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Is God Green? Religion and Politics

(Transcripts of video clips are at the end of the document.)

Do you believe that we are a divided and polarized nation?

Backgrounder: Religion & Politics
Over the past 25 years, conservative Christians have become an increasingly powerful force in American politics. The late 1970s and the early '80s marked the initial triumphs of the Christian right, with groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition flexing their political muscle on issues like abortion and homosexuality. In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan courted their as-yet untapped power and won the White House ... [more]

Class Is in Session...
If politics were boxing, evangelical Christians would be the undisputed religious heavyweight champs. And today, their power is being felt in an arena not typically part of their ideological circuit-the environmental movement. Roman Catholic groups, Jewish groups, and a dozens, if not hundreds, of non-religious organizations have embraced the environmental cause, but it's the evangelicals, with their close ties to the GOP, who "have the power to move the debate," says John Green of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. "They could produce policies more palatable to people who have not been moved by secular environmental groups."
Watch the video

But where did their power come from? Why can they "move the debate?" Ronald Reagan was the first presidential candidate to recognize the political potential of the Christian right. During his 1980 presidential bid, in his efforts to secure evangelical votes, Reagan met with major conservative Christian figures and voiced his likeminded opinion that the Bible was unquestionably the key to unlocking America's greatness, at home and abroad.

Evangelical voting power

Well, we all know how Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign turned out. His strategy of courting the evangelical vote has been a standard of the Republican party ever since.

But the election in which evangelicals made their biggest show of influence was the last one-Republican George W. Bush rode into power with the support of tens of millions of conservative Christians who shared his views on most of the more pressing political and social issues of the day. It's worth taking a look at how that vote played out. Throughout the 2004 presidential election, the media featured maps like the one below that showed partisan division between states-the blue state went to Democrat John Kerry, the red states to Bush.

US voting map 2004 -- red and blue states The evangelical contribution to the Republican victory cannot be overestimated. Shortly after the election, the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron released several reports about the American religious landscape and politics.

  • 63% of registered evangelicals-or 26.5 million individual evangelicals-voted.

  • 78% of evangelicals who voted chose George W. Bush.

  • 97% of evangelicals surveyed said it was important for the president to have strong religions beliefs.
Reverend Jerry Falwell's three-point plan-get them saved, get them baptized, get them registered-certainly paid off at the polls. It would seem that the millions of evangelical voters, along with the scores of non-evangelical Republican voters, had made clear what was Republican territory and what wasn't, and the nation seemed more polarized than ever-along religious lines, along party lines, and along geographic lines.

But the red-and-blue map may not alone tell the whole story, and in our current discussion on the perceived divisions in our nation, it bears looking at some further data. The following map breaks down voting results county by county. Robert Vaderbei of Princeton University proposed using a third color, purple, to indicate counties where the differences were slim. Results are analyzed on a scale ranging from solid blue (100% Democratic) to solid red (100% Republican) with shades of purple representing the degrees in between.

US voting map 2004 -- the purple effect Not so stark? Let's take an even further look. The following cartogram of the 2004 election is based on county-wide results, and the sizes of geographic regions such as counties or provinces appear in proportion to their population.

It is hardly recognizable as the land mass of the United States, but it certainly tells us that we are not as divided as common understanding would indicate. And yet, there is a sense among citizens that we are deeply polarized and that extreme perspectives dictate the public conversation. How can we be purple when our airwaves, civic discourse, media reports seem to indicate otherwise?

US voting map 2004 -- cartogram Another report by the Ray C. Bliss Institute may shed some light on this apparent contradiction. "Increased polarization is the principal finding of the Fourth National Survey of Religion and Politics post-election survey ... Although the election was very close overall (51 percent for Bush and 49 percent for Kerry), there was extensive polarization between and within the major religious traditions ... Evangelical Protestants gave Bush more than three-quarters of their votes, while nearly three-quarters of the Unaffiliated voted for Kerry."

It is no wonder that the environmentalists like Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation and a Christian have called on the evangelicals to become involved in the environmental movement.

Schweiger, in a speech at the Christianity Today-National Association of Evangelicals-Evangelical Environmental Conference in 2004 (reprinted in the Winter 2005 Issue of CREATION CARE magazine), said:

"And I'm here to tell you something else. The environmentalists, the National Wildlife Federations and the Sierra Clubs and all the other groups out there will not win this battle - [pause] - hear this, will not win this battle without evangelical Christians.

Because the U.S. Congress is made up of a lot of Conservative Republicans and the Conservative Republicans consider their bedrock constituency evangelical Christians. If evangelical Christians come to the table and say that caring for the planet is a part of Christianity and a part of our message, evangelical Christians can turn this struggle. In fact, I will predict that until evangelical Christians weigh in in a serious way in this matter, we will not win it, and I mean that sincerely.

So I'm here as a brother in Christ to urge you…who are not in this fight to get in this fight for the benefit of our children's children. Together we can turn this if we work together and find ways to make this happen. "

Hear what Larry Schweiger has to say about the recent debate within the evangelical movement and what it may mean for Republican Party priorities.

Watch the video: Larry Schweiger

In summary, Evangelicals wield considerable power over public policy: They vote more often and they care more than anyone about their candidate's religion

Discussion
  • Do you believe that we are a divided and polarized nation? What evidence do you see that we are or are not?

  • The three maps presented here each tell a story about the United States. What do you take away from looking at these three maps? Which map is closest to your political experience and political wishes?

  • Is your faith critical to your vote?


BEGIN CLIP FROM "IS GOD GREEN?"

BILL MOYERS: Evangelicals - whether in the hollows of West Virginia, the towns of Idaho or suburban mega churches - share some common tenets: that Jesus Christ is their lord and savior…. …that salvation entails a personal conversion - being born again… …and that the Bible is God's word.

RONALD REAGAN: "All the complex and horrendous questions confronting us at home and worldwide have their answer in that single book."

BILL MOYERS: Back in 1980, millions of evangelicals underwent a political conversion and gave their hearts to Ronald Reagan.

Reagan was no evangelical, but he understood the Bible's role in their faith - and the role they could play in his political future.

RONALD REAGAN: Now, I know this is a non-partisan gathering and so I know that you can't endorse me, but I only brought that up because I want you to know I endorse you and what you are doing.

BILL MOYERS: What they were doing was setting out to take over The Republican Party.

REV. JAMES ROBISON [1980]: We must begin to literally penetrate every area of our society! Yes, even the political area!

REV. JERRY FALWELL [1980]: We have three priorities in the 1980s: Number one, get people converted to Christ; number two, get them baptized; number three, get them registered to vote.

RALPH REED [Christian Coalition Recruitment Video, 1990]: I believe that if we carry this five-fold strategy out, with diligence and with effectiveness, I think that we will be the most powerful political force in the nation by the end of this decade.

BILL MOYERS: By the year 2000, their legwork put George W. Bush in the White House…

GEORGE W. BUSH: God bless you and may God bless America!

BILL MOYERS: And in 2004, Bush was re-elected when 3 out of four white evangelicals voted for him.

END VIDEO


BEGIN CLIP, INTERVIEW WITH LARRY SCHWEIGER, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION

BILL MOYERS: So where does the future of evangelicals and the environment take us? Will the James Dobson's, the Pat Robertson's, the Jerry Falwell's ultimately carry the day in the evangelical community?

LARRY SCHWEIGER: I think as they see their base moving on this issue, which it is right now, they're going to change their message. And they're going to be forced to change their message because they'll be out of step with their own constituencies.

BILL MOYERS: You think that people in the pews are changing?

LARRY SCHWEIGER: Oh, absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: What-- what's changing them? They're Bible believers. They are followers of these--

LARRY SCHWEIGER: But they're also waking up to the urgency and the reality of global warming. They're seeing it in their own lives. They're seeing it in their worlds. And- they see that the planet is not the stable place that it once was. That we're seeing increasing intensity in storms and droughts and-- all the forces of nature are going in a direction-- that's not good over time.

BILL MOYERS: But is it denial at work here? Because I saw a poll just last summer-- I think it was an ABC poll that it may have been a Fox poll that said 66 percent of Americans do not believe that global warming will affect their lives. A large portion-- maybe two-thirds of the respondents of that poll said they didn't think global warming would affect their lives.

LARRY SCHWEIGER: Well, I think that the question, and I think it's a question that's-- coming into sharper and sharper focus is-- you know, for a long time that the spin was that global warming didn't exist. And then global warming exists but it's not caused by humans. And then it became, well, it's caused by humans but we can't really fix it. It's not something we can stop. And so we need to adapt to it.

But there's also this other spin out there that global warming is something that's going to happen a hundred or two hundred years down the road. Well, that time frame is now striking very quickly. And the scientists are making it clear that we're already seeing. You know, 98 percent of the ice caps on the planet are melting. We're talking about-- you know, where do we have our next Olympics? You know, how far up the mountain do we need to go to do an Olympic event? We're seeing the-- 40 percent of the polar region has melted. Both sides of Antarctica are now melting. We're seeing increasing droughts. 50 percent increase in droughts over the last 30 years. We're seeing intense storms well up around the world. Coastal flooding.

Persistent drought in drier places across this country. And so people are seeing those changes and they're starting to connect the dots. And I-- and I think as they connect one dot to another, it-- they all lead back to the fact that we're-putting too much heat trapping gas in the atmosphere and that's going to change the nature of our world in our lifetimes.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think it can change people who, many of us-- you know, many of us are in denial. Many Americans are in denial. They have a support staff. How do you reach those people? Joseph Campbell said if you want to change the way, you have to change the metaphor. Is there a Biblical metaphor that might reach people who still are unconvinced by the science, by the data, by the facts?

LARRY SCHWEIGER: I think it's he Good Samaritan, you know, we see the man on the roadside who is hurting. And we step to the plate and understand that. Well, let me suggest to you that there are, literally, tens of thousands of Samaritan-- victims on the roadside that that Good Samaritan stepped up and helped. And they're-- they're in New Orleans and they're in coastal-- areas in the Gulf right now in America.

END CLIP

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