What Global Divestment Day Has To Do With Nonviolence

Today is Global Divestment Day, when organizations and activists all over the world shed light on how invested capital (especially the invested capital of organizations with large endowments like universities) fuels the industries that do the most damage to the Earth and environment through activities that fuel climate change.

The idea of divestment is nothing new. Basically, its the idea that investments have a lot to do with the success and failure of large industries, so investors should reward socially responsible companies by investing in them, and compel socially irresponsible companies to change their practices by divesting (un-investing) in them.

If investors invest in a dangerous or destructive industry (for instance, the oil industry) then that industry will have the resources to continue operating and damaging the environment. Conversely, if many large investors divest (remove their invested money) from these industries, then they wont have the resources to continue operating.

It should come as no surprise that in Capitalism, capital is the key to success.

As Christians and as Dunker Punks we have an undeniable, irrefutable call to nonviolence. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says clearly:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” – Matthew 5: 43-48

So what does this have to do with divestment? What does nonviolence have to do with divestment?

Here’s what I think: If Jesus commands us to love our enemies, to take active steps to show them kindness, good grace, and love, and to refrain from hurting them, what does that mean for those who aren’t our enemies but we don’t often really think of as our neighbors? How should we treat someone in Bangladesh or New Orleans that we don’t know and never will know?

Here’s a bit of common sense for you: If Christ says we should love our enemies, that should automatically mean we love everyone else. Everyone, from Bangladesh, to New Orleans, to Syria is our neighbor. In Luke, Jesus explains how to love:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:27-36

When Jesus says “do good to those who hate you” and “do to others what you would have them do to you,” he’s commissioning a structural, preemptive approach to nonviolence. He’s saying treat people well even before as situation has turned violent. It’s not enough to avoid retaliation. You have to dismantle hatred with love before it is allowed to reach violence (of course, if it does reach violence you have to continue with nonviolence). Nonviolence is not simply not being violent, it is altering structures and behaviors that are in-and-of-themselves violent.

In other words, its not enough to avoid hurting people directly. If you are part of a structure, system, or behavior that hurts people, you are being violent. That’s what the Christian call to nonviolence should be most concerned with: altering structures, systems, and behaviors that are violent.

This is where it comes back to divestment. Divestment is one way to look at our economic structure (capitalism) and alter it to be less violent.

The Global Humanitarian Forum and other think tanks estimate that 300,000 people die each year already from events and effects associated with climate change, with the possibility of as many as 500,000 per year by 2030.

More conservative estimates, like those from the World Health Organization place current deaths at about 150,000 per year and estimate that by 2030, the number will be about 400,000 a year.

So right now, by the most conservative estimates, more people die each year than belong to the Church of the Brethren in the United States. This isn’t just a question of maybe people will die in the future because of climate change, but people are already dying right now. And, there are things we can do to curb this that we don’t. To me, that is every bit as violent as war or terrorism or gun violence.

We cannot call ourselves nonviolent if we do nothing to resist climate change.

That’s why divestment is an act of nonviolence. It’s taking steps to change systems and structures and behaviors that right now are violent. So as nonviolent Christians I think divestment is a great way to practice nonviolent social change. It’s not just about resisting the urge to retaliate against our enemies, its much more that that.

So Dunker Punks, encourage the systems that you’re a part of to divest! If your parents have investments that profit from climate change or environmental destruction, challenge that. If you’re in college, organize your classmates to pressure your schools to divest. If you’re an adult and you belong to a trust or retirement plan or you have your own investments that profit from climate change, make the tough decision to divest from that. If you reflect on the teachings of Jesus, ask yourself where your own financial wellbeing ranks next to the call for radical nonviolence.

Encourage the Church of the Brethren and Brethren Benefit Trust to advance and make good on its commitment to socially responsible investing by adopting more restrictive language about investing in companies that profit from climate change. The current guiding langue says that the BBT will avoid investing in, “Companies that are egregious or consistent violators of environmental regulations” (Sec. 1, Subsec. H, Item d). This is good, and I want to make it very clear that I am very proud of how the COB and BBT show leadership with socially responsible investing, but I don’t think our Christian understanding of climate change should be dependent on the US Government’s definition and regulations. If the US Government isn’t doing enough to combat climate change, certainly a historic peace church can show a better effort.

Continue to lovingly help the members of our faith community recognize and understand the scientific reality that humans cause climate change and have the ability to change their behavior to stop climate change. More importantly, help them understand how fighting Climate Change through divestment and other measures relates to nonviolence. This isn’t just an issue of following scientific consensus, this is an issue of following Christ. This isn’t just about protecting the environment, this is about protecting people. It’s an issue of life.

I hope that the Church of the Brethren becomes a leader in mobilizing nonviolent action to combat climate change. This is a topic that should be at the very center of who we are as a denomination and nonviolent faith tradition right now. In 1935, when the continued threat of worldwide violent conflict was the greatest threat of violence in the world, Annual Conference declared “All War is Sin.”

Now, 80 years later, the greatest, most violent threat facing the world isn’t global conflict, isn’t war, isn’t terrorism, but is climate change. It’s time to say, “Climate Change is Sin.”


Emmett Eldred - Hollidaysburg COB, Middle PA DistrictEmmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or email dunkerpunks2014@gmail.com.

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