Clergy Testify for Massachusetts to Divest


 As part of the national campaign initiated by 350.org to prompt colleges, cities, states, churches and denominations to divest from fossil fuels, the state Senate of Massachusetts is considering Massachusetts Senate Bill S. 1225.  On September 10, 2013, many citizens testified at the hearing for this bill, including numerous UCCers.  Below are the statements from two clergy, Reebee Girash (who just finished serving First Church Cambridge) and Rob Mark, Sr. Minister of Church of the Covenant in Boston.

Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash - State House Testimony, September 10, 2013
Massachusetts Senate Bill S. 1225
 
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.  I am a pastor in the United Church of Christ, the largest Protestant denomination in the state – and we've recently passed a nationwide resolution urging the divestment of church held funds from fossil fuel companies, along with a similar resolution here in Massachusetts.  (For full details, visit macucc.org and ucc.org) 
 
Jesus instructed Christians to love our neighbors as we love ourselves – and this is a mandate we share with many traditions.  This mandate has a parallel in the State House when we consider that a primary responsibility of government is to ensure public health and safety. Not the wealth of individuals or corporations – government ensures that our society has the infrastructure to ensure the common good.  Making responsible choices in government is one way that our society cares for its neighbors.  Further, government bodies have greater capacity to ensure the common good than individuals or groups. 
 
Climate change is one of the key moral issues of our day. It has already had severe impacts on our neighbors in the Commonwealth and around the world, and as our weather systems and agricultural patterns further destabilize, it will increasingly become a matter of life and death.  Addressing climate change depends on more than what individuals can do via conservation – it depends on societal (governmental) action.  I am glad to see what Massachusetts is doing to reduce fossil fuel emissions and to implement the Global Warming Solutions Act, but with a problem so comprehensive and urgent, we must do more.   In the case of climate change, we need to close coal plants, build renewable energy production, tax polluters, offer a just and swift transition to green jobs for all fossil fuel workers, and invest the public's money in a responsible and moral fashion.  We must invest in a sustainable future for everyone in Massachusetts. As Rev. Fred Small says, "Money is always an instrument of moral choice."
 
I urge the legislature to pass Senate Bill S. 1225 and divest our pension funds from $1.3 billion of fossil fuel industry holdings.  By showing leadership on this issue, the Commonwealth can influence the public narrative around climate change by making a prophetic statement with its money.  Divestment makes sense morally, environmentally, and financially.
 
Poet and farmer Wendell Berry wrote, “The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility.  To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”  So that Massachusetts may lead in the renewal of the earth, and build a better future by ensuring the health and welfare of all our neighbors, I urge the legislature to divest our state pension funds from fossil fuels.
 
Rev. Rob Mark - State House Testimony, September 10, 2013
Massachusetts Senate Bill S. 1225
 
I am deeply grateful for the chance to speak today in support of Senate Bill S. 1225.  I join you today as a Protestant clergy member who serves as pastor of Church of the Covenant, a federated Presbyterian and United Church of Christ congregation in the Back Bay of Boston.  But more importantly, I join you today as a person of faith and hope who calls the Charles River Watershed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts home. And I speak in the spirit of humility but with great urgency about the need for our Commonwealth to act now to protect our home from the devastating effects of climate change.  As someone called to love God and neighbor, it is paramount that I also consider the places where my neighbors live, work, worship and breathe. The impacts of climate change are threatening these very places, and it is time to act. 
 
Climate change is the single most important moral issue of our day.  It is not only creating unstable living conditions for millions of our world’s people and creatures, but is threatening the very core systems that sustain life as we know it on our planet.  Sadly, the intensity and rate of climate change is proportional to our greed and predilection toward ever-increasing consumptive lifestyles, and therefore can be seen as a form of judgment over inaction.
 
In a central scripture passage from my faith tradition (Matthew 25: 31-46), Jesus calls followers to care for the “least of these.”  Climate change is creating a reality where there are more people than ever who are hungry, thirsty, and homeless. It is thus poised to create the most massive human rights violation the world has ever seen. Furthermore it creates more suffering, directly at odds with this mandate to love and serve the least of these.  Loving the least of these also means we need to take into account how our decisions and activities affect all of creation now and into the future.
 
The realities of climate change mandate that we as people of faith and conscience, and people of this Commonwealth use our creativity and prophetic witness to act now to mitigate such destruction.  Joining the divestment from fossil fuels movement is a very important step in this faithful work.  For it is clear that if fossil fuel companies simply fulfill their business model as it currently stands, the earth will become irreversibly inhospitable to life as we know it.
 
It is morally untenable and unjust for our Commonwealth to profit financially from the destruction of creation and the suffering of humanity caused by the unfettered burning of non-renewable fossil fuels.  We should not profit from industries who are making more money than has ever been made before due to a business plan that threatens all of nature.
 
Massachusetts has so often been on the cutting edge of technology, education, community, and representational government that serves all people.  If we as a state wish to continue to have a consistent and authentic moral voice as an example to the rest of our country and world in these areas, we would do well to divest.  Becoming the first state to divest from the fossil fuel industry would certainly boost our standing as a leader in our nation in creative problem solving to global challenges.
 
Climate change is also the first global issue that humanity can unite in tackling, as we are all affected.  Faith communities can certainly take a lead on this. Our Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination is currently working hard to put a divestment resolution before our national body this coming year, and the United Church of Christ has already passed such a resolution.  But we need our local and national governments to also take the lead so that the faith communities are not the sole leaders in this movement.  Divesting our money makes sense morally, environmentally, and financially.  I urge our state leadership to pass this bill.
 
Thank you for your consideration.