September 27, 2010

The Environment, Religion and the 2010 Elections

Candidates in Illinois and Florida, as well as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, have raised the environment as an issue during this election season, sometimes framing the topic in religious or moral terms.

One candidate prioritizing the environment is Democrat Ben Lowe, who is challenging incumbent Republican Peter Roskam in the race to represent Illinois’ 6th district in Congress. Lowe lists “Green Jobs/Clean Energy Economy” first among the “Key Issues” on his campaign website. According to the Pioneer Press, he co-founded¬† Renewal, a nonprofit organization that encourages students at Christian colleges to take an active role in environmental protection, and he co-wrote a book, Green Revolution, about religion and the environment. In a 2009 interview on the Christian website, Lowe said he believes Christians are “called to be good stewards” of God’s creation. In a piece on Huffington Post earlier this year, the Christian author Brian D. McLaren described Lowe as “an Evangelical” who “represents a new generation.” “If he speaks at a Tea Party,” McLaren wrote, “it will be herbal tea!”

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April prompted many churches and Christian groups to organize aid for people affected by the spill and pray for those working to plug the leak, according to Religion News Service. One race the BP oil spill could impact is Florida’s three-way competition for the U.S. Senate, where environmental issues may play an important role, according toThe New York Times. Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek contended in atelevision ad in early September that he is the only candidate who was “against off-shore drilling before – and after – the BP spill.” (The ad does not, however, couch his environmental positions in religious terms.) Current Florida governor Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent, said in a 2008 interview with Grist Magazine that he emphasized environmental issues as governor because it was an “opportunity to do what’s right to protect God’s work.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D- CA), who is not running for reelection this year, reportedly used religious rhetoric in a September speech to Canadian environmental organizations. Graham Saul, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, said Pelosi “spoke very eloquently about the moral imperative for action on climate change in terms of how we owe it to future generations, and she spoke clearly about God’s creation and the need to respect and honour that,” according to The Globe and Mail.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggests that religious beliefs are notthe primary shaper of most Americans’ views on the environment; just 6% say that religious beliefs have the biggest influence on what they think about tougher environmental rules. The survey finds, however, that the environment is a frequent topic of sermons in churches and other houses of worship. Nearly half (47%) of people who regularly attend worship services say they hear about the environment from their clergy, and they report hearing mostly pro-environment messages. Roughly three-in-ten (29%) say their clergy encourage them to “protect it” or “clean it up,” while 11% say their clergy encourage conservation.¬†One-in-five (20%) report hearing warnings and discussion in church or other worship services about environmental damage, including the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (6%). One-in-ten (10%) of those who hear from their clergy about the environment say the messages include explicit religious language and themes promoting stewardship of the earth or care for God’s creation.

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