Religious Institutions and Fossil Fuel Divestment

It is exciting that the Divest (from fossil fuel companies) and Reinvest (in alternative energy) campaign has been gaining momentum steadily over the past two years and might well be coalescing into a major global climate movement. Progressive religious organizations around the world have been among the leaders in the campaign.

I’m proud to be associated with several of these organizations. Union Theological Seminary in New York City is my alma mater, the institution from which I received my Ph.D. in social ethics. Last year, Union decided to divest its endowment investments from fossil fuel companies. My own church, Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, NJ, made the same decision. GreenFaith, a national interfaith coalition for the environment headquartered in New Jersey (I was a board member from 2004-14), has been organizing and communicating about the Divest-Reinvest movement for more than two years now.

Most recently, one of my clients, the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew in Manhattan, made the decision to divest. See their press release below. To these organizations and to so many more religious groups that are taking a leadership role and affirmative action for the earth I can only say – Bravo!



The Board of Trustees of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew has voted unanimously to divest its endowment of fossil fuel-related investments. The decision, made March 19, 2015, was based on both ethical and financial factors. 

The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew joins a growing number of churches and religious groups that have deemed the behavior of the fossil fuel industry unacceptable, and are taking an active role in opposing its influence and tactics. The suffering, loss of life and loss of habitat that climate change promises—and has already begun—to inflict, directly violates the Christian calling to love one’s neighbor, serve and protect the poor, provide for future generations and act as stewards of God’s creation.

James F. Karpen, senior pastor at St. Paul and St. Andrew, says, “It is vital that the investments of a religious community be in harmony with our Biblical and ethical commitments; anything less smacks of hypocrisy. The current trajectory of the fossil fuel industry spells violence towards the environment and the people and creatures who share it. It is the sort of thing that must make God weep.” 

The Board of Trustees’ decision to divest was also grounded in financial and economic concerns. Gary Matthews, of First Affirmative Financial Network, LLC, advised that the balance sheet values of most large fossil fuel companies were arguably overstated due to listed fossil fuel reserves that would not be produced or burned due to severe climate change impacts. Investors will eventually recognize these “stranded” assets as essentially worthless and the stock prices of these companies will likely suffer as a result. Thus divesting from fossil fuel companies might actually enhance the endowment’s long-term performance. 

Rosina Pohlmann, leader of the St. Paul and St. Andrew Green Team, says “Our hope is that the larger United Methodist Church will see this action and similar actions in other churches as incentive to take up the call for divestment.” Three days prior to the Trustees’ decision to divest, St. Paul and St. Andrew’s Church Council voted unanimously to endorse a resolution put forth by grassroots movement Fossil Free UMC to divest the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits of fossil fuels. The resolution will be brought to regional Annual Conferences in June and then forwarded to the General Conference in 2016. 

St. Paul and St. Andrew is a progressive and welcoming United Methodist congregation on Manhattan's Upper West Side.