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Episcopal Church votes to divest from fossil fuel holdings



Saturday, July 04, 2015
NORTHAMPTON — In a growing economic trend that has found its way into the clergy, the Episcopal Church voted Thursday to divest from fossil fuel holdings and invest instead in companies developing renewable energy sources.

Reverend Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, said Saturday the Episcopal Church is the third and largest faith group in the United States to take such a step, following decisions by the United Church of Christ in 2013 and the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2014.

“I’m just thrilled the Episcopal Church has made this decision,” said Bullitt-Jonas, of Northampton.

According to a statement from Episcopal Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett released Friday, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly to divest from fossil fuel holdings and to reinvest in clean energy development. The vote in the convention’s House of Deputies was 618-204, according to the statement.

The resolution commits more than $350 million for divestment, with the potential to unlock an additional $4 billion in assets held by Episcopal congregations and dioceses, according to the statement.

Bennett, of the Diocese of Nebraska, wrote that members of the church have reacted with enthusiasm.

“Climate change represents a titanic threat to all life, and especially to the poor,” she wrote. “This resolution puts our church on record that it’s wrong to profit from an industry whose business causes climate change.”

Also in the statement, Bishop Bud Cederholm of the Diocese of Massachusetts quoted from the book of Genesis, in which God calls on followers to “tend and keep the Earth,” and from Jesus, who said to care for those who are most vulnerable.

“This resolution means that the church is aligning its investments with its values,” he wrote.

Bullitt-Jonas said divestment is a way to move away from a lifestyle of burning fossil fuels, which she said makes the planet less habitable for generations to come.

“To me, divestment is a very powerful statement that we are no longer going to tolerate a way of life that harms the planet and harms the poor,” she said.

Bullitt-Jonas was ordained in 1988 — the same year that she first read in the New York Times that scientists had concerns that burning fossil fuels was leading to climate change. As a result, working on behalf of the planet has been a part of her religious teaching.

In 2014, the Diocese of Western Massachusetts decided to divest from fossil fuels and sent a resolution to the national church urging it do the same, Bullitt-Jonas said.

She said she believes faith leaders have an important voice to add in the conversation around climate change. Many Americans have not found scientific facts sufficient to galvanize them into action, but now faith communities are adding their support, she said.

She used the example of Catholic Pope Francis’ recent encyclical urging all people to care for the environment through steps such as reducing reliance on fossil fuels and developing renewable energy sources.

While the scientific appeals provide information, a faith-based appeal asks people to look into their hearts and makes the issue a moral one, she said.

“I think a spiritual and moral appeal to the heart can cut through the political impasse and remind us we’re all human beings here; we’re all part of this radiant web of life,” she said.

She said she was proud of the Episcopal Church for passing its resolution to divest from fossil fuels and invest in alternative energy sources.

“There’s so many other steps we need to take toward the phasing out of fossil fuels, but this is a big step,” she said.

She does not see things stopping here.

“I hope it will inspire other communities to help us make this shift toward a life-sustaining society,” she said.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.