Religions At the Crossroads of Politics and the Environment
By Katie Blair
With the global environment experiencing more ‘natural’ disasters, politicians and religious leaders continue to speak about climate change—whether it is real, if we should take it seriously, and the like. We are at the crossroads of three areas: politics, religion, and the wellbeing of our planet. Members of certain religions often subscribe to political ideologies about the environment. Why are politicizing something we all live on?
The English Standard Version of the Bible states, “You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.”
In Judaism, the concept of bal tashchit, meaning “do not destroy,” does not allow unnecessary destruction of the Earth.
The Church of Latter-Day Saints believes “The earth, all living things and the expanse of the universe all eloquently witness of God.”
Buddhists believe in living simply and respecting the balance of nature, placing emphasis on environmental legacy. Some Buddhists think living ‘skillfully’ requires the refrain of producing waste and not endorsing exploitation. This exploitation could be purchasing from organizations or people who do not practice environmental sustainability. It could be upcycling and recycling everything they use.
Often there is little room for interpretation about the stance of religions concerning the environment. We need the environment to grow food, harvest plants, take care of animals—it is and will always be the basis of humanity’s livelihood. It cannot be politicized, otherwise more people will die, more animals will go extinct, and more plants will wilt away.
Climate change is not real, global warming is a hoax, we are all going to die in fifty years—each statement has political undertones. This dominant narrative may be more relevant because political leaders are more outspoken about their faith. Or they have a stark position on abortion, religious freedom—whatever. Specific sects of Christianity subscribe to more Republican beliefs. Many Buddhists subscribe to Democratic beliefs. But the environment–that is something we all share.
In Spokane, the Lands Council is one of the forefront regional organizations focused on sustaining the ground we live on. Community Outreach Coordinator Maggie Gates says, “The faith community in Spokane has shown incredible concern for sustainability and the well-being of our environment…We are grateful that so many faith organizations have prioritized care for creation and sustainability for the betterment of the world.”
Gates also said Earth Ministry is a collaborator of the Lands Council. Their organization often leads interfaith-environmental justice dialogue in Washington state. Their mission “call[s] upon the rich history of religious traditions in caring for creation and offer[s] a vision of hope for the future.”
I appreciate this mission—environmental justice needs to be an interfaith effort. Both of these organizations are non-partisan, emphasizing that environmental legacy matters. This goes back to the roots of environmental justice: care for Earth, and Earth will care for you.
Both the Lands Council and Earth Ministry continue to make significant strides for environmental consciousness. Caring for our environment in Spokane means there is steady, continuous line of service our community needs. I am incredibly proud of the effort Spokane religious organizations make to help out Mother Earth.
A religious journey to enlightenment must include the life lived on Earth. Basic theological texts directly reference the tending to the Earth. Should this journey not be available to your children, your grandchildren? Gridlocked politics or not, our planet relies on interfaith organizations and others to take action. What is not swift is discussing changes we might be able to enact.
Science does not have a hidden political agenda—the field just needs us to act on their research. And religious centers should walk the talk of the texts they study from! Are we going to ignore statements like the ones listed above? Based on the research conducted, I think it is time to panic. Our habits are going to make climate change irreversible in my lifetime.
Katie Blair is a junior at Gonzaga University studying Business Administration and Leadership Studies. She is working with SpokaneFāVS as part of the Wolff Fellowship, a program dedicated to allowing students to engage with the Spokane community. Blair believes this fellowship is an important part of her journey at Gonzaga University and loves writing for others to read. She also loves to sing in Gonzaga’s choral program and is part of the Gonzaga Women in Business club. After graduating from GU, she plans to work in the commercial advertising industry and/or with NGOs to help make the world a better place.