PORTLAND, Ore. – Two of the public faces of the fossil fuel divestment debate are Mike Cole and Abby Mohaupt. Cole is the general presbyter of New Covenant Presbytery, which proposed three overtures that offer alternatives to divestment. Mohaupt is responsible for communications and is a co-coordinator of grassroots organizing of Fossil Free PC(USA). On the surface, these two do not appear to have a lot in common. As general presbyter, Cole serves as pastor to the pastors and congregations in New Covenant Presbytery, which covers a huge territory in east Texas including the Houston metro area. Mohaupt is an artist and teaching elder in San Francisco Presbytery working with farmworkers and families in rural northern California.
On the morning of June 20, the first full day of committee meetings, Cole and Mohaupt joined together and brought donuts for the committee considering fossil fuel divestment. This gesture of hospitality reflects a deeper civility that Cole and Mohaupt have consistently displayed as two people on “opposite” sides of the divestment issue.
As civility has declined in our public discourse at local, regional and national levels, particularly in this election year, Cole and Mohaupt have chosen a different approach. Their collegiality in the midst of their difference reflects kingdom values. Despite fundamental disagreement on how divestment should be included as the PC(USA)’s response to global climate change, Cole and Mohaupt show each other respect. Their passion for the church and for God’s kingdom is shaping the way they choose to interact with each other and the results are setting the tone for the way that all sides are approaching this issue. The open hearings and overture advocates appeared remarkably civil in how they addressed the issues and each other, a direct reflection of how Cole and Mohaupt have been engaging with each other in the months leading up to General Assembly.
Cole reflected on this approach by saying, “We’ve been very intentional about working together and making sure the conversation stays at a high level. It really is a new paradigm for people on different sides of an issue at GA. As a denomination, we have gotten sucked into the dualism so thoroughly, we decided to do something different. Abby and I wondered this morning if it would be confusing to the commissioners that two people on opposite sides of the aisle are not chastising one another.” Mohaupt added, “While we may disagree, we recognize that we both have pastoral responsibilities. Our job as a church is to figure out how to make a prophetic statement and then care for the people who are impacted by it.”