As Oxford City Council decides to divest, where is the Church’s leadership?


Oxford City Council’s decision to preclude direct investment in fossil fuel companies is a very welcome development. Following earlier announcements by, among others, the World Council of Churches, the University of Stanford and the British Medical Association, this signals that there is a growing momentum towards disinvestment.

The council’s decision reflects a recognition, both that fossil fuels threaten our future and that fossil fuel companies are not the safe investment they have hitherto been. This latter fact was recently dramatically confirmed by the news that the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation would also be disinvesting from fossil fuels and re-investing in clean energy. In the words of a friend and parishioner of mine: ‘… when smart money gets out, we need to follow before there is a crush at the door’.

If there is a fly in the ointment of all this good news, it is that once again the Church, as a whole, seems to be dragging its feet rather than leading the way. In my opinion, the Church should provide significant leadership in the move to disinvest from fossil fuel companies, just as it did with the boycott of South Africa.

We who are convinced that all that God made was and is good, we who believe that God himself, in Christ, became a creature, became flesh, and thereby revealed how much he values his material creation, we who have been taught that love for our neighbour is ‘the fulfilling of the Law’, we of all people should find that care for the planet is in our very DNA.

Once the urgency of the moment is recognised, once Christians realise that 60-80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, there should be no debate. Continuing to invest in fossil fuels is sheer madness. And yet the Church continues to take its time and to tread softly. Parallels with the 1960s, and indeed the 1790s, immediately suggest themselves: we have a few Martin Luther Kings and William Wilberforces, but the Church as a whole, at best, follows reluctantly or, at worse, regards them with deep suspicion. It is time for the Church, the Body of Christ, to wake up to the dangers before us, to be true to our DNA and begin to take a lead in the move to disinvest.

By Revd Dr Darrell Hannah, Rector from All Saints Church, Ascot Heath and an Operation Noah trustee

Photo: superdove

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