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General Assembly Rejects Divestment from Fossil Fuel Companies

Wednesday May 23 2018

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has voted against the church withdrawing its investments in oil and gas companies.

The Assembly instead voted for a countermotion from the Very Rev Albert Bogle that the church should ‘engage with’ the industry ‘to continue to seek alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement’.

The motion defeated a proposal from the Church and Society Council, which would have urged the Church Investors Trust and Pension Trustees to divest in two years if companies weren’t aligned with the Paris Agreement by then; plus a more radical motion from the Rev Jenny Adams which urged immediate divestment.

Mr Bogle and his supporters argued that the Church could have more influence on oil and gas companies as an investor, and were also concerned about employees of the industry. They also pointed out the hypocrisy of making this decision while churches are still powered by fossil fuels and many ministers and members drive petrol cars.

Mr Bogle said: “I’m pleading for more to be accomplished through engagement, perhaps more robust engagement. Let’s be the thorn in the flesh of the oil companies.”

The convener of Church and Society, the Rev Dr Richard Frazer, said that the Council had tried to keep everyone on board with its ‘direction of travel’ on the issue, but that ‘we should not write a blank cheque’. “We have been addicted to fossil fuels for many many years now. But we are living through what has been described as the ‘petroleum interval’, and we need to move on from it, as hard as that can be.”

Supporters of Mrs Adams’ motion said that with people around the world already suffering due to climate change, and the urgent need for a switch to a low-carbon economy, action should be taken now.

Mrs Adams said: “Disinvesting would be the right thing to do … because where our treasure is indicates something about our priorities. We must act now, not in another two years, while our sisters and brothers and the rest of creation cries out.”

And the head of Christian Aid Scotland, the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, said that one person every second is displaced by weather and climate related disasters.

However, Mr Bogle’s countermotion got more votes than the two pro-divestment proposals combined – 300 against 128 in favour of the Church and Society deliverance and 135 for Mrs Adams’ countermotion.


Also during the Church and Society debate, there was strong condemnation of the recent shootings of protesters in Gaza, which the Very Rev David Arnott described as ‘by any standards… an atrocity’, and a call for the UK Government and European Union to recognise the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.

The Council was instructed to make representation to the UK and Scottish governments on the support of vulnerable migrants and to change policies ‘that force asylum seekers into destitution or homelessness'.

There were also motions accepted on human rights abuses in Cameroon; on homophobic bullying; on protecting the rights of EU nationals working in the UK; on dementia-friendly churches; and calling on the UK government to reinstate housing benefit for under-25s.

During his speech, Dr Frazer drew attention to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s famous appearance at the Assembly Hall 30 years ago, the ‘Sermon on the Mound’, but took issue with her ‘ideology of unfettered wealth creation’ which he said had resulted ‘not in a trickle down (of wealth) but a flood up as the rich have got richer and the poor increasingly live in degrading circumstances’. “We need a theology of sufficiency,” he said.


Later, ministers who are not in a parish complained that they had been made to feel like 'second-class ministers' by the new Registration of Ministries act.

Under the new legislation, which came into force last year, parish ministers are given a different category from those ministering elsewhere - such as armed forces, hospital or industrial chaplains, and those working in central church administration; and those ministers have to prove they have the necessary up-to-date skills and training before being allowed to be ordained to a parish.

Alistair Cumming, Clerk of the Presbytery of England, said that the act 'has created a two-tier hierarchy in the ministry'; and the Very Rev John Cairns said that he had been told by an Armed Forces Chaplain that it meant 'Thursday morning (when the Assembly affirms its chaplains) was a bit of a sham'. "We are treating this group of our ministers as if they were ministers from another church," he added.

The Rev Neil Dougall, chair of the Registration of Ministries Committee, said he was 'distressed that some of my brother and sister ministers feel they are second class ministers' and that 'certainly in the eyes of the Committee there is no hierarchy of ministry'.

During the debate of the General Trustees, convener Raymond Young warned that the Church's estate was 'too big for its needs, many (buildings) in the wrong place, not welcoming, in poor condition or do not represent good stewardship'. But he drew attention to several new builds, and concluded: "Our challenge is to reshape the Church's physical assets for the future for mission."

The Trustees accepted a new instruction to 'form a working group consisting of representatives from the Church and wider society with experience of planning and funding innovative building arrangements to help congregations be both missional and sustainable'.

Another new measure was accepted urging the Trustees 'to investigate the costs and benefits of assisting congregations to reduce or eliminate their fossil fuel use in our churches and buildings'.

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