US Lutherans Divesting from Fossil Fuels!

Originally published on EdenKeeper

ELCA Assembly divesting from fossil fuels

Committed to working towards a sustainable future, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is divesting from its fossil fuel investments! A majority of the 900 voting members approved this historic resolution at its 2016 Churchwide Assembly on August 13.

Rev. Barbara Rossing, a professor at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, said, “This bold action situates us squarely in the tradition of Martin Luther and the reformers who loved God’s creation.” Rossing, who is also a leader in the grassroots organization Lutherans Restoring Creation, continued, “Lutheran ethics calls us to care for the most vulnerable, and for future generations.”

Heeding a Global Call for Divesting

Over 3.7 million Americans are baptized members of the ELCA. It ranks number seven in the top ten largest religious bodies in the US, with over 9,300 congregations. Although the ELCA’s investments in fossil fuel companies are not published, the 2015 financial records state that $7.5 billion in assets are under management.

Divesting from fossil fuels has been on the Lutheran agenda for some time. Last year, the Lutheran World Federation Council requested member churches “not to invest in fossil fuels and to support energy efficiency and renewable energy companies, and to encourage their institutions and individual members to do likewise.”

Heeding this global call to action, the ELCA passed resolutions for divesting from fossil fuels in eight synods, or regional bodies. The newly passed national-level divestment resolution represents a coalescing of like-minded Lutherans in America. Gerry Falco, from the Metro New York Synod, spearheaded a coalition focused on passing the historic resolution at ELCA’s 2016 assembly. Falco explained, “We joined forces with activists from five synods that had pending resolutions like ours.”

US Lutherans are Moving Forward

This year’s ELCA Assembly represented the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Perhaps the famous example of Martin Luther’s historic stand for his faith inspired and galvanized today’s faithful followers.

Martin Luther, by Anton von Werner. Credit: Wikipedia commons

Kim Winchell, a deacon from Freeland, Michigan, served as point person for the visionary resolution on the ELCA Assembly floor. “For many of us,” said Winchell, “this decision became a ‘here we stand’ kind of moment in our concern for justice for future generations.”

Moving forward, ELCA member churches will work toward divesting from any financial products supporting fossil fuel companies. Instead, the ELCA reports, they will be reinvesting church funds in businesses committed to “taking positive steps toward a sustainable environment.”

The Global Path to #GoFossilFree

Divesting the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from fossil fuel investments is one more historical step on the global path to #GoFossilFree. Following a long list of churches and academic bodies, the Episcopal Church voted in 2015 to divest $380 million from its fossil fuel holdings.

And, with the 2015 release of Pope Francis’ historic encyclical on climate change, momentum is growing and pressure is building on the Catholic Church, as well.

Toward a Responsible Energy Future

Here is the full text of the resolution passed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

Toward a Responsible Energy Future (adopted by the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly)

To receive with gratitude the memorials of the Saint Paul Area, Metropolitan New York, Northeastern Pennsylvania, Upper Susquehanna and Northwestern Pennsylvania synods related to climate change and fossil fuels;

To urge all ELCA members, congregations and synods to inform and educate themselves about the effects of climate change through the lens of the “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice” social statement, and to advocate for policies that reduce energy use and our dependence on fossil fuels and encourage development of renewable energy sources as an expression of our commitment to address climate change and caring for God’s creation;

To affirm the action of the 2013 Churchwide Assembly and subsequent action of the Church Council in 2014 related to the development of revised or additional investment screens on fossil fuels, and to support and commend ELCA members, congregations, synods, the churchwide organization, and related institutions and agencies such as ELCA Endowment Fund and Portico Benefit Services for their leadership efforts to invest in companies that are taking steps toward a sustainable environment;

To affirm Portico’s balanced approach to supporting this church’s principles and directives as stated in the social statements — including the commitment to help transition to an economy less dependent on fossil fuels. The approach has included:

• 1. shareholder advocacy (filing and supporting resolutions on environmental issues, including 150 resolutions in 2015),
• 2. focused investment screening, which has identified 113 companies screened for environmental reasons, and
• 3. ramping up positive social investments, such as investments in companies that develop solar, wind and water power generation systems, repurposing waste products and reducing toxic emissions; and now

To call upon Portico to evaluate the viability of an optional fossil -free fund for retirement plan participants; and

To call upon the ELCA to heed the call of the Lutheran World Federation Council in 2015 to member churches “not to invest in fossil fuels and to support energy efficiency and renewable energy companies, and to encourage their institutions and individual members to do likewise”; and

As part of this church’s response to the Lutheran World Federation’s call, to request that the ELCA churchwide organization review the ELCA’s applicable social teachings and Corporate Social Responsibility policies and procedures, with the goal of not investing in, and removing the largest fossil fuel companies as identified by Carbon Tracker, and investing in corporations which are taking positive steps toward a sustainable environment; and

To support the ELCA network of affiliated social ministry organizations with programs to address unemployment caused by changing patterns of fossil fuel use, to advocate for retraining workers – especially for renewable energy jobs, to advocate for programs that will support those in transition, and to encourage congregations and ministries to address the resulting unemployment and poverty; and

To urge ELCA members, congregations and synods to set measurable goals to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels and improve their stewardship of energy resources, transition to renewable energy sources and promote care for God’s creation.

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