The Intersection of Religion and Environmental Activism

by Amanda J. Baugh, author of God and the Green Divide: Religious Environmentalism in Black and White

On Monday afternoon, the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham spoke in front of the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein as part of #DayAgainstDenial, a nationwide series of events asking senators to block climate change deniers from serving in the Trump cabinet. Leaders of the ecumenical Christian group Creation Justice Ministries and the Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life, and even evangelical and Catholic pro-life Christian groups have also banded together to oppose the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. These groups appeal to their scriptures and faith traditions as they urge legislators to advance a biblical mandate to be good stewards of God’s Creation.

This type of religiously grounded environmental activism has become increasingly prevalent in the last decade, but the motivations inspiring religious communities to act are much more complicated than a simple hunch that God wants us to “go green.”

In God and the Green Divide, I examine religious environmental organizing in Chicago to show how dynamics of race, ethnicity, and class have shaped contemporary “greening of religion” movements. Focusing on the interfaith environmental organization Faith in Place, I analyze differing environmental values and motivations among the organization’s black and white participants. Faith in Place’s leaders suggested that every religion supports concern for the earth so all people of faith must take measures to protect the planet. Yet participants engaged in environmental activism based on a complex set of factors specific to their own communities, including concerns about job opportunities and health, urgencies of displaying positive civic identity, and feelings of guilt that arise from white privilege. Attending to the complex array of factors that shape individuals’ decisions to “go green” can offer a more complete understanding of the intersection of contemporary religious and environmental worlds.


Amanda J. Baugh is Assistant Professor of Religion and Environment at California State University, Northridge.

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