The Shell building is just over the road from my church in Waterloo, it’s the first building I see when I step out of church on Sunday mornings. I started to wonder what the Church of England has to say about the oil industry and eventually I read the Church Commissioners annual report. I was devastated to learn that Shell is the biggest single shareholding held by the Church of England with investments valued at £89.9m. The Church of England holds investments in Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil that together are valued at over £170m. These companies are responsible for human rights abuses and continued gas flaring in the Niger Delta, for the polluting tar sands project in Alberta Canada, for dangerous deep sea drilling in the Arctic and Shell is linked to propping up the repressive regime in Syria. It is really difficult to know that my Church, the community that gives me so much strength and inspires my activism is also profiting from the poverty of the world’s poorest people and the poverty of our natural environment.
There are so many elements of our faith that bring hope to a climate changing world. Our faith story starts with God creating the first person out of the soil and naming that person Soil - Adam meaning person and Adam meaning earth. The story culminates in God becoming a human in the body of an unmarried teenage girl, as a refugee baby in first century Palestine and reminds us to love our neighbours as ourselves and to see God in the bodies of hungry, thirsty, poverty stricken people. The story goes that the Kingdom of God moves within us and the Spirit calls us to bear witness to a broken world with hopeful and faithful action. We have the gospel of the climate activist but we just haven’t got the investment portfolio of a church committed to environmental and social justice.
I have found myself wondering how I can keep my membership to a church profiting from some of the least ethical companies on the planet but time spent with Christian friends remedies my dilemma. There are countless young Christians who make decisions to buy sustainably sourced clothing, to travel in trains instead of planes, or to eat vegetarian diets. As young people we get it, and we get it because we are inheriting an ecological debt that we just can’t pay and we fear how it will affect our future. While things move slowly in the fascinating and often bizarre world of belonging to a church, my Christian climate hope is in the very real ability of us every-day extraordinary Christians to create ways of living free from fossil fuel dependency both as individuals, and as churches, simply because our belief in a just God in the midst of climate chaos calls us to do so.
Becoming low-carbon faith communities free of investments in the oil industry is one great big challenge but there is plenty we can do to encourage our churches to divest. One of the most effective things you can do is to spread the word! Have a chat with whoever will listen, your friends or your priest or pastor. You can send an email or a letter to your bishop or ask for a meeting to speak about how a Church committed to environmental or intergenerational justice could profit from destructive industries. You could send letters to the Church Commissioners or to the Ethical Investment Advisory Group or organise protest actions. Whatever inspiring action you might be thinking up, l can’t wait to hear about it all at Vocal Training.
Siobhan Grimes is a campaigner with the environmental action groups Climate Rush and Good Steward. You can contact her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org