Opinion: How would Jesus vote?

On climate, Republicans see a hoax and Democrats pay lip service. No vote from Jesus here.

By David Lillard
Blue Ridge Press
September 13, 2012

If there's one trait politicians of all stripes share, it's that they all roll out the Good Book when it suits their purposes. For a few election cycles, the GOP claimed to be the Lord's standard-bearer, but recently people of faith across the aisle rallied their troops with similar claims, saying Democratic policies best represent a Christian perspective.

For people who say there's no place for religion in politics, I say: Get over it. For believers, and I am one, voting is an act of conscience. And separating conscience from faith is like separating your circulatory system from your body.

Still, it's possible for people of faith to arrive at different conclusions on public policy, and also differ on the question: "How would Jesus vote?"

Here are a few examples:

Climate change

Scientists often disagree with one another in the spirit of inquiry. It's their job. Yet few credible climate scientists dispute that human activity is rapidly escalating global warming. 

Among Christians, divisions about what to do concerning climate change often arise from the interpretation of two opposing biblical teachings: that we're stewards of God's creation, or that humans have dominion over all living things. 

Christians who believe God placed us here to care for the earth tend to favor political candidates who see government's environmental role as stewardship. The Evangelical Environmental Network, for example, supports government regulation of greenhouse gases, and bolsters its position with scripture: "Christ died to reconcile all of creation to God" (Col. 1:20), and, "All of creation belongs to Jesus" (Col. 1:16; Ps. 24:1).

Former GOP presidential candidate and evangelical Rick Santorum expressed an opposing view: "We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth… for our benefit not for the Earth's benefit." Climate change, he argues, is "an absolute travesty of scientific research" aimed at giving government greater power. The Cornwall Alliance, a faith-based group, also dismisses most climate science, saying that regulating fossil fuels will wreck the global economy and cause terrible human suffering.

The Republican Party, by and large, sees climate change as a hoax or a joke, requiring no action. The Democrats may give climate change lip service but have done little to stop it. Both parties fail the biblical test. No vote from Jesus here.

Mercury pollution and the unborn

Roughly 600,000 U.S. children, one of six born annually, are exposed as fetuses to levels of mercury pollution that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems unhealthy. Sources of that mercury are varied – some are human, some natural. But the largest human-made source of mercury in our environment comes from coal-burning power plants. And the exposure those children face could alter their brain's development and impair their mental abilities for life [pdf].

Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, speaks against mercury contamination: "It's a sanctity of human life issue that relates to the environment." It's a "call to protect the innocent, the unborn," he says. 

However, the Cornwall Alliance rejects the science and asserts that the mercury issue is merely intended to "water down the meaning of 'pro-life,' split the 'pro-life vote' and cripple the effort to protect the lives of the unborn in America."

Republicans largely oppose industry regulation and have opposed federal rules to reduce mercury pollution at power plants. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has moved decisively to curb such emissions. Democrats get Jesus's vote here for protection of the unborn.

Environmental justice

There's an old expression that "everyone lives downstream of something." But the poor tend to live downstream of everything – water pollution, toxic dumps, the most hazardous working conditions. For instance, studies show that concrete plants – among the worst air polluters – are centered in poor communities far from affluent ones.

The Evangelical Environmental Network says such facts require compassionate action: "Christians are called by our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, to love our neighbors and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We are thereby called to protect our most vulnerable populations." The Cornwall Alliance sees it differently, asserting that regulating industry hurts business, which causes unemployment and hurts the poor.

Republicans who reject environmental regulation that would reduce toxic emissions end up disregarding harm to the disempowered. Democrats may say they support such rules, but often compromise on watered-down laws that don't protect the underprivileged. 

Jesus, a strong advocate for the poor, would not approve. He would expect Republicans to "Do unto others," and Democrats to back their convictions with courage. 

People of faith should care about and act to protect "the least of our brethren" in our churches, our communities – and with our ballots.

That's what Jesus would do.

David Lillard is editor of The Observer in Jefferson County, W.Va. and an editor of Blue Ridge Press, a news service that has been providing environmental commentary and news to U.S. newspapers since 2007. is a foundation-funded news service covering climate change. Views expressed are those of the author and not Contact editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at]