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Northeastern Lutheran Synod backs fossil fuel divestment

Divestment of fossil-fuel investments by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was approved at the 29th Annual Synod Assembly of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod.

By a narrow margin, delegates approved divestment by a vote of 181 “Yes” and 142 “No” during the two-day convocation at PPL Center, Allentown.

The vote on the morning of June 18 was too close to call, so The Rev. Dr. Samuel R. Zeiser, Northeastern Synod Bishop, who presided at the assembly, asked for a specific count.

Seated delegates vote on resolutions by holding aloft green cards emblazoned with “Yes” and pink cards stating “No.” On the first vote, it was difficult to determine the results from a sea of green and pink 8 in. by 5 in. cards. On the second vote, monitors walked the aisles and the front of the seating area on the floor of PPL Center to count the cards.

Prior to the vote, a vote was approved to curtail discussion on the floor of the resolution.

The approximate one-page Divestment from Fossil Fuels resolution included the following directives:

“Exclude the 200 largest fossil fuel companies as an option for ELCA retirement plan participation,” and

“That the Synod encourage its congregations and individual members to prayerfully consider their own divestment from fossil fuels, and consider re-investment of sustainable and clean energy.”

The resolution also instructs that “by Dec. 31, 2016, the ELCA begin divestment of all fossil fuel investments by the following actions:

“Publish a list of the values of all fossil fuel investments held;

“Cease any new investments in fossil fuel companies;

“Ensure that all fossil fuel holdings are removed within five years;

“Publish quarterly updates detailing progress towards the divestment, and

“Seek to reinvest any resulting monies in clean and sustainable energy investments.”

The Divestment from Fossil Fuels resolution was one of six resolutions voted on and approved at the Synod Assembly at the two-day event, which included Synod officers’ reports, addresses by dignitaries, “God’s Playground” displays by nonprofits, a keynote speaker and worship services and communion.

Synod delegates also voted to approve the following resolutions:

Funding ELCA Ministries among people experiencing economic poverty

Support for peacemaking with justice in Israel and Palestine

Establish a Social Justice Task Force about ways to stop human trafficking

African-descent Lutheran lives matter, and

Establish a Social Justice Task Force to address domestic violence.

An estimated 500 delegates and visitors attended the assembly.

The Rev. Andrea L Walker, ELCA Global Mission Area Director for Madagascar, West and Central Africa, presented greetings from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. The ELCA has an estimated 4 million members. In 2015, the ELCA started 92 new congregations in the United States.

“Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA” has raised $80 million toward a five-year goal of $198 million. The Northeastern Synod has raised about $550,000.

It was announced that the Synod raised about $100,000 for World Hunger.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl M. Peterson, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Lutheran Theological Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, presented keynote addresses each day.

“We must learn how to reach out to a new demographic: the so-called ‘nones’ who claim no religious affiliation but often describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious,’” said Peterson.

The Assembly theme was “Unleashed for Reformation 2017,” emphasizing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and Martin Luther’s split with the Roman Catholic Church.

Music and hymns worship was led by the Mark Mummert, 2015 Distinguished Visiting Seminary Cantor, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, and Aimée and Joel Pakan, a folk-rock duo who perform as Tangled Blue.

The Lutheran Youth Fellowship met in assembly June 17-19 at Muhlenberg College, Allentown.

Paul Willistein is a member of St. John’s Lutheran Evangelical Church, Allentown, where he is church council president, an Arts at St. John’s committee member and was a delegate to the 29th Annual Synod Assembly of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod June 17 and 18 in Allentown.

Kenneth Miller, chair, Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod LGBT Task Force, with display during 29th Annual Synod Assembly at PPL Center, commemorating the June 12 shootings at an Orlando nightclub.