Why My Church is Divesting from Fossil Fuels

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The 26.4 kilowatt solar voltaic generating plant at First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee, Florida. It produces about 25% of the electricity we use.

In Presbyterian-speak, a “session” is the governing body of a local congregation.

In 2006 the session of First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee launched a long-term effort to become a “carbon neutral” congregation. The renovations to the Education Building and sanctuary and the installation of our 26.4 kilowatt solar voltaic system were key elements of that effort. For the past several years we have contributed to local carbon-reduction projects to offset our remaining carbon use.

In December of 2013 the Session endorsed Overture 25, which called on the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to direct the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation to divest, over a five-year period, from fossil fuel companies. That Overture was endorsed by the Presbytery of Florida, but failed to be approved by the General Assembly. It is now being studied by the Assembly’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI).

Assignment to the MRTI means we won’t see any real action for several years.  The only thing slower than molasses on a cold morning is a Presbyterian study committee.

The Session has decided that we can’t wait for the slow cogs of our denomination’s machine to turn before we take action regarding First Church’s $1.6 million endowment, which is invested through the Presbyterian Foundation.

Last Sunday the session approved a motion to divest First Presbyterian Church’s endowment funds from fossil fuels and to set up a joint meeting with the Presbyterian Foundation, the Session, and the Endowment Management Committee, as well as any interested church members.

We’re waiting to hear from the Foundation about a good time to meet. As soon as we know the time and date, we’ll let everybody know. The Foundation is willing to offer a “sleeve” of investments that will meet our resolve not to support the 200 companies identified by the Carbon Tracker Initiative as the “worst offenders” of the environment. (See carbontracker.org.)

I will be writing the denominational leadership, including the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, and all the presbyteries in the PC(USA) to inform them of our action and to share the theological and ethical rationale for divestment.

I am not so naïve as think that Old First Church will sway the boards of “Big Oil.” Nor do I think that taking this action makes us “holier (or greener) than thou.” This is not about moral superiority, it’s about aligning our investments with our values. These values arise from a theological commitment to the stewardship of creation.

We Christians can’t, on the one hand, proclaim a gospel which affirms that God loves the world while, on the other hand, profit from the world’s devastation through carbon-fueled climate change. Our corporate lifestyle should be consistent with the faith we proclaim. In other words, we should practice what we preach.

By unanimous vote, the session agrees. What an honor it is to serve a congregation that practices what it preaches.

About Brant Copeland

I was born in Brownsville, Texas, grew up in San Antonio and in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, Florida.
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