Two members of the clergy glued themselves to furniture in the reception of Church House in London on Wednesday in protest at the Church of England continuing to invest in Exxon Mobil despite their extraction of fossil fuels. Rev Sue Parffit, 79, from Bristol was subsequently arrested but Rev Tim Hewes, a retired vicar from Oxfordshire, wasn’t.
Earlier the same afternoon Christians held vigils outside Church House in London and at cathedrals in Chester, Salisbury, Liverpool and Bristol. They have been asking and praying for the Church to ‘Exit Exxon’ and divest from all fossil fuels immediately. Instead, they would like to the see the church invest in funds that promote the common good.
Rev Sue Parfitt also hand delivered a letter to the Church Commissioners asking them to divest from Exxon Mobil. The building manager sent it to the head of the Church Commissioner who acknowledged that he had received it and will note its contents. She said he thanked them for their respectful protest.
In a livestream of the vigil, Rev Tim Hewes said: ‘I am taking this non-violent direct action against the church commissioners and the pension board today, because of their persistence in investing in fossil fuels… It is grossly irresponsible and an obscenely irreverent use of money donated by parishioners… I am consumed with planet grief and unspeakably angry that the church to which I have sworn allegiance acts in a way that is alien to the doctrine of the Trinity: the Trinity from which God’s love flows over all creation.
‘To invest at this moment in history in fossil fuels, is akin to the investment by the church in previous centuries in sugar and the slave trade… To believe that maintaining investments in some way provides the church with leverage for the greater good is a nonsense and merely provides these companies with a fig leaf to cover their continued acts of ecocide. It is not the duty of the church to attempt to guide them onto a more ecologically appropriate path – market forces will do that. It is the duty of the church to invest ethically, and by propping up these companies, it is reneging on this fundamental principle. The time for engagement is over. Divestment must be immediate and total and I will continue to do everything within my power to ensure that this happens.’
Maria Havey-Ashcroft, who was part of the vigil in Chester, said: ‘If I really do understand the vastness, the depth and breadth of God’s love not only for me but for the world – then as a Christian I must speak up against the injustices caused by Exxon Mobil against people and planet. That’s why I’m protesting today.’
In July 2018, Synod agreed to divest unless certain condition were met. Christian Climate Action and those signing the letter, don’t believe they have been met. Synod agreed to divest from oil and gas companies that are not on track to meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting a global average temperature rise to well below 2°C and that that the Church would begin in 2020 to divest from companies not taking seriously their responsibilities to assist with the transition to a low carbon economy. The highly respected Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), co-founded by the Church of England National Investing Bodies, recently found that no oil companies are on track to align their emissions with a 2°C climate pathway by 2050.
The Church, as a shareholder, has sought to influence Exxon Mobil over the years to try to move the company away from fossil fuels and towards the goals of the Paris agreement. It is clear, though, that Exxon has consistently blocked shareholder resolutions calling for climate action and is planning to spend tens of billions of dollars on new oil and gas exploration and extraction. Christian Climate Action does not believe that ExxonMobil is taking seriously its responsibilities to assist with the transition to a low carbon economy
General Synod, in February 2020, agreed that the Church would reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Although not legally bound by this decision, Christian Climate Action and those signing this letter would have expected that the Church Commissioners would understand that General Synod was expressing the will of the Church and that this will should be reflected in decisions made by the Church Commissioners.
Just last week the International Energy Agency stated: ‘If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.’ Yet Exxon plans to spend as much as $120 billion on new oil and gas production in the next 5 years. Moreover, Exxon’s own assessment of its $210 billion investment strategy shows annual emissions rising by 17% by 2025, according to their internal projections.
The letter states: ‘We are facing an existential climate and biodiversity emergency of unprecedented proportions. Every organisation has to take the radical steps required to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero if we are to have any chance of even slowing down the impending climate catastrophe – a catastrophe that has already arrived for many living in the global south. The behaviour of Exxon does not show the slightest degree of serious engagement with the truth of the situation we are facing. We therefore call upon the Church Commissioners to cease investment in and all support of Exxon with immediate effect.’
We have published details of how individuals can write their own letter to the Church Commissioners.