The Holy Week Day We Can't Afford to Ignore

By Rev. Jenny Phillips

You’re basking in the glow of a glorious Palm Sunday. Your plans are ready for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But how are you commemorating Table-Turning Monday?

Jesus wasn’t crucified just because he said he was the son of God. He was crucified because he took a public stand against political and religious corruption that hurt the poor.
— Rev. John Helmiere, Valley and Mountain Fellowship (UMC)

Table-Turning Monday marks the day after Jesus enters Jerusalem—the day when he overturns the tables of the money changers in the Temple. This critique of the ways in which religious, political and economic powers collude to oppress common people set the course for Jesus’ journey to the cross. "Jesus wasn't crucified just because he said he was the Son of God," says Rev. John Helmiere of Valley and Mountain Fellowship in Seattle. "He was crucified because he took a public stand against political and religious corruption that hurt the poor."

So today is a good day to reflect on how Jesus might be calling United Methodists to critique one of the ways in which The United Methodist Church participates in the fossil fuel economy. The United Methodist pension board invests more than half a billion dollars in more than 100 fossil fuel companies—companies whose products are causing unprecedented climate change. Thanks to the recent climate talks in Paris, there is now a global commitment to target a planetary warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this goal, we’ll have to stop emitting greenhouse gases by 2060. That’s just around the corner.

Despite public perception that the pension board has divested from coal, the board continues to invest in the dirtiest of fuels, citing the widely discredited notion that coal is needed to lift people out of poverty. New technology means developing nations can skip building coal utility transmission towers and instead access easy-to-install energy solutions like solar panels, much in the same way that they skipped installing landlines in favor of cell phones. People in the developing world don’t need coal and other fossil fuels to achieve energy access. They need ethical investors to support efforts to bring them sustainable energy solutions.

This isn’t like convincing Nike to stop making shoes in sweatshops. It’s like convincing Nike to stop making shoes.

Pension board leaders advocate for “staying at the table” with fossil fuel companies to urge them to engage in better environmental practices. But the advocacy needed isn’t like convincing Nike to stop making shoes in sweatshops. It’s like convincing Nike to stop making shoes. The urgency of the climate crisis calls for investors to demand fossil fuel companies stop building infrastructure, stop exploring for new sources of fossil fuels, and start winding down their operations. But those are tough demands to make when you have a financial stake in a company’s profits.

Time and time again, fossil fuel companies have demonstrated that they value profit over life. Major oil companies in which the church invests, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell, have collaborated on intentional campaigns to create confusion and impede action on climate change. These types of actions reveal a reckless disregard for people around the world who suffer the impacts of climate change.

The church’s continued investment in the fossil fuel industry is an implicit endorsement of fossil fuel companies—both their dangerous products and their immoral business practices.

The church's continued investment in the fossil fuel industry is an implicit endorsement of fossil fuel companies—both their dangerous products and their immoral business practices. The gospel calls us not to stay at the table with those who are exploiting God’s creation and God’s people, but to overturn the table and refuse to profit from the powers that are wrecking the planet. We are called to invest in God’s kingdom by driving our resources toward businesses that support a creation that will provide clean water for the thirsty, food for the hungry, and stable living conditions for all.

Every United Methodist can help shine a spotlight on the injustice of our denomination’s continued investment in the fossil fuel industry. The United Methodist pension board creates its ethical investment policies in response to the actions of General Conference—the church’s decision-making body. This May, General Conference delegates will vote on legislation to screen fossil fuels from the church’s investments.

Here’s a powerful Table-Turning Monday action you can take right now: Call or email your annual conference office and ask for the contact information of your conference’s General Conference delegates. Then invite your delegates to attend a webinar to learn about the Fossil Free UMC legislation. Let them know you’re concerned about the ways in which The United Methodist Church uses its moral voice in the world, and about the values that the church communicates by remaining invested in the fossil fuel industry.

We can’t continue to say we are against climate change while saying we’re for fossil fuel profits. It’s time to lead the church and the world into a clean energy future.