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MRTI advocates for meaningfully addressing climate change

MRTI, a PC(USA) faith-based investment committee, is not overlooking pressing issues or grappling with analysis paralysis; we are living into the pivotal yet limited role of our committee, write Kerri N. Allen and Mark Douglas.

Our Reformed and Presbyterian tradition teaches us that just as God’s presence permeates all aspects of existence, we are called to actively engage in the social fabric of the polis. Bearing witness to justice issues with publicly traded corporations, the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) acknowledges climate change as the most significant existential threat facing humanity and the planet. Recognizing the moral and theological imperatives demanding dramatic changes in our interactions with the earth, MRTI has actively engaged companies on this issue of climate change and environmental degradation for years.

MRTI is not overlooking pressing issues or grappling with analysis paralysis; we are living into the pivotal yet limited role in this context.

MRTI is not overlooking pressing issues or grappling with analysis paralysis; we are living into the pivotal yet limited role in this context. As such, we don’t establish denominational or investment policies. Instead, we implement the policy in place, as outlined by the Divestment Strategy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This includes both the “Divestment Strategy: Principles and Criteria” (196th GA (1984), Minutes, 25.199-.210) and the study “Divestment Strategy: The Ethical and Institutional Context” (196th GA (1984), Minutes, 25.211-.311). Examples such as the 2014 divestment action related to non-peaceful pursuits in Israel/Palestine and the 2022 divestment action on oil and gas companies occurred after the denomination decided to pursue these actions and in accordance with its policies.

For a divestment recommendation from the General Assembly to be implemented by the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation, two paths are possible: MRTI must make the recommendation consistent with the criteria in the 1984 Divestment policy, or it must align with a broader social witness policy statement. In both cases, the General Assembly must agree with MRTI’s recommendation.

Further, it is important to note that investing agencies have their own rules and legal requirements to follow. Divestment for these agencies is a balancing act between following General Assembly policy and meeting their legal requirements as financial stewards. Therefore, an overture that circumvents this process will not lead to substantive categorical divestment.

The denomination currently lacks a social witness policy supporting the declaration that fossil fuel production and use are incompatible with the values of the PC(USA), as proposed in ENV-02, “On Removal of Investments In and Subsidies for Fossil fuels.” Although the Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) produced study papers connecting environmental concerns and fossil fuels, none make such declarations. If a future General Assembly wishes to pursue such a policy, it should follow established processes, including asking ACSWP to study the topic and recommend policy for approval. While some may desire the symbolic significance of a statement from the General Assembly, the effectiveness of an action calling for categorical divestment will not achieve its intended outcome.

We understand the urgency to address the climate crisis and hear the desire for impactful change. Presbyterians have long grappled with issues related to investments and social justice. Even when divestment decisions are made, they align with the Reformed Theology cited in the 1982 military divestment policy: acknowledging the ambiguity of human action and the imperative to seek responsible action within imperfection. As highlighted in the 1982 military divestment policy:

The classic Reformed understanding holds that all human action, individual and corporate, is touched by sin — an ambiguous mixture of good and bad. This understanding prepares us to accept the analysis of imperfection, selfishness, and pride in the behavior of ourselves and our institutions as a part of the grace of the gospel quite as much as a part of its judgment. We are called to struggle with this ambiguity and to seek responsible action within it, but not to believe that we can escape or transcend it. Purity of motive or action is an illusion, according to this Reformed view. The moral imperative is the struggle to achieve responsible action within the ambiguity and imperfection. This may lead some to withdraw from a particular vocational arena (growing tobacco or manufacturing warheads) and such decisions of conscience are honored and respected by the church, but a person is not judged pure because of the withdrawal or impure for lack of it.

Investment and divestment actions aren’t clear-cut in their purity. Rather, they are endeavors aimed at making a meaningful impact on climate change.

Investment and divestment actions aren’t clear-cut in their purity. Rather, they are endeavors aimed at making a meaningful impact on climate change. The General Assembly will be guided by the Spirit, and we trust the commissioners to heed its guidance. Yet, whatever the outcome, the actions of the General Assembly won’t signify the end of the Christian responsibility to address this pressing crisis.


The Presbyterian Outlook is committed to fostering faithful conversations by publishing a diversity of voices. The opinions expressed are the author’s and may or may not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Outlook’s editorial staff or the Presbyterian Outlook Foundation. Want to join the conversation? You can write to us or submit your own article here

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