New York Sends Divestment Petition to General Conference

It’s been a thrilling week for those of us in the United Methodist divestment movement! Across the country, United Methodists fighting for climate justice have been bringing fossil free legislation to their annual conferences, to be forwarded to the General Conference in 2016. And in conference after conference, the petition has passed…including in New York!

My copious notes of disagreement around the Board of Pensions' arguments against divestment.

My copious notes of disagreement around the Board of Pensions’ arguments against divestment.

From the beginning, this has not been a simple or easy campaign. The  Board of Pensions is not so keen on the idea of divestment, citing fiduciary duty and hopes for the potential of shareholder advocacy. However, for each point of reticence, there is a compelling, evidence-rich counter-argument for divestment (see here for Fossil Free UMC’s counter-arguments). In fact, as the person responsible for presenting the petition, my greatest challenge was limiting my arguments to just 3 minutes (you can read my statements below).

Ultimately, the decision was a close one. Having barely missed passing in the overwhelmingly progressive legislative section, it came to the general floor, where divestment was a tougher sell. But climate justice advocates spoke eloquently in favor, including SP&SA’s own Rev. K, who shared his testimony of our church’s own divestment.

Addressing the plenary.

Addressing the plenary.

This was my first Annual Conference, and I came away with an enriched spiritual and practical understanding of what it means to be an activist in a faith context. Seeking change isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about creating an opportunity for meaningful, mutually respectful conversation to take place, so that the body of Christ can continue to grow in harmony and abundance.

On the final day, the day of ordination, I felt an overwhelming sense of unity and love. As clergy processed in, filling the arena, we sang “For the Healing of the Nations,” and tears were streaming down my face as I sang the words:

For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord,
for a just and equal sharing
of the things that earth affords.

and

All that kills abundant living,
let it from the earth be banned:

I felt assured that we as United Methodist share that sacred wish for a just and equal sharing, and that we will together ban all that kills abundant living.

Youth and indigenous people led thousands protesting tar sands in St. Paul, the same day that NYAC adjourned.

Youth and indigenous people led thousands protesting tar sands in St. Paul, the same day that NYAC adjourned.

NYAC PRESENTATION ON DIVESTMENT

My name is Rosina Pohlmann. I am a member at St. Paul and St. Andrew, an entering seminary student, and a long time climate justice advocate. As a young adult on the verge of starting a future and a family, I am terrified by climate change.

The reasons for divestment are ethical and practical.

Scientists say that 80% of fossil fuels must stay in the ground in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, but these companies have promised to burn all their reserves. The industry’s entire business model is based on the destruction of our earth, and no amount of shareholder engagement is going to get them to change their business model.

The fossil fuel industry funds climate denial, out-lobbies environmental groups 20 to 1, and spends hundreds of millions of dollars to elect officials who will deny climate change and block green legislation.

Earlier today we made a commitment to heal.* Across North America, oil and gas companies are polluting indigenous land. First Nations people have said you do not have our consent to poison our sacred land. We have legal rights to his land.” The industry has rolled right over them and is poisoning that land as I speak, because they know they have the political power to do so.

It is wrong to profit from wrecking the planet, and it’s wrong to support an industry that undermines our democracy and oppresses our brothers and sisters.

Financially, there is a growing body of research that divestment does not have negative returns and can even effect a portfolio positively. The threat of stranded assets – which will happen if world leaders and put a cap on carbon – becomes more likely every day. Just earlier this week, leaders at the G7 summit agreed to cap climate change at 2 degrees. The carbon bubble could burst at any time and the finance world is taking note.

Last fall the Rockefeller Fund divested 50 billion in oil and gas stocks, saying that if John D. Rockefeller were alive today he would move his money out of fossil fuels and into renewable energy.

In just two years, over 200 religious institutions have divested from fossil fuels, including World Council of Churches, which represents half a billion Christians worldwide. More are joining every week. If they can do it, we can do it too.

I know that divestment makes people uncomfortable. But our faith calls us to be uncomfortable when it is the right thing to do. Divestment is the right and prudent thing to do.

Ultimately, we will have to answer the next generation when the ask, What did you do? What did you do to protect me?”

* The entire morning had been devoted to acknowledging past sins against indigenous people, and beginning a time of healing, of trust, and of no empty words.” I felt moved to include the atrocious way that the oil and gas industry is treating indigenous people. First Nations are acting as the first line of defense against oil & gas in much of the country and world, and until recently have been largely alone in this fight. I think this is an aspect of climate justice that should be explored and brought to United Methodists’ attention in light of this new, celebrated commitment.

 

 

 

An Overview of Religious Divestment

This weekend I had the privilege to be on a panel called “Shifting Money, Shifting Power: Fossil Fuel Divestment and Alternative Energy Reinvestment as a Strategy for Confronting Climate Change,” presented at the 2015 Left Forum at John Jay College. I spoke about religious divestment, and mentioned the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew! See the video below.

  • Status of the Religious Divestment Movement: 0:00 – 4:38
  • Why People of Faith Feel Called to Divest: 4:38 – 6:53
  • Resistance to Divestment (As Exemplified by the United Methodist Church) & Rebuttals: 6:52 – 11:33
  • Reasons for Resistance & Support in the Jewish Community: 11:33 – 14:04
  • A Message to People of Faith: 14:04 – 16:52

The panel also included NYU Professor Lisa DiCaprio, who shared financial reasons for divestment, and Olivia Rich, an NYU student who is active with NYU Divest. Below, please find a list of resources related to the panel!

 

 

 

SP&SA Divests From Fossil Fuels

Great news! SP&SA’s Board of Trustees has unanimously voted to divest our endowment of fossil fuels. This is an important step forward, a vital way to live Christ’s teaching that “For where your treasure lies, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Read below for the official press release…

CHURCH OF ST. PAUL AND ST. ANDREW (UNITED METHODIST) DIVESTS ENDOWMENT OF FOSSIL FUELS

The Board of Trustees of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew has voted unanimously to divest its endowment of fossil fuel-related investments. The decision, made March 19, 2015, was based on both ethical and financial factors.

The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew joins a growing number of churches and religious groups that have deemed the behavior of the fossil fuel industry unacceptable, and are taking an active role in opposing its influence and tactics. The suffering, loss of life and loss of habitat that climate change promises—and has already begun—to inflict, directly violates the Christian calling to love one’s neighbor, serve and protect the poor, provide for future generations and act as stewards of God’s creation.

James F. Karpen, senior pastor at St. Paul and St. Andrew, says, It is vital that the investments of a religious community be in harmony with our Biblical and ethical commitments; anything less smacks of hypocrisy. The current trajectory of the fossil fuel industry spells violence towards the environment and the people and creatures who share it. It is the sort of thing that must make God weep.”

The Board of Trustees’ decision to divest was also grounded in financial and economic concerns. Gary Matthews, of First Affirmative Financial Network, LLC, advised that the balance sheet values of most large fossil fuel companies were arguably overstated due to listed fossil fuel reserves that would not be produced or burned due to severe climate change impacts. Investors will eventually recognize these stranded” assets as essentially worthless and the stock prices of these companies will likely suffer as a result. Thus divesting from fossil fuel companies might actually enhance the endowment’s long-term performance.

Rosina Pohlmann, leader of the St. Paul and St. Andrew Green Team, says Our hope is that the larger United Methodist Church will see this action and similar actions in other churches as incentive to take up the call for divestment.” Three days prior to the Trustees’ decision to divest, St. Paul and St. Andrew’s Church Council voted unanimously to endorse a resolution put forth by grassroots movement Fossil Free UMC to divest the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits of fossil fuels. The resolution will be brought to regional Annual Conferences in June and then forwarded to the General Conference in 2016.

St. Paul and St. Andrew is a progressive and welcoming United Methodist congregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. www.stpaulandstandrew.org.

SPSA Divestment Press Release

A Ravingly Grateful Love Letter to My Community

Lately I’ve been making a minor spectacle of myself on the subway. Certainly not enough to register among the usual display of flamboyant commuter behavior, but still somewhat out of the ordinary, as I choke back tears of emotion, head fervently buried in a simple pamphlet. The pamphlet is the 2015 “Lenten Devotional”— a collection of reflections on scripture contributed by congregants at SP&SA. There is a devotion for each day of lent, and I am overwhelmed at the wisdom on display in every single one.

Liz says: “Violence is so pervasive it is nearly impossible to imagine a world without it, but what if human beings stopped treating bodies as commodities used for political gain, financial gain, power, control, retribution?…I pray for an end to violence and the systems that perpetuate it. May we live to see the day when all bodies are treated with kindness and love.”

Aurora says: “To live as God wishes, sometimes we must bear the harder paths in order to grow as we should. As a junior in high school, this rings very true for me…I hope that everyone can find a way to take life’s challenges and, instead of feeling buried beneath them, find a way to make them stepping stones to God.”

Ken says: “It is that which is beyond our understanding, the limitlessness of God’s Oneness, which provides the impetus for our faith journey. It is the miracle of God’s creative process, the Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations that propels us forward.”

Susan says: “We survive death because there is no such thing as death, just separation. Jesus demonstrated this by his life and the manner of his death. As much as we humans love to take big ideas and cram them into small boxes, this message is clear, to those who can but take a few steps back.”

To me, this outpouring of faith is living proof that God is here, working in us, gathering us to be part of one human family that is resilient to the hardships of the world through love.

And it’s not just SP&SA where I see this grace at work. I am dazzled on a daily basis by the compassion and courage embodied by those I have been fortunate enough to know over the course of my life thus far. The friends who have come out as their true selves despite a judgmental society, and in doing so touched and inspired scores more. The friends who have both taken to the streets in peaceful protest and offered thoughtful, eloquent, powerful testimonies in response to injustice and oppression. The friends who bravely face their personal demons on a daily basis so that they can be more kind to themselves and to others.

sunflowers 12After a rather patchy familiarity with the Bible gleaned from years of Sunday School and sermon listenin’, I’ve been reading it more deeply. Given the caliber of humanity that I’ve lately witnessed in such abundance, I was struck by the passage in Acts in which Peter heals a beggar. The beggar is a man “lame from birth” who sits at the gate of the temple every day, asking for money. Peter takes him up by the right hand and the beggar finds himself healed. The passage jumped out at me because it is the first time that Jesus’ followers take up his call of love and compassion without him, by directly helping somebody else. Peter explains that the man has been healed through God’s power, and shares the prophecy that “in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

I am moved because as I see the people I know healing and caring for each other, I see our human family pulling together, and I see that it is blessed.

In addition to a food pantry, social hall, courtyard and sanctuary, our church also has a theatre. The theatre is now featuring a play written about SP&SA (and the other congregations and groups that meet here), called The Church of Why Not. The play is a heartfelt, honest portrayal of doubt and faith, illustrating how difficult it is to open oneself up to the concept of God, and yet how powerfully God is felt in the connections between people. Watching it, I felt very acutely the importance of community.

Even more so, because I know that hate and destruction still exist. I know that suffering is happening. As Liz says, “violence is pervasive.” I have let myself be overwhelmed by despair that people still treat each other – the other parts of the same body! – so cruelly, and that the earth is being so wantonly exploited and damaged. Especially with the latter fact in mind, I know that there are very difficult times ahead, dark to the point of hopelessness.

So it is a stunning revelation that this is not the only force at work. Everywhere I see those that Jesus named in the Beatitudes – the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the meek, those who seek righteousness – rising up and demonstrating through their words and actions that we are more than the evil that exists. We are resilient. God has not given up on us because God is alive in us and continuing to work through us.

Siobhan gave me a beautiful gift when she assigned me Psalm 107 for the Lenten Devotional. It forced me to look past my climate-related doubt and fear and focus instead on the good that is unequivocally at work. I have been delivered through ways of thinking and behaving that were as destructive to me as climate change is to the planet. Appreciating what I have been given is not only right, it is a way to manifest the very grace that gave to me, and propel it forward into the future. This shift in perspective essentially cracked me open and showed me the truth in Jesus’ words: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Witnessing the resilience of the community, and the kindness and strength of those who make up that community, I am comforted, even as I mourn for the astounding loss accompanying climate change.

nature-treesAnd I am so, so, so grateful. THANK YOU for being resilient, loving members of the community, the beloved community. Let’s move forward together, ok? I’ll leave off with the prayer that Ken suggests for us in his reflection:

God of Grace, help me accept your limitless grace in order to replace fear with comfort. Help us understand that which is beyond comprehension so that we may join with you in soulful and everlasting life. We pray this in the name of God the Creator, God the Redeemer and God the Inspiration. Amen.

Great Moments from 2014, Great Hope for 2015

In many ways, 2014 showed us that we still live in a world where struggles for resources drive conflict, ideologies drive hate, and greed and fear drive oppression. We are seeing more and more clearly that our climate is irreversibly changing, as droughts and natural disasters mount, the seasons fail, and plants and species migrate and/or die off.

We also saw, more vividly than ever before, that environmental justice is a way to heal the divisions that plague us. People of all races, ages, nations and religious backgrounds are unifying around a struggle to steward the creation on which we all rely. Whether religious, agnostic, spiritual or secular, most of us can value the importance of a loving relationship with other people, other living beings, and the rest of the natural world. In 2014 we came together, raising one voice in support of this kind of relationship over one that exploits and destroys.

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 2.12.26 PM

The Church is resounding with this call as well. As individuals, we cannot thrive for long without clean water, clean air, fresh food, or without the balanced eco-systems and healthy soil that make these resources continually available. As Christians, we cannot thrive until we see our brothers and sisters and children enjoying this quality of life as well. Below are a few of the moments that marked 2014 with the spirit captured in the Ubi Caritas prayer:

WHERE charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

PROGRESS IN 2015
The People’s Climate March
400,000 people or so showed us for this lil’ gathering in New York City, sending the message loud and clear that we are holding leaders accountable on climate change. A full city block of people from religious communities joined the march, including dozens from SP&SA. And it seems like world leaders are starting to listen…

Fracking Banned in New York State
Protest and action on the part of citizens put pressure on Governor Cuomo to ban hydraulic fracturing, a process that extracts natural gas (which contributes to climate change) and has been shown inflict extensive environmental damage. A special thanks to our friends at Riverside Church Beloved Earth Community, who attended many anti-fracking rallies to make this happen!

Religious Communities Push for Divestment
The Unitarian Church, United Church of Christ and Union Theological Seminary have already divested from fossil fuels, and now a great number of churches and synagogues are making the same push. Since September, Riverside Church has hosted a seminar on divestment and the Religious Communities for Divestment meet-ups have brought out representatives from many denominations. In the Methodist Church, Fossil Free UMC is is pushing to get annual conferences to divest as well as the general conference in 2016.

The United Methodist Women Carbon Fund
United Methodist Women, a global, 800,000 member strong community of social-justice-minded women, amped up their environmental justice efforts, establishing a Carbon Fund to fight climate change and stressing the message of stewardship on the global and regional levels. Climate Change disproportionally effects women worldwide, who are often the sole providers for their family, tend the land, and have tenuous access to health care as it is. The UMW are coming to the rescue with the zest, passion and love for which they are known!

GreenFaith and Our Voices
GreenFaith is an interfaith organization promoting environmental action through faith. It has served as a sort of loci for faith communities, educating, empowering and connecting dozens of groups and shining the stewardship message out into the larger culture. This year GreenFaith helped launch Our Voices, which aims to bring faith to the upcoming climate talks in Paris. Vigils were held world wide for the preliminary Lima talks, to basically favorable outcome. Sign the petition here!

SP&SA Steps Up to the Plate
We’ve switched to composting, crowded the Climate March and hosted protestors, run energy audits, shared local meals and meditated and prayed and committed ourselves to environmental mission. I’m so proud of you, SP&SA!!

10539185_765560740156337_5913977543933246758_o

HOPE FOR 2015
As much progress was made in 2014, we are just getting started. Have you heard about Pope Francis’s plan to directly address the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics on climate change? On a smaller scale, we’ve got some plans cooking for SP&SA too. Stay tuned & shine on!

sunflowers 12