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Seminary divests from fossil fuels, calling oil ‘profoundly sinful’

Union Theological Seminary becomes world's first divinity school to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies

New York's Union Theological Seminary voted unanimously to become the world’s first seminary to divest from fossil fuels, taking with it the school’s $108.4 million endowment and calling the globe's addiction to oil "profoundly sinful."

The move follows the divestments of dozens of churches around the world and a call from Pope Francis for Christians to become better stewards of the earth in an effort to slow the "catastrophic threat" of climate change.

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“Scripture tells us that all of the world is God’s precious creation, and our place within it is to care for and respect the health of the whole. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act,” Union President Serene Jones said in a press release Tuesday.

About 100 religious institutions, universities, cities, counties and other organizations have divested or begun divesting from fossil fuels, according to the press release.

“As a seminary we are familiar with the scriptural warning that ‘the wages of sin is death,’ and this could not be more literally true than it is in the case of fossil fuels,” Jones wrote in an op-ed for Time magazine.

“As vulnerable communities have been swallowed by rising shorelines, as potable water has become a commodity of increasing rarity, as hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by violent weather, it is ever clearer that humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels is death-dealing — or as Christians would say, profoundly sinful.”

The divestment movement among churches signals a growing concern about the dangers of climate change. The United Church of Christ of Massachusetts and Minnesota, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Oregon and the Maine Council of Churches are among the institutions that have already divested, according to Union's press release.

Pope Francis in May called on Christians to become "custodians of creation" and warned of the potential catastrophic effects of climate change. The pope used a biblical argument for protecting the earth, referencing the book of Genesis, in which God charged humans with protecting the world.

“Safeguard creation. Because if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us,” Francis said. “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will.”

Union will develop a new, sustainable policy for the campus, the Huffington Post reported, and host a climate conference called Religions for the Earth ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit in September.

“Union is the cradle of progressive Protestantism in the U.S., so I expect this decision will have a major impact,” Bill McKibben, president and founder of the environmental organization 350.org, said. “Not only is Union a moral leader, it’s also a resident of Manhattan with long ties to the city’s leaders, meaning that divestment now has a foothold in the world’s financial capital. I predict this will be the first of many seminaries that heed the call to stand up for God’s creation.”

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