By Rev. Jenny Phillips
A new front in the climate crisis: Spottswood United Methodist Center in Kidapawan, North Cotobato, Mindanao, Philippines was surrounded by police as it provided sanctuary for thousands starving farmers and indigenous people who were shot at by military and police while staging a protest to demand rice from the government. Protesters were calling for government support for rural communities suffering from widespread drought caused by El Niño and intensified by the hottest February in recorded history. During the violence, at least five people were killed, more than a hundred were injured, and 87 are missing. Bishop Ciriaco Francisco was threatened with prosecution for taking in the farmers.
The brave leadership of Filipino United Methodists standing for justice in the face of grave danger is as heartbreaking as it is powerful. They shouldn’t have to be in this situation. Yet we can expect that more lay, clergy and episcopal leaders around the world will be called to intervene in conflicts that arise in response to circumstances created by our rapidly changing climate. We are only beginning to see the ways in which extreme weather-induced crises will shape the ministry needs of communities around the world.
United Methodists worldwide are praying for kin the Philippines and sharing their prayers with the hashtag #BigasHindiBala, meaning Food Not Bullets. Jesus teaches that where our treasure is, our hearts will be as well (Matt 6:21). While our prayers are with the starving farmers, our treasure is with ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and the more than 100 other fossil fuel companies in which our pension board invests. We need to do more than pray that God will save them. We need to pray that God will save us from the deadly deceit that the ways the church invests its money are somehow separate from its ministry and its creation stewardship responsibility.
The front lines of climate change are the front lines of The United Methodist Church’s ministry, whether rebuilding after hurricanes like Sandy, delivering aid after typhoons like Haiyan, or offering starving people refuge from government gunfire. It doesn’t make sense to fund the pensions of the leaders who are putting their lives on the line with money from companies whose deception and manipulation about the dangers of CO2 emissions created the conditions that have led to these crises and disasters.
Delegates to the 2016 General Conference will participate in historic votes on whether the church will continue to give its heart to the fossil fuel industry, or stand with those suffering the impacts of climate change by refusing to profit from the products that cause it. Their votes are a declaration of the morals of the church—morals that ultimately guide government and corporate leaders worldwide who will make decisions about if and how to transition to a clean energy future for all. Today is a day of prayer for climate action. As we pray for the people holed up in Spottswood UMC, let us also pray for the wisdom and discernment of those who will decide how the church will respond to the broader climate crisis at General Conference.