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New England churches seek fossil fuel divestment

The churches’ assets are usually congregational endowments or staff pension funds and represent a tiny share of the fossil fuel industry. The Boston Globe reports that backers say religious divestment could highlight the damage by greenhouse gas emissions on the environment and pressure companies doing business as usual.

The Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference affirmed the board’s vote earlier this month and 10 other regional conferences of the United Church of Christ in the United States have voted in the past six months to divest.

Alan T. Jeffers, a spokesman for ExxonMobil, said divestment would not help solve the problem of global warming. ExxonMobil has spent $2 billion in recent years on emission reduction initiatives and improvements in the efficiency of its operations, he said.

“We take great objection to the characterization of the work we do as somehow immoral,” he said.

“If ever there has been a David and Goliath situation, this is it,” said the Rev. Jim Antal, minister and president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. The church’s board of directors voted last December to divest its assets from fossil fuel companies within five years, becoming the first religious body in the United States to do so.

The New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted in favor of a similar resolution this month.

Activists in both Episcopal dioceses in Massachusetts are urging church leaders to consider the idea. And a Presbyterian minister in Boston is working with a group of Presbyterian environmentalists from around the country on a resolution that they hope their denomination will consider next summer.

The Unitarian Universalist Association passed a nonbinding resolution at its General Assembly this month asking congregations to study divestment.

Earlier this month, the First Parish in Cambridge, a Unitarian Universalist church, voted to rid its $7.3 million endowment’s investment portfolio of fossil fuel holdings as well.

“We know we have a long way to go - the economy of the US is as entangled in fossil fuels today as the economy was in slavery in 1850,” said the Rev. Fred Small, senior minister of First Parish.

Several colleges and universities also are calling a halt to investing its endowments in coal and tar sands companies.

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