[Paleopsych] NYT: Evangelical Leaders Swing Influence Behind Effort to Combat Global Warming
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Mon Apr 18 20:11:24 UTC 2005
Evangelical Leaders Swing Influence Behind Effort to Combat Global Warming
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
A core group of influential evangelical leaders has put its
considerable political power behind a cause that has barely registered
on the evangelical agenda, fighting global warming.
These church leaders, scientists, writers and heads of international
aid agencies argue that global warming is an urgent threat, a cause of
poverty and a Christian issue because the Bible mandates stewardship
of God's creation.
The Rev. Rich Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the
National Association of Evangelicals and a significant voice in the
debate, said, "I don't think God is going to ask us how he created the
earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created."
The association has scheduled two meetings on Capitol Hill and in the
Washington suburbs on Thursday and Friday, where more than 100 leaders
will discuss issuing a statement on global warming. The meetings are
considered so pivotal that Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of
Connecticut, and officials of the Bush administration, who are on
opposite sides on how to address global warming, will speak.
People on all sides of the debate say that if evangelical leaders take
a stand, they could change the political dynamics on global warming.
The administration has refused to join the international Kyoto treaty
and opposes mandatory emission controls.
The issue has failed to gain much traction in the
Republican-controlled Congress. An overwhelming majority of
evangelicals are Republicans, and about four out of five evangelicals
voted for President Bush last year, according to the Pew Research
The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of
Evangelicals, an umbrella group of 51 church denominations, said he
had become passionate about global warming because of his experience
scuba diving and observing the effects of rising ocean temperatures
and pollution on coral reefs.
"The question is, Will evangelicals make a difference, and the answer
is, The Senate thinks so," Mr. Haggard said. "We do represent 30
million people, and we can mobilize them if we have to."
In October the association paved the way for broad-based advocacy on
the environment when it adopted "For the Health of the Nation: An
Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," a platform that included a
plank on "creation care" that many evangelical leaders say was
"Because clean air, pure water and adequate resources are crucial to
public health and civic order," the statement said, "government has an
obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental
Nearly 100 evangelical leaders have signed the statement.
But it is far from certain that a more focused statement on climate
change would elicit a similar response.
In recent years, however, whenever the association latched onto a new
issue, Washington paid attention, on questions like religious
persecution, violence in Sudan, AIDS in Africa and sex trafficking of
Environmentalists said they would welcome the evangelicals as allies.
"They have good friendships in places where the rest of the
environmental community doesn't," Larry J. Schweiger, president and
chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, said. "For
instance, in legislative districts where there's a very conservative
lawmaker who might not be predisposed to pay attention to what
environmental groups might say, but may pay attention to what the
local faith community is saying."
It is not as if the evangelical and environmental groups are
collaborating, because the wedge between them remains deep, Mr. Cizik
said. He added that evangelicals had long been uncomfortable with what
they perceived to be the environmentalists' support for government
regulation, population control and, if they are not entirely secular,
new-age approaches to religion.
Over the last three years, evangelical leaders like Mr. Cizik have
begun to reconsider their silence on environmental questions. Some
evangelicals have spoken out, but not many. Among them is the Rev. Jim
Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network, who in 2002 began a
"What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign and drove a hybrid vehicle across
Mr. Cizik said that Mr. Ball "dragged" him to a conference on climate
change in 2002 in Oxford, England. Among the speakers were evangelical
scientists, including Sir John Houghton, a retired Oxford professor of
atmospheric physics who was on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, a committee that issued international reports.
Sir John said in an interview that he had told the group that science
and faith together provided proof that climate change should be a
Mr. Cizik said he had a "conversion" on climate change so profound in
Oxford that he likened it to an "altar call," when nonbelievers accept
Jesus as their savior. Mr. Cizik recently bought a Toyota Prius, a
Mr. Cizik and Mr. Ball then asked Sir John to speak at a small meeting
of evangelical leaders in June in Maryland called by the Evangelical
Environmental Network, the National Association of Evangelicals and
Christianity Today, the magazine. The leaders read Scripture and said
they were moved by three watermen who caught crabs in Chesapeake Bay
and said their faith had made them into environmentalists.
Those leaders produced a "covenant" in which 29 committed to "engage
the evangelical community" on climate change and to produce a
"consensus statement" within a year.
Soon, Christianity Today ran an editorial endorsing a bill sponsored
by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, along with Mr.
Lieberman, that would include binding curbs on heat-trapping gases.
Mr. Ball said the strongest moral argument he made to fellow
evangelicals was that climate change would have disproportionate
effects on the poorest regions in the world. Hurricanes, droughts and
floods are widely expected to intensify as a result of climate change.
Evangelical leaders of relief and development organizations had been
very receptive, he said.
"Christ said, 'What you do to the least of these you do to me,' " Mr.
Ball said. "And so caring for the poor by reducing the threat of
global warming is caring for Jesus Christ."
Among those speaking at the two meetings this week are Sir John and
Dr. Mack McFarland, environmental manager for DuPont, who is to
describe how his company has greatly reduced emissions of
Such an approach appeals to evangelicals, Mr. Haggard said, adding,
"We want to be pro-business environmentalists."
Mr. Cizik said he was among many evangelicals who would support some
regulation on heat-trapping gases.
"We're not adverse to government-mandated prohibitions on behavioral
sin such as abortion," he said. "We try to restrict it. So why, if
we're social tinkering to protect the sanctity of human life, ought we
not be for a little tinkering to protect the environment?"
Mr. Lieberman added: "Support from the evangelical and broader
religious community can really move some people in Congress who feel
some sense of moral responsibility but haven't quite settled on an
exact policy response yet. This could be pivotal."
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