Putting our money where our faith is by divesting from fossil fuels

January 22nd, 2015

WASHINGTON (RNS) We’re a few weeks into 2015, which means many of us are striving to keep our New Year’s resolutions while others have already seen their best intentions collapse under the pressure of daily routines. Every year, we make promises to be better — we’ll go to the gym, save more money, slow down. But for Christians, every day is an opportunity to make resolutions. We call that repentance.

And this year — today — I am repenting of my dependence on fossil fuels.

While many associate repentance with sorrow or guilt, the biblical meaning of the word is to stop, turn around and go in a whole new direction. Repentance means changing our course and embarking on a new path.

For Christians, humanity’s failure to care for God’s creation warrants our repentance. This is not just a theological claim but a practical moral imperative when it comes to fossil fuel consumption. American Christians need to repent — and quickly!

Our society’s addiction to fossil fuels has had an unconscionable impact on the state of our Earth and on future generations. Coal-fired power plants are giving people cancer and asthma. Oil pipelines are spilling and destroying sacred lands. Natural gas fracking waste is leaking underground, threatening water sources. Through our consumption of coal, oil and gas, we have enabled this toxic activity.

The socially conscious among us might choose to drive hybrid cars and promote renewable energy sources, but we fail to realize that we are also investing our financial resources in this toxic industry. We vote with our dollars, both when we fill our gas tanks and when we choose our investments. True repentance requires us to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to fossil fuels.

That’s why I have started the process of divesting my retirement fund and other savings from fossil fuel companies. Will it make a “Big Oil” company close its doors? No, but it is an opportunity for me to live out my values and witness to my deepest beliefs. This is not just a symbolic act but a step toward living with integrity as a Christian.

As the indigenous community reminds us, our decisions today must be evaluated by their impact on the seventh generation out.

My organization, Sojourners, is also divesting from fossil fuels. Our mission is to help people put their faith into action for social justice. We would lack credibility by following any other path, and this reminds us that repentance is not just an individual decision. The church and other religious institutions — colleges, charities and other faith-based organizations — have an opportunity to put practical action behind our proclamation of God’s intentions for the restoration of creation.

Pulling financial support from toxic industries is just a partial solution. Both my divestment, and Sojourners’, will be coupled with efforts to “reinvest” in businesses that are sustainable — wind and solar energy, and energy-efficient projects. And if recent plunges in oil prices and future predictions about coal are any indication, this will probably be a financially sustainable move, too.

Socially conscious divesting is not a new concept. When the black residents of Montgomery, Ala., realized they made up more than half of the customers riding the bus system, they combined their economic power with strong moral critique to correct a pernicious injustice. They stopped riding the buses.

When U.S. college campuses realized the grave injustices of South African apartheid, they campaigned to remove investments that supported the racist polices of the South African government. In both cases, monetary divestment inspired social change. We can once again alter the course of history through collective action.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.” If we continue to walk down this sinful path of destruction and consumption, our environment will continue to deteriorate, and the most vulnerable will continue to suffer increased health problems from pollution.

The trees, animals and even rocks groan, waiting for the children of God to do and say what their faith calls them to do. We cannot call ourselves people of faith and stand idly by.

In the Old Testament, God hears Solomon’s cry and replies: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

We have an opportunity before us to turn from our reliance on and support of fossil fuels and go in a new direction — toward a future that helps us care for God’s creation. As Christians, we believe that God will forgive our sin and heal our land, when we repent, correct our behavior and pray. Will you join us? 

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