This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why ACSWP's Opinion on Fossil Fuel Divestment Isn't Helpful.

GA2016 - Fossil Fuel Divestment. 

The Presbytery of San Francisco has offered an overture to the General Assembly asking our denomination to divest from the fossil-fuel industry.  This means basically taking almost all our money out of these companies as soon as practical and prudent.

The reason for this action is that these companies are among the prime culprits in creating and exacerbating the dramatic increase in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, which is the direct cause of the climate-change crisis.  The Presbytery of San Francisco, along with at least twenty-nine other presbyteries, are suggesting that perhaps supporting and benefiting from such activity is not appropriate for a church that worships the One who created the planet and left it in our care. 

Part of the process at the General Assembly is that overtures are reviewed and commented upon by various official interest groups in the church, giving the commissioners advice from their particular perspectives.

One of these groups is the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, known as ACSWP (pronounced “A C Swap”).  ACSWP issues responses to anything that relates to our political, economic, and social life.  Some conservative folks are chronically angry with ACSWP because their views are invariably in tune with the Progressive left.  There is even a movement to rein in ACSWP, led by Foothills Presbytery in South Carolina, who feel that ACSWP is extremist and one-sided, and responsible for much of the anger and divisiveness in our denomination at the local level.

In any case, I almost always agree with ACSWP’s analysis of things, since they are generally reflective of stances actually taken by the General Assembly, not to mention the teachings of Jesus Christ.  The downside of ACSWP’s work is that it tends, in my view, to involve a lot of statement-making and position-paper-writing, and the issuing of dramatic and righteous communications of our opinion to the government, and rarely is there any practical guidance about what the church or Presbyterians might actually do.  Too often they imagine they are solving the problems of the whole world, when more attention needs to be paid to what we can effectively accomplish. 

ACSWP’s response to the overture 
about divestment from fossil-fuel companies 
attacks and undermines 
the work of climate-change activists.  
It ends up being a mealy-mouthed, 
incrementalist, impenetrable, 
paternalistic, and delusional  
attempt to issue a sweeping pronunciamento 
on climate change...
but really just says that 
only a carbon tax will work, 
but that’s not going to happen, 
so everybody should just keep doing what they’re doing.  

(It almost makes me reconsider the attitude of the Foothills overtures towards ACSWP.  Not really, but I ask you….)

It appears to be the strategy of those opposed to this overture to kill it by replacing it with a supposedly fair and balanced response to the whole issue of climate change.  The goal is for the General Assembly to squeeze out a lot of verbiage, making everyone feel like we've accomplished something, and by the way, ensuring that we still get our checks from Exxon.  Sadly, this is the same kind of argument that was used to oppose divestment from South Africa 40 years ago.  It’s called “constructive engagement.”  And no, it didn’t work back then either.   

This is a very practical overture.  
It is not about 
“making a difference in combatting climate change.”  
That’s not going to happen.  

It is only about what we do 
with the money God has entrusted to us.  
The overture demands the General Assembly’s response to one very basic question:  

Should the PCUSA underwrite and profit from 
the fossil fuel industry?  

-Is it a moral, godly, beneficial, and just way to invest God’s money in coal, oil, and gas?  
-Or does such investment make us complicit in doing catastrophic damage to God’s creation?  

-Does investing in these companies make the world a better place for all?  
-Or does it perpetrate and perpetuate injustice, inequality, and ecological degradation?  

-Or, to put it in the language of the NFOG: 

How is giving our money to these companies missional?  
How is it an expression 
of our discipleship of Jesus Christ?

In other words, the only authentic reason to vote against this overture is because you believe global warming is either not happening, or not caused by human activity, or not that important.  In effect, ACSWP is in league with global warming deniers.   

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