In a bold call for The United Methodist Church to establish a clear connection between financial and environmental stewardship, 10 annual conferences and the General Board of Global Ministries are sending petitions to General Conference 2016 that call for coal, petroleum and natural gas to be added to the church's socially responsible investment screens. "The United Methodist Church must address the root cause of the devastation that climate change wreaks, particularly on vulnerable people and places," says Rev. Jenny Phillips, Fossil Free UMC Coordinator. "It doesn't make sense for church leaders to spend their careers mitigating the impacts of climate change while the church funds their retirement accounts with profits from the companies that are causing it."
The General Board of Global Ministries showed overwhelming support for the addition of fossil fuel screens to the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. "We are called to act for climate justice in the world," said Marie Kuch-Stanovsky, Global Ministries board member. She raised malaria as a key concern. "Climate change is significantly undermining the Imagine No Malaria campaign. For example, in Kenya, malaria transmissions are increasing due to warmer temperatures, which lengthen the transmission season and draw infected mosquitoes to higher altitudes. If we truly envision a world without malaria, we have to stop investing in companies that create the conditions for it to spread."
This legislation is a matter of leadership and integrity for members of the Northern Illinois Conference. "Scripture teaches us that where our treasure is, our heart will be also," said Rev. Luis Reyes during floor debate. "Let us be spiritual leaders on this issue and not be the last ones to the table."
This kind of leadership means taking action beyond helping victims of climate change. United Methodist missionary and photojournalist Rev. Paul Jeffrey told the Pacific Northwest Conference that the church has a responsibility to people on the front lines of climate change worldwide. "I for one don't want [our pension money] invested in something that's going to continue to victimize the poor around the world," he said.
The decision was one of Christian stewardship in the West Ohio Conference. "When considered through Christian tough-mindedness, it is clear: to remain invested in fossil fuels is financially risky, imprudent, and possibly even a failure of fiduciary responsibility," said Rev. Darryl Fairchild of Bellbrook UMC.
In several annual conferences, the legislation was a tangible act of repentance for harms against indigenous people. "Earlier today we made a commitment to heal," said seminarian Rosie Pohlmann, referring to the New York Conference's Act of Repentance. "Across North America, oil and gas companies are polluting indigenous land... It is wrong to profit from wrecking the planet, and it’s wrong to support an industry that undermines our democracy and oppresses our brothers and sisters." Other conferences whose decisions were informed by their Act of Repentance services include New England, Northern Illinois, Oregon-Idaho, and Pacific Northwest.
Annual conferences supporting fossil fuel screening legislation include:
- Desert Southwest
- New England
- New York
- Northern Illinois
- Pacific Northwest
- West Ohio
Several months after this article was posted, we learned that the Susquehanna Annual Conference's process made its petition submission ineligible for consideration at General Conference. The article has been edited to reflect that. 4/21/16