(This piece was originally published on November 12, 2017 in the Journal Gazette.)

Health care. Guns. Kneeling athletes and Confederate statues. The debates rage on, and the fissures get deeper and wider. People are labeled and stereotyped before they even open their mouths on a specific issue.

Then someone like the Rev. Mitch Hescox comes along to offer hope Hoosiers can find common ground, at least on one of the vital concerns of the day – environmental pollution.

Hescox is a fiery advocate for renewable energy, clean air and water, and action against climate change. He is also a lifelong Republican, a conservative and a committed evangelical Christian. To Hescox, none of this is contradictory. In fact, his faith and political philosophy undergird his environmental convictions.

As the keynote speaker at the 10th annual Greening the Statehouse meeting in Danville, Indiana, Dec. 2, Hescox will argue that other conservatives and evangelicals should join him in advocating for solar and wind power, for vigorous efforts to protect Americans – especially children – from harmful pollutants, and for more sustainable lifestyles.

To reach traditionally skeptical audiences, Hescox, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, talks first about the effects on children.

“One in three children in America has asthma, autism, ADHD or severe allergies,” Hescox said. “While not every case of asthma or autism is caused by the way we use petrochemicals or fossil fuels, more and more research is indicating that there is an increased load, an increased part of that epidemic that is caused by fossil fuels. … Protecting our children from environmental impacts and threats is what a good Christian should do.”

Those economic effects of environmental degradation can also strike a chord with conservatives. “We haven’t accounted for the true cost of pollution,” he said.

Before becoming a minister, Hescox said, he worked in the coal industry. Now he argues that polluters “have subsidized their profits with the hearts and minds of our children’s health. That’s not a market value, that’s not a conservative value and that’s certainly not a biblical value.”

Hescox also has a message for “progressives”: Separate environmental concern from other, more divisive issues and work with conservatives and the religious community on solutions to problems everyone can agree on.

“It’s time to act, and it’s time to break this partisan divide on the environment,” Hescox said.

His view is not unique. Many churches in our community embrace a role in fighting pollution. Taylor Chapel UMC, for instance, is installing 356 solar panels that will drastically reduce its annual CO2 footprint, according to Larry Ewing, chairman of the church’s board of trustees. “It wasn’t just a financial decision,” Ewing said of his church’s quarter-million-dollar project. “It was a decision to help the environment.”

The Greening the Statehouse meeting, which last year drew 500 participants, is organized by the Hoosier Environmental Council to prepare advocates to push for earth-friendly legislation as the January General Assembly session approaches.

In recent sessions, some lawmakers have brushed aside environmentalists’ concerns on issues such as solar and wind power and pollution from factory farming. Advocates for clean water, air and energy need a wider coalition. The religious community and traditional conservatives could substantially broaden their movement. Maybe it could even be a model for bridging other chasms.


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