This decade, there’s been a lot of talk about how religious organizations (“faith-based”, in politically correct jargon) are essential to social activism, and how no social movement could get along without them. Rather suspiciously, these claims usually come from religious organizations, the leaders of whom are jockeying for attention and access to financial resources.
How does this talk match with reality? A recent environmental effort provides some useful context.
A coalition of 331 organizations sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate and to President Obama, asking that climate change legislation be strengthened by eliminating pro-industry provisions that were passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year. Religious organizations were actually only a small minority in this group – just 9.9 percent.
There has also been much made of the idea that Christian evangelical groups typically thought of as right wing and pro-industry are having a change of heart, and organizing to support environmental issues. That trend, if it really exists at all, was not seen in this effort. Of the 33 religious organizations that signed the letter, not one was an evangelical Christian group.
A Lakota group seeking to protect the sacred grounds signed the letter. A Jewish Vegetarian organization signed on. The Mennonites made an appearance. Evangelicals were not to be seen at all.
Only 0.3 percent of Americans identify themselves as Unitarian-Universalists, but the largest segment of religious organizations signing the letter was comprised of Unitarian-Universalist groups. There were 11 such organizations. The best-represented Christian group was the Roman Catholic Church. 9 Catholic organizations signed the letter. The only other Christian organization that was represented was the United Church of Christ. One group with that affiliation signed. 8 interfaith organizations also signed the letter.
This activist effort shows that it’s secular groups, not religious ones, who are in the lead when it comes to the environmental movement. Of the small number of religious groups who have gotten involved, non-Christians are in the majority.
The idea that some kind of progressive Christianity will play a major role in confronting the right wing agenda does not fit with the facts, in this case.