It sounds like the setup for a joke: A devout Franciscan Catholic activist and a scandal-plagued Baptist government official sit down over coffee and cookies to … discuss the environment.
That’s what happened when Patrick Carolan, who heads the social justice collective Franciscan Action Network, met Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency and one of the most controversial figures in Washington, for a private audience earlier this year.
Carolan is a passionate advocate for the environment and other causes, including immigration and prison reform; he’s spent 13 days on a hunger strike and estimates he’s been arrested 15 times, though he’s lost count. He’s not a fan of many of Pruitt’s policies, which he considers destructive rather than protective.
Their differing views on environmental protection stem in part from their conflicting interpretations of Scripture, according to Carolan.
People like Pruitt “believe that God gave us the Earth to have dominion over, so it's ours to do [with] what we will,” Carolan told VICE News. In the Franciscan view, by contrast, “God created Earth to be in relationship with us,” meaning that it should be taken care of rather than pillaged.
Still, Carolan was hopeful that through discussing theology they might find some common ground. And Pruitt was willing to meet with Carolan, demonstrating the political ace Carolan and his fellow Franciscans say they have up their sleeve: shared faith.
It’s not the first time religious groups have used their seat at the table to persuade conservative lawmakers to pass progressive policies. VICE News Tonight also spoke to Mark Dybul, a former official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to explore how Christian activists leverage their faith and influence politics across the divide.