The Moral Argument to Divest from Fossil Fuels

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Jenny Phillips, Coordinator of Fossil Free UMC, with Bill McKibben, a United Methodist Sunday School teacher and Coordinator of 350.org

My prayers are with my friends and colleagues who will be at the upcoming United Methodist General Conference, working to pass legislation to screen fossil fuels out of United Methodist investment portfolios.  There are both economic and moral reasons to do so.

The economic argument is that investors in fossil fuels face “stranded assets” and the resulting financial loss as coal, oil, and gas companies are unable to extract and burn all the reserves upon which their projected profits and stock values are based.  United Methodists advocate for strong environmental regulations and a widespread switch to renewable energy sources, but if these changes take place, many of the reserves will be unavailable.  Furthermore, as we have seen with the bankruptcy of Peabody Coal and the recent downgrading of Exxon Mobil stock, it is quite clear that market forces related to fossil fuels are volatile.

Still, the moral argument is strongest:  it is wrong to profit from wrecking the planet.  Ending our addiction to fossil fuels should override arguments based on economic self-interest or the economic interests of our denomination.

As United Methodists and as followers of Christ, we should have no part in investments in fossil fuels, which pollute the atmosphere with the persistent greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, bringing disaster upon people, harming creation, and foreclosing the future.  Rather, we should be investing ourselves and our money in renewable, life-sustaining, and regenerative enterprises.  By doing so, we step away from institutional complicity in destroying creation, affirm our deepest values, and offer a vision of hope for a transformed world.

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 Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.   Order Sharon’s CD– Climate Change:  What Do We Know?  What Can We Do? or download a free MP3 version. 

 

Resistance: A Way to Live Humanly

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Today, Good Friday, I am publishing two excerpts from my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, about the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and continuing presence.  You can order it from a local bookstore, order signed or bulk copies directly from me, or find it online.  Here is the first excerpt:

 

How can we live humanly, as free and responsible human beings, enmeshed as we are in a global system that is diverting the life-force of human beings and siphoning off the gifts of God’s creation for idolatrous and unjust purposes that threaten the future? This question brings us around again to resistance for, as William Stringfellow said, in times of great tyranny, “resistance [becomes] the only human way to live.”[i]

For the topic of personal transformation to be relevant here, it must address these issues. In other words, How does the message and Way of Jesus Christ help us to become free of idolatry and injustice? How do they help us to become free, fully human, faithful to God, more completely the people God created us to be?

First, it is essential not to lift the story of Jesus’ death on the cross out of the context of his life, teachings, and ministry or out of the time, place, and political situation in which he lived. In the words of Charles Campbell: “The cross cannot be plopped down out of the blue as a magical transaction between God and individual sinners. Rather, Jesus’ resistance to the powers of the world leads to his crucifixion and gives the cross its distinctive meaning.”[ii] Jesus’ death was a continuation of the way he lived his life. It was also the consequence of living in faithfulness to God and in resistance to the Powers.

Second, those who would follow Jesus can expect the same. There is no promise of safety, no corner of ease or complacency in which to hide. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”[iii]

Third, Jesus makes us a wonderful promise that will be fulfilled, if we are willing: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). Jesus promises that if we follow him without reservation we will be given back our lives, our humanity, ourselves.

But how? Following Jesus isn’t easy. In fact, it is impossible without divine aid. Fortunately, this is just what is offered. For those who would follow Christ, this aid comes through an ongoing relationship with the Creator, through the tangible activity of the Holy Spirit, and through the presence of the Christ within and among us. Christian faith does not just offer us an example to follow, but a “Way.” And ironically, the cross, an instrument of torture and oppression, has become a symbol of the Way of Jesus Christ, which transforms human life.

[i]. William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco: Word Books, 1974), 119; italics in original.

[ii]. Charles L. Campbell, The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 47.

[iii]. Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 99.

Table Turning Monday and Fossil Fuel Divestment

My friend Jenny Phillips, coordinator of Fossil Free UMC.

The following guest blog post is from my friend and colleague, the Reverend Jenny Phillips from the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and Coordinator of Fossil Free UMC, the movement within the United Methodist Church to screen out fossil fuels from its investment portfolios as a response to climate change. This issue will be voted on this coming May in Portland at our General Conference, held every four years.  In her post, Jenny links this strong and growing movement to Jesus’ nonviolent direct action in the Temple, when he overturned the tables of the money changes in the temple.

 

The Holy Day Week We Can’t Afford to Ignore

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?

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…

Go to the Fossil Free UMC blog to read Jenny’s complete article:  The Holy Week Day We Can’t Afford to Ignore.

 

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There’s Still Time

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Winter Garden

It’s a beautiful day, with a light rain following last night’s storm.  The winter veggies and daffodils are happy, the fruit trees are happy, the birds, squirrels, and frogs are delighted.  Sunny days will return soon, and it looks like we’ll have a glorious spring after the first real winter in years.

I’m grateful.  I’m grateful for any weather, really, and for life itself.  I’m glad there’s still time—time for us as humans, even here in the United States, to come back to ourselves, to remember what it means to be human, dependent upon the Spirit for life, breath, and all things and interdependent with the rest of the natural world.  There’s still time for us to interrupt the insanity that has possessed us as a culture, that has led us to believe that current conditions are “normal,” even though all the warning (and warming) signs of economic, social, and environmental collapse are plain to anyone who has eyes to see.

How then shall we live?  I hope to play a small part in the hope for a “great turning,” for a transition to the other peaceful, just, and life-sustaining world that I know is possible.

It’s not time to give up.  It’s not time to simply provide hospice for the earth—that time could come, but it’s not now.  It’s not time to escape into our own private, personal worlds.  It’s time to awaken.  It will take many people from many different life experiences and ways of seeing the world, awakening 1) to what is at stake, 2) to what our responsibility is to the earth and the future, 3) what the alternatives are to the current path we are on, and 4) what we can do together about it.  Each of us can go deep within ourselves and cultivate courage in resisting the harm of the dominant institutions and systems of our day and to practice persistence in working for global transformation.

As I enjoy the rain and look toward spring, I know that God is alive and magic is afoot.  I am confident that there is still time for the change that needs to come.  I, for one, pray and act for “God’s kin-dom to come and God’s (loving) will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Frog Chorus on Ash Wednesday

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I got up early, starting my day out on the deck under the stars.  The frog chorus was loud, now that there’s been rain.  I know that frogs and other amphibians are most at risk of extinction due to climate change.  It feels so reassuring to hear them singing so heartily.  The frogs are still here.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is a day of prayer and fasting, a day to remember Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, and my own.  A day to share with others in a service of ashes, to remember our mortality and to repent for the sin of the world.  Later, Guari and I will read T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday,” as we do every year.

This poem brilliantly portrays the dual Lenten focus on repentance and acceptance of our mortality. It expresses a sense of dust and ashes, of hopelessness, of powerlessness to change. These feelings resonate with many people facing the pain and challenges of the world today. But then, in the poem, surprisingly:

The lost heart quickens and rejoices

for the lost lilac and the lost sea voices

and the weak spirit quickens to rebel

for the bent goldenrod and the lost sea smell

quickens to recover the cry of quail

and the whirling plover.

The earth has the power to call us back to life, through the divine Spirit that moves through creation. In some mysterious way, the earth can provide us with an antidote to despair and can renew our spiritual connection with what is deepest within our souls. It is our context, our “ground of being,” through which the Spirit touches us, reminding us of what is real and important, who we are, and with whom we are connected.

Teach us to sit still,

even among these rocks,

our peace in His will.

And even among these rocks,

Sister, Mother, and spirit of the river, spirit of the sea

Suffer me not to be separated,

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Observing  Ash Wednesday opens my heart and gives solace to my soul.  The frog chorus calls me back to life.

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