Almighty God, your word of creation caused the water to be filled with many kinds of living beings and the air to be filled with birds … Thank you for seeds and soil, green stem and air. For fruit on the vine, then falling fruit rotting on the moist ground, then new seed again … We pray for your wisdom for all who live on this earth that we may wisely manage and not destroy what you have made for us.
Photo: Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
So spake a reverend at Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., last weekend at an Earth Day Sunday service attended by Muckraker — one of tens of thousands of similar services that took place nationwide as part of a growing effort in America’s church community to stimulate environmental activism.
Even enviros of a decidedly secular bent who might normally blanch at such creationist sentiments will appreciate the call for wise management of natural resources. Indeed, when they discover that in the past week Christian leaders have delivered this plea not just to millions in their congregations, but also to our very own God-fearing commander in chief, they may cry “hallelujah!”
On Earth Day last week, more than 100 reverends, ministers, and bishops representing more than 2 million American churchgoers sent a letter to the White House condemning President Bush‘s environmental record. There were no rabbis or imams among the signatories, but not because the National Council of Churches, which organized the letter signing, doesn’t value interfaith efforts. Rather, according to Cassandra Carmichael, director of eco-justice programs at the NCC, “This was a Christian-to-Christian letter. We have a president who aligns himself with the Christian community, but as Christians we feel he needs to take a good hard look at the Bible and begin abiding by its principles.”
“The book of Genesis records that God beholds creation as ‘very good’ (Genesis 3:1) and commands us to ’till and tend the garden’ (Genesis 2:15),” reads the letter. “[W]e believe that the administration’s energy, clean-air, and climate-change programs prolong our dependence on fossil fuels, which are depleting Earth’s resources, poisoning its climate, punishing the poor, constricting sustainable economic growth, and jeopardizing global security and peace.”
The missive takes aim in particular at the Bush administration’s politics on air pollution. “[W]e feel called to express grave moral concern about your ‘Clear Skies’ initiative — which we believe is [part of] the administration’s continuous effort to weaken critical environmental standards that protect God’s creation,” says the letter, which goes on to criticize Bush’s efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act’s new-source review provisions and his failure to institute mandatory controls for greenhouse-gas emissions.
Citing the Bible’s directive to “defend the poor and the orphan; do justice to the afflicted and the needy (Psalms 82:3),” the letter sings the gospel of environmental justice, noting that clean-air policy changes have the greatest impact on “those least able to defend themselves” — namely, “[p]oor people, who have limited access to health care; senior citizens, who may have compromised immune systems; and children, who pound for pound breathe 50 percent more air pollution than adults.”
What’s notable about the effort is not just its attention to policy detail, but its direct assault on what Bush’s supporters (and Bush himself) frequently cite as his core strength: an unswerving moral rectitude derived from Christian faith.
Photo: National Council of Churches.
NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar put it this way: “President Bush has said that moral values are the cornerstone of his administration. But as a person of faith, I question whether the president fully understands his moral commitment. I’m concerned that he is failing to protect God’s children.”
Edgar, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1987, was the first Democrat in over a century elected from the heavily Republican seventh district of Pennsylvania. “I was elected largely by fiscally conservative Republican men that were supportive of the environment,” he told Muckraker, adding that these same pro-environment Republicans are “horrified when they see what the Bush administration is doing to environmental protections.”
While Muckraker sat among the families gathered in their Earth Day Sunday best at Cumberland Presbyterian — as parents and grandparents beamed at dozens of children scurrying through the aisles with azalea blossoms in hand — two words came to mind (besides amen and hallelujah): swing voters.
There was no overt Bush-bashing during the service, but it wasn’t hard to connect the dots between a divine mandate for good environmental stewardship and growing evidence that the Bush administration has fallen from grace.
Consider this: The National Council of Churches has 36 member denominations in more than 100,000 congregations nationwide — that adds up to a whopping 45 million faithful. This collaboration of mainline Protestant churches isn’t part of the religious right, which Bush has worked so hard to court, but it might be called the religious middle — a constituency the president would like to have in his camp this election season. If so, he’s got some convincing to do.
“Our community holds the president, as a Christian, to the kind of moral standards that we live by,” Carmichael said. “But more and more members are seeing a disconnect [between their beliefs and the president’s policies]; they’re becoming alarmed and raising their voices. They’re coming to terms with the fact that they can’t in good faith ignore what this administration is doing to God’s earth.”
The letter puts it this way: “We do not come to these positions casually, nor are we alone in our views. A growing number of religious Americans have come to recognize a solemn obligation to measure environmental policies against biblically mandated standards for stewardship and justice.”
If the political force of Christian environmentalism continues to spread in areas once thought solid Bush demographics, his campaign may be doing some praying of its own come November — their own Judgment Day.