DETROIT – Commissioners to the 221st General Assembly have voted not to divest funds from fossil fuel companies, and chose instead to initiate a study into doing so for possible action a subsequent GA.
For the first time ever, an overture requesting that the PC(USA) Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation divest its funds from fossil fuel companies was brought to this General Assembly. The denomination long ago divested funds from tobacco companies, gambling companies, some weapons manufacturing companies and others. Never before has divestment based solely out of concern and care for the environment been brought forward on a national level in the PC(USA).
Divestment proponents spoke during open hearings earlier in the week, largely backed by the grass-roots group Fossil Free PC(USA). Others talked about the need for individual changes beyond our investments (minimizing individual fossil fuel consumption) that would be a better avenue for true and lasting change. Representatives for Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) spoke positively about their ongoing dialogue with fossil fuel companies raising concerns of social responsibility.
Over two days’ time, the commissioners formulate its recommendation that the divestment proposal be referred “to the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) for action and discernment in accordance with its long-standing and detailed procedures to engage with individual corporations to advance their actions in support of important social policy issues. MRTI is asked to make a report to 222nd General Assembly (2016).” The Assembly’s committee also expressed deep concern “about both the need for action and the need to remain in dialogue with companies that are in the fossil fuel industry.”
A representative of MRTI assured that if the overture was referred to them they would take the recommendations and concerns seriously in their ongoing work and bring before the next GA a comprehensive plan and further recommendations regarding issues of climate change and creation care. Following the criteria for divestment adopted in 1984 by GA, they still hold divestment as an option should companies not respond to raised concerns through ongoing dialogue.
The motion to refer to MRTI passed at 81 percent.
Other Earth Care Business
Another overture centered around the care of creation requested the affirmation of the importance of sustainable development and the “precautionary principle.” The committee acted to amend the overture to further clarify that overture’s call to sustainable development would be accomplished through faithful stewardship of natural resources. The committee also requested the creation of study and educational resources through social media on sustainable practices, to enable churches to advocate for reform. The assembly adopted it by voice vote.
Additional proposals to review the impact of coal exports on human health and well-being, and to support immigration resources through the newly formed Immigration Defense Initiative, were both adopted in the assembly’s consent agenda.