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FOR EDUCATORS > Lesson Plan: Religion and the Environment

This lesson is designed for Social Studies classrooms, grades 6-12.

Lesson Objectives By the end of this lesson, students will:
  • Watch video clips that illustrate how religion has produced diverse political views on the environment.
  • Review historical information and discuss how conservative evangelical Christians have organized themselves and exerted significant political influence.
  • Examine data on evangelical voting behavior.
  • Explain how division among evangelicals over the environment could impact their voting power in U.S. politics.
Relevant Standards

Source: "Content Knowledge" (http://www.mcrel.org/compendium/browse.asp) by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)

Civics, Standard 13: Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity.

Level III, Benchmark 3: Knows sources of political conflict that have arisen in the United States historically as well as in the present. Level III, Benchmark 5: Knows instances in which political conflict in the United States has been divisive and reasons for this division.
Civics, Standard 20: Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and associations and groups in American politics.
Level III, Benchmark 4: Understands the historical and contemporary roles of prominent associations and groups in local, state, and national politics. Level IV, Benchmark 8: Understands the extent to which associations and groups enhance citizen participation in American political life.
Civics, Standard 28: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals.
Level III, Benchmark 4: Knows historical and contemporary examples of citizen movements seeking to promote individual rights and the common good. Level IV, Benchmark 5: Understands the importance of voting as a form of political participation
Geography, Standard 14: Understands how human actions modify the physical environment.
Level III, Benchmark 1: Understands the environmental consequences of people changing the physical environment. Level IV, Benchmark 3: Understands the global impacts of human changes in the physical environment.
U.S. History, Standard 31: Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.
Level III, Benchmark 3: Understands the growth of religious issues in contemporary society. Level IV, Benchmark 5: Understands major contemporary social issues and the groups involved.
Estimated Time

One 45-minute class period

Materials Needed

  • Method (varies by school) of showing the class video and a graph from the 'Moyers on America' Web site.

  • Handout: Evangelical Voting Power (PDF file)
Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

This lesson assumes that students know which issues are typically associated with "conservative" and "liberal" political ideologies. Also, that conservative evangelical Christians have not historically supported environmental protection initiatives.

Teaching Strategy

1. Explain to students that you want to show them a short video clip from a report from journalist Bill Moyers that features some environmentalists in West Virginia. Ask students to focus their viewing on why the people in the video believe we should care for the earth.

Coal Country (3:32)
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/watch.html
Christian environmentalists Judy Bonds and Alan Johnson outline environmental problems in West Virginia and talk about how their concern for the earth is guided by the Bible.

2. After watching the clip, discuss some of the comments made by Bonds and Johnson that show the connection they make between their religious beliefs and their struggle to protect the environment.

Bonds:

  • "Which of these mountains do you think God would blow up?"
  • "It was the injustice that I saw being heaped upon the people…I began to pray for help, for guidance."
  • "Never doubt that this (i.e., protesting coal mining practices) is a battle between good and evil. Now is not a time to be silent. Now is a time to stand up and be counted. The earth is God's body."
Johnson:
  • "I first want to apologize as a Christian for the unfaithfulness of the churches and Christians who have often times - too often - become complicit in the destruction that we see upon the land."
  • Quotes the Bible, says we're breaking a covenant with God by destroying the earth, and calls it a 'sin.'
3. Explain that a growing number of evangelicals are joining in the fight to protect the environment.

4. Show students a video clip that shows how some evangelicals in Idaho now see protecting the environment as a priority in their conservative political agenda. Ask students to watch as the congregation discusses the changes in their community.

Preview of Moyers on America: Is God Green? (3:49) http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/index.html

5. Explain that environmental activism by conservative evangelicals has drawn criticism from some conservative evangelicals who are not convinced the threat of global warming and other environmental perils. Tell students that such division among conservative evangelicals over the environment could have serious political implications because this group of Americans has become one of the most powerful forces in U.S. politics.

6. Show students a video clip that describes basic beliefs of evangelicals and provides historical information on how they have organized themselves to exert political influence. Ask students to note the organizing strategies of evangelicals (e.g., voter registration initiatives, common beliefs, strategy sessions, strong leadership) and to listen for how many white evangelicals voted for President Bush in 2004 (answer: three out of four).

The Evangelical Vote (2:03)
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/watch.html

7. Discuss how conservative evangelical Christians have organized themselves and exerted significant political influence.

8. Have students complete the "Evangelical Voting Power" handout using the 'Moyers on America:' Religion and Politics Web site information (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/politics.html) and the chart, "Evangelical Voting Power" featured on the site.

Assessment Recommendations

Check student understanding of the concepts in this lesson by:

  • Collecting and grading the "Evangelical Voting Power" handout.
  • Giving students a short answer question on a future exam that has them describe the division among conservative evangelicals over the environment and what implications that could have in U.S. politics.
Extension Ideas 1. For students less familiar with topics that are traditionally "right" or "left" politically, you may find it helpful to begin this lesson with an ideology quiz. A number of political quizzes are available online, including the Typology Test (http://typology.people-press.org/typology/) from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which presents more of a political spectrum than simple "left" and "right" classifications. Another quiz is the World's Smallest Political Quiz (http://www.self-gov.org/quiz-in-class.html), maintained by Libertarians.

2. Explain that one important environmental issue for evangelical Christians is global warming. In February 2006, a group of 86 respected evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation unveiled a campaign for environmental reform and put out a statement calling on all Christians to push for federal legislation that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to stem global warming. Show this 1:38 video clip about the campaign: The Evangelical Climate Initiative (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/watch.html). Point out that not all evangelical Christians support this initiative. Examine the chart, "World Opinion on Global Warming" (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/dialogue.html) and discuss the roles that faith and science might play in setting public policy.

3. Organize a debate about whether or not religious organizations should get involved in environmental activism. The Documents section (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/documents.html) of the 'Moyers on America' Web site features arguments on both sides of the debate, as well as related articles and relevant documents. The following video clips also provide perspective:

Global Warming is a 'Distraction' for Evangelicals (3:45)
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/citizensclass/is_god_green/common_ground/
Christian broadcaster Jan Markell from Olive Tree Ministries believes evangelicals should not be spending time and money on fighting global warming. Rather, they should focus on saving people through Christianity. Evangelicals Are Understanding the Need to Fight Global Warming (3:27)
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/citizensclass/is_god_green/religion_and_politics/
Larry Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation says evangelicals are coming to understand that global warming is real and evangelical leaders will eventually shift their message to stay in step with their constituency.

4. The 'Moyers on America' Web site for the program "Is God Green?" (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/index.html) includes four Citizens Classes that provide in-depth information and discussions on religion & the environment, religion & politics, the search for common ground, and your environment. Explore one or more of these topics in small groups and have students contribute to the online Class discussions.

Related Resources

'Is God Green?' Resources
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/resources.html
The Moyers on America Web site provides a glossary of terms, links to documents important to the global warming debate, a timeline outlining key milestones in environmental policy and sites of interest that feature more information on other faiths and the environment.

The Second Creation
http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/199811/second.asp
This article from The Sierra Club's Sierra Magazine describes how nationally and locally, the environmental and religious communities are re-examining their roots, taking note of shared values and missions, and seeking ways to work together.

About the Author

Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource Web site, and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

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