This is the first part in an occasional series of Q&A’s with Texans involved in issues of the environment and energy. The first interview is with Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, a grassroots religious network of Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations and individuals that adhere to universally held social principles of the Abrahamic traditions.
Moorhead is also the director of Texas Interfaith Power & Light, Texas Impact’s environmental program. The group is devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith.
1) What’s your view – and Texas Impact’s view – on the intersection of faith and the environment? As an interfaith organization, representing a diversity of congregations, what is the common thread among the different communities of faith in regards to the environment?
The environment is an area of common concern for most of the world’s faith traditions, both in its own right and because of what it means to human beings. Here’s what I mean by that: first, the major faith traditions all value “care for the creation” because of an understanding that the creation is good. As a Christian, I believe what Scripture says, that God made the world and everything in it and says it’s very good. So the world (and everything in it) deserves the best possible care because God loves it, and if I love God then I would want to take care of what God loves. And second, the environment has an impact on human life–we breathe the air, we drink the water, we eat food grown in the soil–so we have to protect the environment because in doing so, we are caring for God’s children.
2) Various polling has shown that conservative Christians, especially white evangelicals, are the group least likely to acknowledge the reality of climate change. Why do you think this is and do you see any signs that this is changing?
There are several reasons that conservative evangelical Christians would be less likely to acknowledge climate change or think we should take steps to address it. But I’ll tell you that there are plenty of United Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc., who don’t buy climate change either, and/or who don’t think we need to do anything to address it. For a lot of people, it has to do with fear of change. And it’s very disruptive to many people’s theology to consider that human beings might be able to damage God’s creation in a permanent way.
If God is all-powerful like we believe, then we’d like to think God could fix any mess human beings could ever make, even if it’s really, really bad. Within the Christian community, the conversation about climate change and US response to it is part of a larger conversation about the Kingdom of God, and whether our job as Christians is to try as hard as possible to get away from the Earth and go somewhere better, or whether our job is to help bring about the Kingdom of God here on Earth.
3) Texas Impact has encouraged the Texas Legislature to press forward on energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Why are these efforts important to your organization and what more would you like to see the elected leaders do in Texas?
Energy efficiency and renewables are two concrete strategies to care for the creation and be good stewards of the resources God gives us. Faith communities can certainly be good environmental stewards by doing their own energy efficiency and renewable projects–but at least within the Abrahamic faiths, there’s a shared understanding that it’s a religious obligation to work for justice, which in a democracy generally means working to influence public policy. So we very much hope that lawmakers in Texas and the US–and globally–make efficiency and renewables policy priorities and allocate resources to support them.
4) Some of us, myself included, were raised in churches where it was taught that man’s dominion over earth meant that humans had the right or even obligation to conquer the planet. Then, we have the growing “prosperity gospel” movement, which puts great emphasis on material wealth and consumption. Do you think there is an anti-environmental streak in much of American Christianity? Any signs that things are changing, especially among young people?
I’m not sure how many churches exactly endorse that antiquated definition of “dominion” anymore, but the idea that human beings are at the top of the Creation pyramid is very strong even in moderate and liberal traditions. It’s not that churches or their members set out to be “bad stewards” of creation or anything. And I think the current discussions in Austin, in the Legislature last spring, and certainly globally leading up to Copenhagen are highlighting the basic concern of faith communities that environmental policy can’t care for the environment at the expense of vulnerable populations.
This all means that faith-centered concern for the Creation is multi-dimensional, and I think faith communities are starting to demand more nuanced discussion of issues like “energy justice” instead of just falling in line with secular environmental concerns. This isn’t “anti-environmental.” In fact, the world should hope the faith communities set a high bar for environmental policy that addresses both human and non-human concerns.
You should be careful asking questions about “young people–” how old do you think I am? I think you are right that college students and young adults in the church are often more environmentally tuned-in than older members, but I’m not enthusiastic about generalizations.
5) What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue in Texas today?
Today, Texas’ most pressing environmental issue is energy, and the impact of energy production and use on our environment.
If we really deal sustainably with energy, we can help mitigate our next big crisis, which will be water. But if we punt on energy, it will make water a worse problem. And after water will come food. So I think we really need to get energy right.