language, he said.
“We hope you will keep us in the loop as far as your efforts in your presbytery,” he told webinar participants, who attended Saturday’s talk from communities across the country. “We want to keep things coordinated.”
Gillette noted the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church of Ireland — “the mother churches of American Presbyterianism” — have already voted to divest from fossil fuel companies, with the latter adopting a policy of “divest and engage.”
“We should follow their example,” Gillette said.
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Ministries: Environmental Issues