Last week I wrote a post called "Jesus Interruptus" (a title that failed to elicit the encomiums it deserved, ahem), about efforts by a group of evangelical leaders to prevent the National Association of Evangelicals from making a formal statement on global warming. Later that day, I was contacted by Paul Gorman, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, who said I’d gotten the story all wrong, that the NAE had never planned to issue a statement, and, somewhat cryptically, that I should keep my eyes peeled for news on Wednesday.
Well, here it is Wednesday, and here’s the news:
Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming …
Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."
"For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority," the statement said. "Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough."
This is excellent news — and I say that as someone able to find the cloud in any silver lining. It’s debatable how much power conservative Christians actually have in Republican politics — as opposed to, say, big business — but they are certainly perceived to have great power. And they are perceived to be as conservative as conservative gets. This move could decisively dispel (finally!) the illusion that global warming is a partisan issue.
And worse yet, from the perspective of the Bush administration, the Evangelical Climate Initiative specifically calls for federal legislation to establish a carbon cap-and-trade system.
And it won’t stop with the press conference: The Initiative will continue with television and radio ads in states with lawmakers influential on energy issues, along with educational events in churches and Christian colleges.
The television spot links images of drought, starvation and Hurricane Katrina to global warming. In it, the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a megachurch in Longwood, Fla., says: "As Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of God’s creation. The good news is that with God’s help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world and for the Lord."
Those in the evangelical community particularly friendly toward the administration are already in full damage-control mode, of course. In this brief but informative NPR story, we hear this:
"I don’t see James Dobson. Is there a more influential evangelical than James Dobson?" observes Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "I don’t see Chuck Colson. I don’t see Franklin Graham. So these are obviously prominent evangelicals and I — please don’t in any way think that I am denigrating anyone who’s on this list — but it is not an exhaustive list of evangelical leaders, let’s put it that way."
That’s how they’ll try to spin it: This is some kind of addled splinter group. But I doubt it will fly. Back to the NYT piece:
Of those who did sign, said the Rev. Jim Ball, executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network: "It’s a very centrist evangelical list, and that was intentional. When people look at the names, they’re going to say, this is a real solid group here. These leaders are not flighty, going after the latest cause. And they know they’re probably going to take a little flak."
To see the kind of mindset that these forward-thinking evangelicals are up against, I conclude with some mind-bogglingly backward thoughts from Richard Land:
Land says the Bible makes clear that God expects human beings to take care of the earth. But "human beings come first in God’s created order," he adds. "And that primacy must be given to human beings and for human betterment. If that means that other parts of nature take a back seat, well, then they take a back seat." Land argues that slowing economic growth and development by overly strict environmental controls will harm human beings.
Good thing Noah didn’t think like that.