Perhaps recalling the parts of the Bible in which God asks that his followers be good stewards to the Earth, the World Council of Christians, a global coalition of 345 churches moved to no longer invest in oil, gas, or coal companies and urged their members to follow their lead.
Sandwiched in between other administrative and organizational decisions about how to go forward, the WCC tackled the organization’s responsibility to the environment.
“The committee discussed the ethical investment criteria, and considered that the list of sectors in which the WCC does not invest should be extended to include fossil fuels.”
The move is the biggest one yet by Christian groups attempting to reconcile the damages that climate change is causing with their beliefs to serve the planet well.
In a statement sent from its meeting in Geneva, the group strongly condemned the rampent burning of fossil fuels and its effects on the environment:
“The World Council of Churches reminds us that morality demands thinking as much about the future as about ourselves–and that there’s no threat to the future greater than the unchecked burning of fossil fuels,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, a global climate campaign that is supporting the divestment effort. “This is a remarkable moment for the 590 million Christians in its member denominations: a huge percentage of humanity says today ‘this far and no further.’”
This isn’t from a fringe group either, the WCC includes many of the biggest churches in the world. The 25 million-member Church of England and the 48 million-member Ethiopian Orthadox Tewahedo Church count themselves as members of the umbrella Christian coalition group.
For Ethiopia, the move isn’t just theological, but also practical. The agricultural country has recently suffered through its worst drought in 60 years causing widespread crop failure and a major squeeze on its already limited resources. A report by Oxfam International found that the poor country is one of the most vulnerable to climate change in the world.
The WCC’s ruling doesn’t require that its member churches immediately sell off any investments they have in fossil fuel companies, but it does mean that they won’t be doing so in the future. Some of its members are already in the process of divesting from those companies anyway. The Church of England, for example, already began making moves towards shifting its investments to more ecologically-friendly corporations.
The WCC also isn’t the only religious group to start taking climate change seriously. Recently, Pope Francis has become increasingly strident in his condemnation of pollution, wastefulness, and habitat destruction. In a speech given in July, he called environmental exploitation a modern day sin:
“This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation,” he told students, struggling farmers, and laid-off workers in a university hall on Saturday.
“When I look at America, also my own homeland (South America), so many forests, all cut, that have become land … that can longer give life. This is our sin, exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to her give us what she has within her,” the Argentine pope said in unprepared remarks.
Despite the growing concern from the religious and the nonreligious alike, many politicians still refuse to entertain the idea that climate change is a serious issue. As religious institutions begin to embrace the idea of environmental responsibility and the existence of climate change, it might get quite a bit harder for politicians to convince voters that they are deeply religious and also opposed to doing anything to stop environmental destruction. I look forward to seeing how quickly the cognitive dissonance sets in.