Currie: Faith, science offer politicians wisdom on climate change
As both a citizen of the United States of America and an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, I strongly concur with Article VI, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: "... no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
Still, for many people of diverse religious traditions, faith informs our political beliefs. On the issue of climate change, a charged political topic which has led Oregon Senate Republicans to twice flee the state to deny a quorum for voting on legislation addressing the climate crisis, religious bodies nearly uniformly support measures to protect God's creation.
Specifically, Oregon Republicans oppose Senate Bill 1530, which "would set a gradually more stringent cap on statewide carbon dioxide emissions and require polluters from the transportation fuels, utility and industrial sectors to acquire 'emissions allowances' to cover every metric ton of their emissions," according to reporting by The Oregonian.
The Pew Research Center notes that Christian evangelicals make up a large percentage of Oregon GOP voters. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is the umbrella group for these churches in the United States, and they have been clear about what they believe the Christian response to climate change should be.
In "Caring For God's Creation: A Call to Action," the NEA wrote that we "are commanded to care for the earth and all its creatures, because the earth belongs to God, not to us. We do this for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the creator, owner, sustainer, redeemer and heir of all creation."
Sen. Herman Baertschiger, the GOP minority leader in the Oregon Senate, identifies as a Lutheran on his public Facebook page. The Lutheran World Federation states that "creation groans under the weight of human action and inaction."
GOP Rep. Cedric Hayden is a vocal opponent of action by the Oregon Legislature to confront climate change. He is also a former Seventh-day Adventist missionary, a church that says "the ecological crisis is rooted in humankind's greed and refusal to practice good and faithful stewardship."
Fellow Republican Sen. Bill Hansell, one of those who left his post in Salem to oppose SB 1530, is a Baptist Sunday School teacher. A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change states that human activity is "sometimes productive and caring, but often reckless ... sinful."
Democrat Betsy Johnson was the lone member of her party in the Oregon Senate to support the walkout. She claims membership in the Episcopal Church, which, as part of its Jesus Movement for Creation Care, supports a "carbon tax and carbon offsets."
Republicans and Democrats both compete for religious voters. Pope Francis has said "the protection of the home given to us by the Creator cannot be neglected."
The General Synod of the United Church of Christ adopted a resolution that declared that the "vision and urgency of the Green New Deal are what is needed to preserve and restore God's great gift of creation."
Leading Jewish rabbis have issued "Elijah's Covenant Between the Generations to Heal Our Endangered Earth: A New Rabbinic Call to Action On the Climate Crisis." It reads in part: "Our children and grandchildren face deep misery and death unless we act. They have turned their hearts toward us. Our hearts, our minds, our arms and legs, are not yet fully turned toward them."
The faith-based organization Islamic Relief Worldwide has declared "we have no right to abuse creation or impair it. Our faith commands us to treat all things with care, compassion (rahmah) and utmost good (ihsan)."
GOP leaders in Oregon will tell you they are not defying religious beliefs by refusing to take action to address the climate crisis. Instead, they will claim to be representing rural Oregon. Yet the most recent National Climate Assessment notes that "rural America has already experienced impacts of climate change-related weather effects, including crop and livestock loss from severe drought and flooding, damage to levees and roads from extreme storms, shifts in planting and harvesting times and large-scale losses from fires and other weather-related disasters. "
It will only get worse.
Both religion and science offer wisdom for our elected leaders to consider when it comes to climate change, and politics could use an infusion of wisdom right now.
Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister and Northeast Portland resident, is director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and university chaplain at Pacific University. Opinions expressed here are his own.
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