Democrats must move to attract conservation-minded evangelicals before the Republicans do
The vast majority of green voters are Christian. Apparently, there just are not enough of them. One must also keep in mind that environmental issues have not historically split along party lines. Before their assimilation by the religious right, the Republican Party used to be the environmental party.
Here is an article from the Associated Press that pretty much sums up the looming “creation care” dilemma:
Dewitt said evangelicals will not call themselves environmentalists. They are going to call themselves pro-life … But pro-life means life in the Arctic, the life of the atmosphere, the life of all the people under the influence of climate change … Robinson said he voted for Bush in 2004 because of his opposition to abortion, but it was a tough decision, making him feel he was voting against the environment. If the conservatives want the Christian vote, they are going to have to address this … The pastor feels like Noah cutting his first tree to build the Ark.
How ironic, cutting trees to build an ark. And there is this:
John Green, professor of political science at the University of Akron and a senior fellow of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, sees evangelicals, particularly the young and educated, increasingly interested in issues that could take some of them out of the Republican Party.
And finally, from the interview of Bill Moyers by David Roberts. Moyers paraphrases a letter to the editor from a pastor right after the 2004 election:
“I went into the voting booth on Election Day, and I wanted to vote for George W. Bush because he’s right on abortion, family values, gay marriage. But I had trouble pulling the lever, because he has a horrendous environmental record.”
Note that both Robinson and the person Moyers alludes to pulled that lever for Bush anyway. The fact that they would have been much less hesitant to pull that lever had the Republicans included “creation care” as part of the verbiage in the party platform does not bode well for the Democratic Party. The problem is that a lot of religionists who fell on the other side of the fence that day and pulled the environmental lever would have voted for Bush also. I strongly suspect the words “creation care” or something very much like them will be in the next Republican platform. There may be significant numbers of religionists who are reluctantly voting Democrat because of their environmental ethic who will then have no problem voting Republican.
The phrase is already being associated with conservative pro-life forces. You will soon hear the term coming out of the mouths of televangelists like Pat Robertson, assuming he is not already using it. As it stands now, the “creation care” movement may play into the hands of Republicans come election time. This is called the law of unintended consequences, or Murphy’s law. What is needed is for the Democrats to come up with a very similar phrase. I propose, “Saving the Creation.” This would set off a lot of stomping and sputtering by the conservative religionists, but liberals do have a moral claim to it through E.O. Wilson, a liberal-leaning secular humanist and scientist whose book The Creation just hit the shelves, and whose interview will be appearing here on Grist very shortly.
You may be thinking, “But that sounds so divisive. Can’t we all just get along? Group hug!” I wish, but that isn’t the way of human nature. Just ask Wilson; he wrote a whole book on that subject also. Most conservative religionists will continue to vote against women’s reproductive rights at all costs, including the cost of global warming. This is what is wrong with American politics — religion. And the most divisive issue in America, abortion, is, at its core, a religious one. This could yet turn into a win-win situation with both parties having to put their money where their mouths are once those words show up in their respective platforms. But we will have to play our cards right.
You might conclude that if conservative religionists are going to vote for creation-care candidates (Republicans with those words in their platform), then liberal environmentalist types really don’t need to form an alliance with them since everybody would be voting green anyway. We would all be one big happy green voting family. However, it would be a mistake to think we would all be voting for the same candidates. Why? Because, the conservative creation-care candidate would also have to oppose things like women’s reproductive rights, gay marriage, and the separation of church and state to win their nomination. From an interview done by Amanda Griscom Little last year:
Polluters will have to answer to God, not just government, according to Richard Cizik. Vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, Cizik is a pro-Bush Bible-brandishing reverend zealously opposed to abortion, gay marriage, and embryonic stem-cell research … “There are still plenty who wonder, does advocating this agenda mean we have to become liberal weirdos? And I say to them, certainly not. It’s in the scripture. Read the Bible.”
For most liberal-leaning people, voting for a candidate who espouses those beliefs just because they have green credentials would be tantamount to selling your soul to the devil, and vice versa if the opposite shoe were on the evangelist’s foot. In my opinion, women’s reproductive rights are not only critically important and intimately related to environmental issues, they are essential for the well-being of women and children all over the world. A creation-care candidate will always subjugate environmental concerns anytime they conflict with their religious beliefs, as women’s reproductive rights certainly do.
You could argue that at least we would end up with politicians who vote green regardless of who wins. That would not, in my eyes, be optimal. There is a lot wrong with the present Republican Party other than their lack of environmental ethics (although Bush has been working hard declaring marine reserves lately in an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging). Environmental policy must be based on the best science available (in theory), which does not include creation science. A candidate who does not buy evolution is not going to have a good track record for picking environmental winners based on science. Visualize a creation-care congressman (a Republican with those words in his party platform) walking onto the floor and voting to fund new nuclear power plants instead of, say, wind and solar, or corn-based ethanol over cellulosic ethanol because God told him to, or his advisors from the Discovery Institute so advised him. Welcome to the worldview of conservative evangelicals. Bush relies heavily on guidance from a higher power, and he isn’t talking about high-power lines.
Here is another quote from David’s interview with Moyers:
Evangelical Christians decided they could no longer ignore the reality, despite what they were being told by their political leaders.
Let’s not let their religious leaders off the hook here, Mr. Moyers. This is a familiar story. Galileo spent a lot of time at home before the Vatican gave up its “center of the universe” interpretation. Italy has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, and it isn’t the result of abstinence. It is time for “Saving the Creation.” The phrase, or a better one, needs to start coming from the mouths of Democratic politicians with every opportunity.
Me, I would favor starting yet another Christian sect altogether, dumping outdated concepts like angels and starting fresh. What would this new sect of environmentalist Christianity look like if I had any say in it? Well, it might look something like this: exhibit A [PDF], exhibit B [PDF].
Am I serious? Only in my revulsion to the likes of many of today’s televangelists, who are in my opinion deceptive, destructive sociopaths. They would not hold the power they do today without the wealth garnered from television and its hold over the poor in our society. Sit down tonight and force yourself to flip from televangelist to televangelist, finally settling on the CBN broadcast. Watch in horror as they bilk money from the poor with promises of wealth from God for “tithing.” Do we need to ally ourselves with the hard-core conservative evangelicals? I think not. We do, however, need to make sure they do not use the creation-care concept to put the Republican Party right back into office all over again. Karl Rove is probably laughing at us naïve eco-weenies as I write.