We Need a Moral Miracle

by Rev. Jenny Phillips

In this season of Advent, we wait in midwinter darkness and watch for glimpses of light. Images of darkness and light are helpful metaphors, as our world leaders bluster and toil at the climate talks in Paris over the next two weeks. They’re charged with the seemingly impossible--a plan to turn down the temperature on our overheated earth.

Among the bright lights at the Paris talks is The United Methodist Church, with members from around the world calling political leaders to reduce their countries’ fossil fuel emissions. This advocacy is backed by a bold letter from four general agencies: The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Church and Society, and United Methodist Women. Their message amplifies the urgency of the climate crisis:

“Our experience in ministry around the world confirms what science tells us about our changing Earth: our brothers and sisters are being impacted by extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and the effects of climate-related disease and hunger.”

What’s more, the agencies commit to modeling justice:

“Each of our agencies, in keeping with our distinct missions and mandates, are working to address climate change through investment strategies, missions, education and advocacy–building a hope-filled future and resilient communities.”

The pension board is already in the process of discerning better opportunities for investing in industries to support a low-carbon future. We believe these efforts have the power to bring sustainable light to corners of the world that desperately need it. But we need even greater leadership from the pension board, and from the whole church.

As our United Methodist leaders call on politicians not only to invest in renewable energy, but also to sacrificially reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, Fossil Free UMC calls on the delegates to the 2016 General Conference to add coal, petroleum and natural gas to the list of industries in which the church will not invest, and calls on the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to cut its ties with the fossil fuel industry.

The pension board has millions invested in more than 100 of the biggest and worst fossil fuel companies in the world, including companies like Exxon Mobil, a petroleum company under investigation by the New York attorney general to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how these risks might hurt the oil business. Investments like this undermine the board’s vision of “a healthy planet that can continue to sustain life for all of God’s children.”

Technology innovator, Bill Gates, recently told The Atlantic magazine, “We need an energy miracle.” That’s true. But we need a moral miracle as well. One in which world leaders make sacrificial commitments to reducing their fossil fuel emissions. One in which countries stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry on the backs of the world’s poor. One in which religious institutions, despite having the means to generate revenue from the fossil fuel industry, refuse to take its dirty money.

The best way for the church to signal our faith that a low-carbon future is possible is to step boldly into it, turning away from our financial interests in the fossil fuel industry as we support renewable energy. The world needs more than the church’s political advocacy. The world needs our moral courage as well. In this season of Advent, we must help light the way.

Photo by Serge Kalika, CC (BY NC ND)