Disagreements persist, especially over public policies like climate-change legislation.
Mr. Painter, the Lafitte preacher, criticized the Obama administration’s fight for a moratorium on offshore drilling, saying it would worsen unemployment in the struggling community.
“I think we’re called to be good stewards of God’s creation,” said Mr. Painter, who’s also a part-time crab fisherman. “But I have no patience with people who are using the situation to push a political agenda.”
But some scholars say their response to the oil spill at least suggests an emerging agreement that environmental issues are fair game in houses of worship where they were long ignored.
“Very few of the world’s religions were making any statements about the environment 20 years ago, and now virtually all of them have,” said Mary Evelyn Tucker, a historian of religion and founder of Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology. “The challenge is to put them into practice.”
Even people with no specific religious beliefs are recognizing a spiritual dimension in the Gulf tragedy and taking a deeper look at their energy use, Miss Tucker said.
“There is a yearning for meaning and purpose and being able to contribute to something larger than ourselves,” she said.
The disaster may help replace longstanding divisions based on dogma or culture with “a new kind of consensus that isn’t liberal or conservative, left or right, but focuses on stewardship of creation, care for the poor and accountability for corporate leaders,” Mr. Wallis said.
Mr. Moore, a native of “God-fearing, pro-defense, Republican-voting” Biloxi, Miss., said the creation care message is resonating in his home state as oil fouls its Gulf coastline and batters its economy.
For progressive believers, it’s an easy embrace. But many conservatives consider eco-theology a distraction from the church’s primary mission of winning souls — or even a stalking horse for socialism or earth worship.
In Louisiana, where loyalty to the oil and gas industry remains strong despite the BP disaster, opposition to fossil fuels sometimes doesn’t go over well.
“God put the oil there. He put it there for us to take dominion over and use responsibly,” said Gene Mills, director of the Louisiana Family Forum.
Mr. Ball said it’s understandable that some believers would embrace creation stewardship in theory while resisting specific measures that change their way of life.
But making fundamental change is what religious commitment is all about, he added.
“As Christians, we have the freedom to do God’s will,” he said. “We’re not helpless, we’re not hopeless.”