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February 23, 2006

Winds of Change in the Evangelical Response to Global Warming?

On page A9 of the February 9 New York Times, a full page ad began with the words: “Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us…” It’s unusual to see these words so prominently in the Times, even in an ad. But what was to follow sent shock waves through official Washington and much of the country focused on the issues of the day.

The following was the full headline of the ad:

“Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to solve the global warming crisis.” A little bold for the liberals, readers may have thought. But reading further they discovered that this was an advocacy advertisement from a group of 86 evangelical leaders operating under the banner of The Evangelical Climate Initiative.

The group, which signed a document called Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action , is not easily classified. It includes individuals from the right, the center, and the left; from the Reformed, Wesleyan, Charismatic traditions; old and young; all regions of the nation. The list is heavily academic—the presidents of some 40 Christian colleges and seminaries; with many leaders of evangelical relief and development agencies.

(Disclosure: My public relations firm managed the communications campaign for The Evangelical Climate Initiative, and although we are no means disinterested, we have not been part of the evangelical environmental movement to date).

The evangelicals participating in the initiative made it clear that their passion aligned with the mainstream of the evangelical community. The ad and other materials read:

“With the same love of God and neighbor that compels us to preach salvation through Jesus Christ, protect unborn life, preserve the family and the sanctity of marriage, defend religious freedom and human dignity, and take the whole Gospel to a hurting world, we the undersigned evangelical leaders resolve to come together with others of like mind to pray and to work to stop global warming.”

The document calls on the federal government to impose economy-wide limitations on CO2 emissions, and it is complementary of the Domenici-sponsored “will of the Senate” resolution on emissions.

National media jumped all over this story, and it continues to pile up the column inches. Beginning with The New York Times, the Initiative was covered by the Associated Press,
ABC World News Tonight, NBC Evening News, Fox and Friends, CNN American Morning, hundreds of local newspapers, Christianity Today, World, Charisma, and still counting.

A group called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance issued a rebuttal, and engineered a letter from James Dobson, Chuck Colson, D. James Kennedy and about 15 others, successfully urging the NAE not to allow its staff to sign the documents (signatories participated as individuals, not as representatives of their organizations).

Operation Rescue launched a scathing missive that cited funding of this Initiative as “blood money,” and Joseph Farah questioned the spiritual integrity—indeed, the very regeneration--of the participants. But most evangelical leaders have kept any disagreements fairly muted, although it may build.

But as the AP said in one of its articles: The winds may be shifting on the evangelical response to global warming. William F. Buckley wrote in his newspaper column:

“We hear now (in full-page ads) from the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Their summons, signed by 80-odd evangelical leaders, is to address the global-warming crisis .... We are indeed stewards of nature, and calls to conjoin our concern with a sense of Christian mission are noteworthy.”

There are new polls, and new ads, which I’ll cover in another post.

Posted by Jim at February 23, 2006 09:25 AM

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The Stop Global Warming Virtual March is a non-partisan effort to bring all Americans together in one place to prove that global warming is here now... and, it is time for us to do something about it.
One person can can change the world. Over 275,000 people have already joined. Imagine what millions of marchers can do! Together we will be heard.
Join the March Now!
Its easy! - No cost, No hassles. There is every reason in the world to become a virtual marcher. Why? Because it affects our public health, our national security, our economy, our planet's future.
Our mission is to use the strength of our numbers to urge 1) Our government to join the rest of the world in addressing global warming, and 2) American business to start a new industrial revolution on clean energy products that reduce our dependence on oil and other global warming pollution.

Posted by: the singularity at February 23, 2006 08:52 PM

Good luck. We're all counting on you.

I'm still wondering what Bush and Halliburton did to cause the wild fluctuations in climate from 40 million to 10,000 years ago.

Posted by: eLarson at February 24, 2006 09:42 AM

To those who have labeled Bush as stupid, how did he have the smarts to ruin the planet. Make up your mind.

Posted by: Across the Flow at February 24, 2006 08:24 PM

1. I haven't labeled Bush stupid (although I don't think he's the brightest president we've had).

2. One doessn't have to be bright to destroy things. One need only to be short-sighted and/or selfish and irresponsible.

3. Bush isn't destroying things himself. It takes the cooperation of millions of regular folk to do that.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at February 24, 2006 10:58 PM

These ads are offensive to the cause of Christ.

Posted by: JohnH at February 25, 2006 06:12 PM

There you have it: Jesus giving us his definitive word! Thanks, Jesus, aka JohnH.

I dunno, though. Them saying:

“With the same love of God and neighbor that compels us to preach salvation through Jesus Christ...and take the whole Gospel to a hurting world, we the undersigned evangelical leaders resolve to come together with others of like mind to pray and to work to stop global warming.”

Sounds reasonable and Christlike enough to me.

JohnH, has it occurred to you that pollution can be a matter of justice and love? I act for a cleaner world not because I love the plants and hug the trees (although I do love God's Creation and how God speaks to me through it), I do so primarily as a way to show my love for my brothers and my sisters, my children and yours that will inherit God's green earth.

How can that be offensive to the cause of Christ?

Posted by: Dan Trabue at February 26, 2006 10:24 PM

You can disagree with this position, but how are the ads offensive to the cause of Christ?

Jim Jewell

Posted by: Jim Jewell at February 27, 2006 07:17 AM

C'mon Dan. Disagreeing with you is on par with usurping the Son of God? John says it's offensive and you say it's not. Can't we discuss things without this bit of over-the-top rhetoric?

Here's my issue, personally. I'm all for conservation. I agree with you that pollution is poor stewardship of the resources and gifts that God has given us through the earth. No argument there. The problem is when this group uses this phrase:

" pray and to work to stop global warming."

I find that phrase as pointless and futile as saying "to pray and to work to stop all earthquakes" or "to pray and to work to speed up photosynthesis". The earth's been warming and cooling for a good long time. The Vikings were farming wheat on the coast of Greenland 1000 years ago, slightly before the SUV arrived on the scene. 400 years ago, the Thames would freeze over. Wide changes in temperature with no oil industry to blame. And yet this statement assumes that mankind is the sole fault and therefore the sole "cure" for this particular increase in temperatures. (The linked report suggests the Sun is more to blame, actually.)

They didn't just say "slow global warming", if indeed man really has an effect on it; they're out to halt it completely. Have we come to the point that we believe we can bend nature completely to our will, and we're willing to expend resources and energy in the effort to do so?

There are a number of names on this list whom I respect (including those of the denomination I grew up in and my college alma mater). I have no doubt of their sincerity of stewardship. But I do question the wisdom of a statement such as this that says more than I think they meant to say, and will be used by extremists as propaganda in their effort to combat global cooling. (Oh, wait, that was what they said 30 years ago. I meant "warming".) (Doh! I meant "climate change". Sorry for not keeping up with the fashion.)

Will the resources and energy put toward this take away from efforts to evangelize and take Christ to the world (i.e. hurt the cause of Christ)? Not necessarily, but only time will tell. But again, any effort to truly "stop" global warming doesn't sound like a good allocation of funds to me.

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 27, 2006 07:53 AM

"C'mon Dan. Disagreeing with you is on par with usurping the Son of God?"

He started it!

On the global warming issue, as I've said before, if they're using that phrase as a "codeword" for the notion of human's negative impact upon God's earth, then I'm fine with it. I don't think too many informed scientists are talking specifically about global warming but more generally climate change and habitat destruction, then I think they're on safe grounds.

I'll agree with you that, from what I've read (and owning up to being no scientist) that the judge is still out on actual global warming as caused by human activity - not that it's not the case, just that we don't know that it's the case.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at February 27, 2006 12:42 PM

I just wish that, when this many folks get together and speak with one voice, that they'd be very careful about the wording. Agreed; if it's a general call for conservation, do it up and say it that way. But as written, it sounds like they're coming out in favor of buzzwords instead of ideas while, as you noted, the judge is still out.

(Bloggger-in-law note: Sorry Jim, but that's my take on it. >grin<)

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 27, 2006 01:07 PM

WOW! Looks like Doug and Dan agree on something. I think all is well said here at the end. These are nice people, and the ads are not offensive. The concern is that these nice people are being used by some with hidden agendas. If so, then when this truth is discovered, their credibility will be damaged, thus adversely affecting the balance of their ministries as well.

Posted by: bruce at February 27, 2006 02:55 PM

What hidden agenda, Bruce? That we want a cleaner environment? Yes, we can agree that working for a clean creation is not anti-God and that we ought to be careful how we phrase our protests, but I don't think it necessary to demean those taking part in this by suggesting they're being "used."

Posted by: Dan Trabue at February 27, 2006 04:30 PM

I think he's referring to the extremists I referred to in my post; how they may interpret this as a blanket endorsement of all groups that think we can stop global warming in our time. I think Bruce is worried about the extremists' hidden agenda, not that of the ECI.

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 27, 2006 05:58 PM

Thanks, Doug. Sheesh - I thought we had made peace. To the extremists, environmentalism is their religion, and having the ECI as 'bedfellows' will be 'useful' to them. However, they will want to stay in control of the direction of the 'movement'. When doing so, they will not have the best interests of the ECI or thier other ministries in mind. The ECI people need to be careful. As Doug noted, it appears that their wording is already influenced by these extremists. The ECI must not grant total 'power of attorney' to them and let them speak for the ECI.

I remember Y2K, and several evangelical leaders jumped on that bandwagon as well. It took a long time for them to recover credibility, with a lot of other good ministries as collateral damage.

Posted by: bruce at February 27, 2006 07:46 PM

It's really pretty simple. They're off message.

You think this group of 85 agrees on important Christian doctrines? I doubt it. But, here, on a political issue, it's a cumbuyah moment.

It's not just the wording in the ad, it's the associated images implying that Katrina was more severe because of global warming. The jury is still out on that one. Yet, these guys know there is a connection. Suppose the Holy Spirit revealed it to them?

Look, if it's just being good stewards, I have no quarrel, but it's pretty clear it's much more than that.

So, let me get this straight: let's stop using resources and stop economic development because it will use more fossil fuels (sorry Africa, you lose again), but let's be sure to help the poor who we are going to be sure are poor because we have...

So, who do I listen to, ECI or Bono?

Posted by: JohnH at February 27, 2006 10:36 PM

Well, I'd suggest Bono of the two, but the ECI are not doing too badly.

You said:
"You think this group of 85 agrees on important Christian doctrines?"

I'm saying that this IS essential Christian doctrine. You interested in knowing my thinking on the point?

1. Throughout the Bible, God tells God's people to not oppress the poor, to work for justice, to work against oppression, to care for the sick and the weak, the elderly and children.

2. Pollution disproportionately harms the poor, the sick, the elderly, children.

3. Voila! Pollution becomes a matter of justice.

In addition, there is the whole Good Stewart angle and the fact that it's God's world, not ours and the fact that personal responsibility suggests we ought to clean up after ourselves (okay, not strictly biblical, but fitting nonetheless).

On your comment: "let's stop using resources and stop economic development because it will use more fossil fuels..."

The thing is, we will stop using fossil fuels simply because it is a limited resource. The question is, will we wean us from our dependence/addiction upon the oil wisely or will we do so in a clumsy, last-minute way that will, again, cause even greater pain for the poor than the rest of us?

Posted by: Dan Trabue at February 27, 2006 11:55 PM

One quick thing, bruce. I don't think necessarily that the wording was influenced by those extremists. I just think they'll be more than willing to pounce on the situation and use it to their advantage.

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 28, 2006 08:47 AM


Lack of economic development disproportionately hurts the poor as well.

But, your putting this into the realm of essential Christian doctrine merely proves that you are as far off message as this gang of 85.

Posted by: JohnH at February 28, 2006 07:12 PM

Oh, I know economic policies and development or lack thereof can hurt the poor. But so can bad economic development.

In my community, the powers that be "blessed" the poor folk of the city with the economic development of job-producing factories. Factories that helped increase the incidence of cancer.

"Woe to those who enact unjust statutes and who write oppressive decrees, Depriving the needy of judgment and robbing my people's poor of their rights, Making widows their plunder, and orphans their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, when ruin comes from afar? To whom will you flee for help? Where will you leave your wealth?"

Isaiah 10

Posted by: Dan Trabue at February 28, 2006 11:30 PM

Well, since you seem to be so superior to the rest of us Dan, why don't you enlighten us as to how to solve world poverty?

Those people in your city? What would you have them do?

Posted by: JohnH at March 1, 2006 03:30 PM

What have I said that suggests I think I'm superior? I'm just another sinner trying to follow Jesus, just another citizen with fallible opinions about what I think are the most reasonable policies.

That said, I have a few ideas. Perhaps they're wrong, I don't know. But they seem appropriate starting points to me.

1. Reducing our massive military budget (it's larger than the next 20+ nations combined) by half (~$300 billion) seems a reasonable start.
2. Return a third of that ($100 billion) to the taxpayers (so they can give to charity if they so choose or otherwise invest in their communities)
3. Investing the remaining $200 billion in global aid would go a long way towards alleviating poverty and starvation, which in turn would go a long way towards world peace.

I could go on, but the point is we've chosen to invest our money in more militaristic ways. We're the most powerful nation in the world. We're responsible for our actions.

What would I have the folk in my community do? Organize, strengthen the laws that are currently allowing toxins in the air in their neighborhood to not allow so much as to be dangerous.

And that's what they did, what we did.

You know what our state congress is doing now in response (as led by a conservative republican)? Creating a law that would not allow our toxified neighborhoods to decide for themselves how much toxin they want in the air!!

Forget compassion. Forget personal responsiblity. Forget local autonomy and democracy! Let the factories smoke on! It's their gov't, after all, they bought and paid for it.

Where is Jesus in all that?

I'll tell you where I think he is: On the front lines with those protesting this assault on our poor and on our democracy.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at March 1, 2006 05:47 PM