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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

MRTI Offers Pointless Resolution to Phillips 66.


On December 7, the Presbyterian Mission Agency issued a press release on behalf of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  Here it is: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/mrti-urges-phillips-66-reconsider-dapl-investment/.  They proudly announce that MRTI had “submitted a shareholder resolution to the Phillips 66 Corporation on November 22 urging it to reconsider its investment guidelines as they pertain to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and future projects.”  Well, one might think, “Thank goodness MRTI is on the case!”  

The release then goes on to explain: “At issue with Phillips’ significant investment in the $3.8 billion DAPL project are the environmental and human rights concerns raised by those opposed to the pipeline, including the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.  The pipeline would run near the tribe’s territorial lands and under its waters.”

Then there are a few paragraphs describing what a shareholder resolution is, and so on, followed by some self-righteous, self-congratulatory rhetoric from two members of MRTI, John Hougen and Joseph Kinard.  They point out how splendid it is that we still own stock in this company because now “we know who to talk to” and we can “advocate” with them.  Being in relationship with such companies “creates positive leverage for change.  Kinard even went so far as to compare these efforts favorably with the example of the Lord Jesus, who engaged “people and corporations where they are.”  And Phillips 66 is to be commended because they have been so “willing to engage” with MRTI.

Then we get to read the resolution itself.  It merely asks that the company “prepare a report to shareholders, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, that describes the due diligence process used to identify and address environmental and social risks, including Indigenous rights risk, in reviewing potential acquisitions.”  Then it stipulates what it wants this report to address, mainly that they should say who is responsible for this process, and how they deal with various risks and standards.  They are to indicate whether they have an exit option from the DAPL, and whether they will adjust its policies so this doesn’t happen again.

That’s it.  It does not urge the company “to reconsider” anything.  And this resolution will probably not be addressed until the next shareholders’ meeting sometime in the second quarter of 2017.  That is, before the end of June.

After that all talk about advocating for environmental, human, and tribal rights, and even following Jesus, did we expect the resolution, to be challenging, faithful, prophetic, and specific?  Forget it.  All MRTI is doing is asking the company a few polite questions.  This, apparently, is “engagement.”  It’s about “raising questions.”  We don’t want to jeopardize our relationship, I guess.

Why couldn’t the resolution say: “Phillips 66 will abandon its participation in the Dakota Access Pipeline project”?  Why couldn’t the resolution list the reasons why this project is an assault on God’s creation, deliberately routed around the white people in Bismarck, and thrust into Indigenous land?  Why couldn’t the resolution talk in some specifics about the track record of such pipelines?  Why couldn’t the resolution affirm that we have to leave this oil in the ground for the sake of the planetary climate?

No.  Instead we get: “Which committees, departments and/or managers are responsible for review, oversight and verification?”  Seriously?  

The forces building this pipeline have already announced that they intend to push ahead with this project as soon as they have a friend in the White House.  They’re not going to wait until some shareholders’ meeting.

Then we get to hear from “Rob Fohr, director of the Office of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement that advises MRTI’s work.”  His contribution is to say that, “We would like to see Phillips 66 lead the way by having the most transparent processes with respect to assessing and disclosing environmental and social risks so that these types of situations can be avoided on future projects.”

Future projects!?  The whole fossil fuel industry is one big environmental and social catastrophe to begin with.  Who cares if Phillips 66 is more transparent with their processes?  How much more transparent can they be?  They’re about making money finding, extracting, transporting, and burning fossil fuels.    

If anything, this press release demonstrates the futility of the MRTI process, and their relationship to this industry in particular.  (Our mission dollars are paying these guys, by the way.)  The General Assembly had a chance to divest from this industry last summer.  MRTI manipulated that process to ensure that we stayed “engaged” with them.  This press release, and the astonishingly ineffective and tepid stockholders’ resolution it promotes, is the result.    

Meanwhile, because we remain engaged, which is to say, benefiting from having stock in these companies, we, the PCUSA, remains part of the problem.  As partial owners of Phillips 66 we are directly responsible for the abomination of this pipeline.  I was bitterly aware of this fact as I stood with over 500 clergy in prayer against the project.  I was on one side of the barricade, but my denomination and my money was on the other side, with the petrochemical industry.

The press release has the gall to conclude by gratuitously, cynically, and inappropriately quoting out of context Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, as if the tribe itself endorsed the “constructive engagement” option with these companies.  Archambault and his people have known engagement with these companies mainly in the form of water-cannons, rubber-bullets, and dog cages.

The PCUSA needs to move to a “keep it in the ground” strategy regarding fossil fuels, which will necessarily preclude owning stock in them, since it rejects their very mission.
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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

People of Faith Unite!

Standing Rock Reflection.1

At Standing Rock, we prayed.  The clergy who showed up were wildly diverse, including nearly all kinds of Christians — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal — along with leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and other communities.  And of course, we were all invited by the elders of the Sioux tribe, and led by them in their traditional prayer and worship.  It was a broadly ecumenical and widely interfaith assemblage.
We all prayed together at this barricade across Rt. 1806.  On the other side were uniformed, militarized police, there to guard and escort those constructing an oil pipeline cutting a black scar across the landscape.
The distinction could not have been more stark.  On one side, leaders from the united spiritual traditions of the world.  On the other side, the forces of violence in the name of greed.   First, there is violence against the earth, not just in the pipeline, prone as pipelines are to breaking and poisoning land and water, but in the extractive technologies used to get the oil, and the fact that the whole point is to burn it and aggravate the catastrophic warming of the atmosphere.  Second, there is the violence against the native peoples who have lived on this land for untold generations, and who were promised it in several treaties, which were then casually and cynically broken by the government. 
This is the division in the world today.  Any apparent rivalries between religious traditions is insignificant and irrelevant, compared with the fundamental threat we all face from the regime of wanton destruction in the name of profit that now dominates the planet.  We of different spiritual traditions certainly have our disagreements.  But we have in common a spiritual perspective which understands transcendence, value, beauty, and wholeness in creation.  This is denied by forces which basically reduce creation to “resources” to be exploited in order to make investors rich, with no concern for the degradation of the land, water, air, animals, or people.  
In this conflict, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others are united in prayer with Native peoples on behalf of God’s creation.  The creation binds us together, as does our common faith in a spiritual dimension to life.  The enemies of creation are the enemies of all of us, and of the Creator.  
Christians have already seen their once deadly differences mostly dissolve.  At the very least we allow that we all worship the same Lord Jesus Christ.  The time has now come for Christians to recognize and embrace as well the commonality we share with other faiths.  The various religions of the world have more in common with each other than they have with the funders and builders of pipelines.  Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Native Americans, and Christians are not enemies but allies, on the same side of the barricade, praying together.  The real enemy, the real threat to all spirituality, morality, faith, justice, and life itself, is a rapacious, extractive, predatory economic regime based on greed, gluttony, fear, violence, and hatred. 
This means that an assault on one is an assault on all.  At Standing Rock it is the faith of Native peoples that is being attacked.  But where- and whenever spiritual and religious communities are subjected to unfair regulation or harassment, even by governments, or when churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques are actually attacked and burned, we need to realize that this is aimed at all people of faith.
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Friday, December 2, 2016

Standing Rock Reflection.2


When I was at Standing Rock, one of the main events was when 500+ clergy gathered around the Sacred Fire for a formal repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.  This Doctrine is Pope Alexander VI’s 1493 theological rationale for colonialism.  It basically means that the newly discovered continents and their inhabitants were fair game for any kind of predatory exploitation that a Christian nation wanted to exercise.  It is the root reason why companies today think they can do whatever they want with the land and people, especially Native land and people.    
The fact that this pernicious doctrine was promulgated by a Christian leader, adopted by Christian States, rationalized and exploited by Christian churches, and continues to enrich many Christian people is a big problem.  It automatically puts Christians on the side of the petrochemical industry and the government and militarized police they have bought.
The church’s rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery has to be more than making denominational statements and burning pieces of paper.  The same 2016 Presbyterian General Assembly that voted formally to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery, also voted not to divest from the fossil fuel industry.  This means that while I was standing on one side of the barricade blocking highway 1806, my denomination, for all its indignant and righteous words, had its/my money on the other side, with the pipeline builders.  We talk all post-colonialism and anti-imperialism, but our investments continue to underwrite gross injustice and ecological degradation.  Instead of paying attention to the implications of our repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, MRTI chose to cynically manipulate the GA process in the name of Big Oil.  This makes us disgraceful hypocrites.
At some point we as a denomination are going to have to put our money where our mouth is.  Otherwise, all our wonderful talk and inspiring visuals about inclusion and justice will be revealed as little more than window-dressing.