In conversing with faith leaders, Episcopal Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas has found a disconnect in the way we think about our religious beliefs and our personal/church finances. While most faith leaders agree that climate change is happening due in large part to the burning of fossil fuels, the Episcopal Priest of 25 years has discovered a hesitation for some churches to divest from the unclean energy source for fear of appearing too political, or jeopardizing church finances.
Ranging in form from depoliticizing approaches to moral imperatives, Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas' recent blog details five key issues regarding divestment hesitation, demonstrating how divestment is not only a safe practice, but a necessary one for the Episcopal Church.
Next month, leaders in the Episcopal Church will gather in Salt Lake City for our triennial General Convention. Among the significant decisions that will be made is a decision about whether to divest from fossil fuels – that is, whether to sell off holdings of stocks and bonds from the world’s leading 200 fossil fuel companies as identified by the Carbon Underground and to re-invest in the clean energy sector.
In many respects the Episcopal Church has a history of leadership in addressing the climate crisis (for a summary of that history, you can download here a pdf of my article, “The Episcopal Church and Climate Change: The First Twenty-Five Years,” The Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2013). As a community of faith, the Episcopal Church cherishes the study of science and accepts the consensus of climate scientists that climate change is real and is largely caused by human activity. In fact, our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori (who was an oceanographer before she began studying for ordination) told a reporter a couple of months ago that it is “immoral” to deny the conclusions of climate science. Yet in the same public remarks Bishop Schori also stated that she opposes divesting from fossil fuels.
She is not alone. In speaking with Episcopalians in person, by mail, and on the phone, in small groups and one-on-one, I’ve discovered that although some of us are ardent advocates of fossil fuel divestment, others are moderately or strongly opposed.
Some Church leaders are uncertain, actively wrestling with their conscience, trying to sort out what faithfulness to the Gospel requires. The most poignant conversation I have had so far was with a man who spoke about divestment in terms of religious conversion. His deepest intention is to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. As a person charged with investment responsibilities in the Church he believes that divestment from fossil fuels is the right thing to do, but he does not feel ready to advocate for it. Very candidly he tells me that where he is as a follower of Jesus is different from where he is in carrying out his financial responsibilities. He is aware of the incongruity, and it troubles him. I sense that he lives in an in-between place, not at peace with his conscience. I sense his discomfort. I honor his desire for conversion.