Putting our money where our faith is by divesting from fossil fuels (COMMENTARY)

shutterstock_177317645-427x318By JIM WALLIS
c. 2015 Religion News Service

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?

(Jim Wallis is the founder and president of Sojourners.)

Religion News Service

RNS is owned by Religion News LLC, a non-profit, limited liability corporation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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George Nixon Shuler

How so?

George Nixon Shuler

Why not divest membership in the UMC altogether? You seem like you’d be more at home with the Southern Baptists. In their denomination each church governs itself the way it wants to as long as they’re politically correct.

George Nixon Shuler

My friend, if you are referring to me, I believe I have stated I am not a resident of California, though I was once for several wonderful years. It seems to me such personal aspects of discussing another poster violate the terms of participation here, if not basic decency. However, many who choose to engage in such bullying often are deficient in that area. As to the Bishops, perhaps a megachurch ministry with charismatic preachers having private jets and such is more to your liking? When we pay CEOs in millions, that figure for Bishops’ pay seems quite a pittance.

George Nixon Shuler

It’s not me who feels it necessary to post about where I’m from, or more correctly, where I used to be from. As to whatever you “fine” me to be, that’s up to you. It appears you enjoy making personal attacks, and you might as well, because it doesn’t mask the weaknesses of your arguments. As to me referring to another poster as “my friend…” I will continue to do so because whether or not you like me, I wish you no ill will.

Richard Hicks

Mr Wallis – I’m proud to see that you are an American patriot exercising your constitutional rights to free association. But, if I ever see you in clothes, eating grocery store or restaurant food, drinking water not from the creek, I can see that you are living a lie because you will not have given up fossil fuels.

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