Thoughts by New Jersey Presbyterians on the 221st General Assembly

I have a very personal take on the action of the General Assembly to advocate divestment from fossil-fuel companies.

“We will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.” So says the psalmist (Psalm 46:2).

I have seen the earth change – literally. A year ago last October, the Atlantic Ocean cut my parish in half. The site of Hurricane Sandy’s breach of New Jersey’s Barnegat Peninsula, portrayed in news media around the world, is just three miles from my home.

Roughly a quarter of the members of the church I serve, Point Pleasant Presbyterian in Point Pleasant Beach, were displaced from their homes. Some still are.

Before the Army Corps of Engineers mended the ocean breach – through a Herculean, round-the-clock effort involving over 3,400 dump-truck loads of fill – the homes of some of our members were cut off from their church by an impassable body of water.

Those members were not in their homes at the time, because the entire barrier-beach area had been evacuated, just hours before Sandy struck. It was many weeks before those members were even able to survey the damage, due to ruptured natural-gas lines, sinkholes and other hazards.

A tremendous preponderance of scientific evidence demonstrates that extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy are heightened by global warming, which is in turn advanced by over-reliance on fossil fuels.

There was a time when we viewed tobacco companies are benign. I’m convinced future generations will regard fossil-fuel companies as equally culpable in profiting from pain and suffering in human lives. Those future generations, looking back on our historical era from circumstances that are unimaginably more difficult than our own, will wonder why it took us so long to awaken from our complacent slumber and begin the long and arduous task of saving the earth.

The Assembly vigorously debated proposals calling for divestment from fossil-fuel companies – some demanding immediate divestment, others advocating a more measured approach. In the end, the Assembly voted to refer the matter of fossil-fuel divestment to our Mission Responsibility Through Investment office (MRTI), for report back to the next Assembly in 2016.

That action represents progress: not such rapid progress as some want to see, but progress all the same. I know the people of my storm-wracked community of Point Pleasant Beach will be heartened to know that we Presbyterians are making an unmistakable witness in favor of freeing our nation from our deadly addiction to fossil fuels, and seeking more earth-friendly energy sources.

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