Earlier this summer, the United Church of Christ became the first U.S. religious organization to approve a plan to divest from fossil fuel companies. The move, which was part of a larger resolution to address climate change, drew national headlines.

Rev. Jim Antal '72 addresses the United Church of Christ's general synod earlier this summer. (Photo: Courtesy United Church of Christ)

Rev. Jim Antal ’72 was at the center of the divestment push. The conference minister and president of the UCC’s Massachusetts Conference introduced the resolution and worked closely with the church’s major financial institution, United Church Funds, to make divestment a realistic option. He told PAW that he saw an opportunity for the church to show “moral leadership.”

Some colleagues objected, noting that fossil-fuel companies provide jobs in the communities where they live and worship, but the resolution still passed with a strong majority at the church’s general synod July 1. Since then, Antal has been in contact with leaders from a half dozen other denominations that are considering divesting from fossil fuels.

Antal’s interest in the environment dates back to his Princeton years, when he hiked in the Sierras, bicycled through Europe, and celebrated the first Earth Day on campus in 1970. He says that he always has been a person who experienced “transcendence in nature,” and he believes that stewardship of God’s creation is a crucial cause. He has been arrested twice for protesting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, alongside environmental advocate Bill McKibben, civil-rights leader Julian Bond, and others.

Antal draws parallels between environmental causes and the fight for civil rights. In the civil rights movement, he says, Christian and Jewish congregations worked to “revoke the social license of segregation”; in the case of environmentalism, people of faith have the opportunity to “revoke the social license of the Exxons of the world.”

“Honestly, I think we’re on the crest of a wave,” Antal says. “I think in the next year or two this topic — involvement of people of faith in the climate issue — is going to become more and more pronounced.”

Like many of our Tiger of the Week honorees, Jim Antal ’72 was nominated by a PAW reader. Do you have an idea for a future Tiger of the Week profile? Let us know.