The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is shaping up as an environmental and social disaster of epic proportions — and one that is also prompting a great deal of national soul-searching. Ethical, moral and religious aspects of the catastrophe are playing a critical role in the debate.
The issues raise questions about the propriety of the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, America’s penchant for consumption over conservation, the role of government in regulation and cleanup, and even the purely theological issues of the emerging teaching on “creation care” and the older eschatological debates about the apocalypse and the end of the world.
Complicating the debates is the fact that, as opposed to the Haiti earthquake or the Indian Ocean tsunami, this is a man-made disaster. So who is responsible? BP, which leased the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and leading to the huge spill? The federal government, for not regulating the industry more closely or doing more to mitigate damage as the oil worked its way toward shore?
Or must Americans look to their own responsibility for continuing to burn so much oil that companies are looking everywhere possible to drill, and as cheaply as possible?
This edition of ReligionLink provides resources for journalists covering the spill and the issue of religion and the environment.
Sources and background
ReligionLink published an Earth Day edition in April — just a week before the Deepwater Horizon blast — that has a host of resources on religion and ecology. Other relevant editions would include:
Here are a number of stories on the religious, moral and ethical aspects of the oil spill:
- The governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas named Sunday, June 27, a day of prayer for the Gulf Coast oil spill.
- An online petition, “The BP Oil Spill: A Christian Call for Lament and Reconciliation,” called on Americans to observe a “fast from oil” on Sunday, June 20, the two-month anniversary of the spill. Composed at the 2010 Duke Divinity Center for Reconciliation Summer Institute, the petition includes a Litany of Lament and suggestions for reducing oil consumption as a means for transforming “our lives as individuals and churches toward freedom from fossil fuels and reconciliation with all God’s creation.”
- The Evangelical Environmental Network started a “Gulf Oil Spill Prayer Walk” along the gulf shoreline on June 14. The Prayer Walk website has a map of the route, plus biblical resources and reflections.
- “How should Christians respond to the oil spill?” is a June 18 column by Jonathan Merritt, author of “Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet.” The essay is at CNN’s Belief Blog.
- Read a June 11 story, “Gulf spill seeps into spiritual life,” from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and posted at Religion News Service.
- Read a June 10 post at Theolog, the blog of The Christian Century magazine, called “Lamenting our oil addiction.” The post links to other related columns, including an essay in the June edition of The Christian Century by Bill McKibben, titled “It’s about the carbon: What’s worse than the gulf oil leak?”
- Read “The Cry of the Oil-Soaked Pelican: How the birds mired in the Gulf oil spill teach us to properly grieve,” a June 9 essay at Christianity Today relating the disaster to man’s fallen nature.
- A June 7 article on Newsweek‘s website, “Boycott BP! Because it’s so much better to give your money to Exxon,” explains how difficult it is to protest the spill by boycotting BP or any individual oil company.
- “Is the Gulf oil spill also a moral crisis?” is the title of a June 1 forum at The Washington Post‘s “On Faith” blog. There are contributions from religious and ethical thinkers across the spectrum.
- Read a June 1 essay in Christianity Today by Mark Galli titled, “Judgment in the Gulf: Woes and blessings of the oil spill.”
- Read a June 1 blog post, “Ecological Catastrophe and the Uneasy Evangelical Conscience,” by Russell D. Moore, a popular writer and dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
- Read a June 1 column at The Huffington Post’s religion blog, “What Is the Eucatastrophe and Why Should It Matter to Christianity?” by George Elerick, founder of Chairs for Dialogue, an interfaith initiative.
- The Rev. Chuck Freeman, founder of The Free Souls Project and a self-described liberal, has a May 31 column at The Huffington Post religion blog titled “Hearing the Prophetic Call in the Gulf Oil Disaster.”
- The Huffington Post religion blog has a number of other oil spill-related posts from Episcopal, Buddhist and other perspectives.
- Read a June 1 Washington Post story, “Gulf Coast residents finding comfort in prayer,” about religious responses to the disaster.
- Faith communities in the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico are heavily involved in relief efforts. BP donated $1 million to the Archdiocese of New Orleans for relief programs, as this May 28 Catholic News Service story recounts.