Leaders of the Episcopal Church voted to divest its holdings from fossil fuels on Friday, citing the fact that fossil fuel burning causes catastrophic climate change.
Calling it a “moral issue,” leaders of the 2 million member Christian denomination said fossil fuel investments would be purged from the church’s holdings, which total approximately $380 million. The vote, however, does not cover the denomination’s $9 billion pension fund, or the $4 billion controlled by parishes and dioceses, the Guardian reported.
Still, the divestment represents a victory for climate hawks, who equate divestment from fossil fuels to taking a symbolic stance against the primary cause of global warming. And symbolism does seem to be part of what the Episcopal Church was going for.
“The vote says that this is a moral issue and that we really have to think about where we are putting our money,” Betsy Blake Bennett, an archdeacon, told the Guardian. “At a point where we are losing species and where human life itself is threatened by climate change, the church, by acting on it, is saying that this is a moral issue and something that everyone needs to look at seriously.”
The vote is certainly timely. Since Pope Francis called for Catholics to act on climate change last month, more attention has been paid to how Christians in general view the human-caused phenomenon, which threatens to impact the poorest and most vulnerable populations in the world.
Leaders of the Episcopal Church have been in the news for their views on climate change before. Back in March, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said people who reject climate science do not appreciate God’s gift of knowledge.
“Episcopalians understand the life of the mind is a gift of God and to deny the best of current knowledge is not using the gifts God has given you,” Jefferts Schori said at the time. “I think it is a very blind position.”
But the Episcopal Church itself is not the first U.S.-based denomination to make a statement on the issue, nor it is the first to divest. That title goes to the United Church of Christ, which in 2013 voted to divest its pension funds from fossil fuel companies. The United Methodist Church also voted to divest its $21 billion pension from coal, but not all fossil fuels.
In addition, the World Council of Churches — a large umbrella group of churches representing more than half a billion Christians worldwide — announced last year that it would pull all of its investments in fossil fuels, saying it had determined the investments were no longer ethical. Also last year, the Unitarian Universalist Association voted to divest from any holdings in 200 fossil fuel companies, and New York’s Union Theological Seminary became the first seminary in the world to cut oil, gas, and coal investments from its $108.4 million endowment.
A growing number of Christians see preserving the climate and the environment as not only ethical, but spiritual — a way to respect God’s creation.
Some are even going so far as to advocate for those values in U.S. politics. At a hearing on proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules to reduce carbon emissions last year, numerous Christian leaders from different denominations spoke out on why limiting global climate change aligned with their values.
“Before man was asked to love his neighbor, love God, or care for the least of these, he was asked to love the earth,” Rev. Marjani Dele, the minister of missions at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, said at the time. “You could say that it was a type of first commandment.”