Politics

02.21.12

Santorum Obliquely Suggests Obama Worships Earth, Not God

This weekend, the GOP hopeful practically claimed Obama is not a Christian, insisting that he holds earth above God. But what does the Bible tell us about stewardship?

Yep, he went there.

Former senator Rick Santorum told voters recently that President Obama adheres to “some phony theology. Not a theology based on the Bible.” What would that “theology” be?

Santorum says it is “a world view that elevates the earth above man.” On CBS’s Face the Nation, Santorum said, “I was talking about the radical environmentalists. [T]his idea that man is here to serve the earth.”

Never mind that he is equating a fringe environmental view with a president who enraged environmentalists last year when he dropped a clean-air regulation to reduce smog. He’s also absurdly suggesting that Obama is a pagan earth worshipper, which is directly at odds with being a Christian.

Jonathan Merritt—a Southern Baptist minister and author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet—told me of Santorum’s remarks, “It is a typical culture-war tactic: marginalize a movement by highlighting the extremists [who] exist on the fringe. The vast majority of [environmentalists] just want to preserve the good world we live in for our children and grandchildren. Among those are a vibrant and growing number of Christians who value God’s good creation and hold the environmental views of figures like St. Francis, Martin Luther, and Billy Graham.”

Perhaps it’s really Senator Santorum who hews to a “phony theology” at odds with the Bible. Santorum, who has been a shameless apologist for polluters, appears to worship at the altar of business and free enterprise no matter the cost to the health of Americans—including unborn Americans

Most recently he blasted the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule placing first-ever limits on the amount of mercury that coal-fired power plants can emit into the air. Mercury is a neurotoxin that has been known to damage developing fetuses and children and causes myriad negative health effects in adults.

Rick Santorum—along with many of his GOP cohorts—want this rule revoked. He told reporters that the EPA made this rule based on a philosophy of: “We hate carbon, we hate fossil fuels, we hate blue-collar Americans who work in those areas.”

Here’s an alternative theory: the EPA believes in clean air and in protecting Americans health. And they aren’t alone. Turns out the Catholic Church and many evangelicals share their concerns. The National Association of Evangelicals urged believers to write in support of the rule, saying, “[W]e need to be good stewards of God’s creation, which includes the air we breathe. Clean air is important for the healthy development of children and the overall well-being of society.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement, “The bishops welcome this important move by the Administration to adopt long-awaited standards to reduce hazardous air pollution and protect children’s health.”

Rev. Mitch Hescox, the CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network testified recently before Congress to urge them to support the EPA rule. He told me, “Senator Santorum has made vicious attacks on protecting the unborn from mercury. What he doesn’t understand is how we treat God’s creation is how we care about people. He says he is a devout Roman Catholic. I hope he will start listening to the teachings of his own tradition. Look at the writings of Pope Benedict; he is the greenest pope ever.”

“Any politician who uses the Christian scriptures to justify wanton neglect of natural resources needs to read the book they use as a weapon to defend their short-sighted policies.”

A pastor of a Methodist Church for 18 years, Hescox grew up in Pennsylvania around the coal business. Both of his grandfathers died of black lung. He also spent 14 years selling equipment for the coal-fired utility business. 

Hescox, a Republican, says, “God created a sustainable planet for people to live on and it is our sin that has caused pollution and public-health effects. Santorum’s remarks are not talking out of good stewardship. One in six children in the U.S. are born with threatening levels of mercury. It matters what kind of toxins we put into this planet. Seven-year-old girls are starting puberty, and that’s unconscionable. Pro-life is [addressing] whole life, not just in the uterus.”

Matthew Sleeth, M.D., the head of the evangelical educational ministry, Blessed Earth, summarized what he sees as the biblical view of the environment. “I believe if we don’t do something we won’t have a planet in 100 years. Having spent a lot of time in conservative churches, one of the first questions I get is about dominion. The way I explain it is, God gave us great power. When we extinct a species, we have not exercised stewardship. The first commandment in the Bible is Genesis 2:15: to protect and care for the garden. Nowhere in the Bible does it say ‘trash it, burn it up, throw it away.’ There is a comprehensive message that we are here to care for the earth.”

Then there is this, from that “radical environmentalist” Pope John Paul II, who wrote in 1990, “The most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in many of the patterns of environmental pollution. Often, the interests of production prevail over concern for the dignity of workers, while economic interests take priority over the good of individuals and even entire peoples. In these cases, pollution or environmental destruction is the result of an unnatural and reductionist vision which at times leads to a genuine contempt for man.”

The minister and author Jonathan Merritt says of the many Christians who embrace “creation care”: “They are environmentalists, not in spite of the Bible, but precisely because the Bible calls creation ‘good’ and asks humans to care for it. Any politician—Christian or otherwise—who uses the Christian scriptures to justify wanton neglect of natural resources needs to read the book they use as a weapon to defend their short-sighted policies.”