Evangelicals warm to climate

Posted: 14 February 2006

The Rev. Rick Warren and some 80 other prominent evangelical church leaders in the United States have joined a new drive to get their community to fight global warming. But says, Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press, President Bush is not about to change his sceptical stance on the issue. This is an extract from her report:

Activists banking on a quick shift in President Bush's environmental policies will be disappointed - support from just any evangelical figure won't do. The [evangelical] movement is a diverse one, and some of its most politically influential leaders still question the science behind climate change.

Evangelical activism on AIDS in Africa, the civil war in Sudan and sex trafficking has deeply influenced the Bush administration. But environmental causes don't yet store the same kind of passion among conservative Christians.

"The groundwork is being laid to become much more unified in this area, much as they were on abortion and other issues," said Corwin Smidt, a Calvin College professor who specializes in religion and politics. "Whether or not they can achieve that unity remains to be seen."

Analysts agree that the new push, called the Evangelical Climate Initiative, is at least a noteworthy development.

Call to action

Years of activism culminated in the release Wednesday of the statement, "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action," which was signed by many leading conservative Christians including Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life," the president of evangelical Wheaton College, the national commander for The Salvation Army and heads of seminaries and megachurches nationwide. Several prominent black and Hispanic pastors were among the signers.

The statement frames environmental protection as a Christian imperative, fulfilling a biblical command to care for God's creation. It urges federal lawmakers to approve mandatory cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, but to do so in a way that doesn't hurt businesses. Among the funders of the initiative, which includes TV and print ads, is the Pew Charitable Charitable Trusts.

"There's real momentum here," said the Rev. Jim Ball, head of the Evangelical Environmental Network, a leader of the climate initiative and a group perhaps best known for its clean-air campaign "What Would Jesus Drive?" "The debate is essentially over for us. We are no longer going to be denying the reality of the problem."

Historic 'tipping point'

Fred Krupp, president of the advocacy group Environmental Defense, called the announcement a "historic tipping point" indicating that global warming is not just a liberal issue.

However, Christian leaders with close ties to the Bush administration have expressed scepticism about the initiative through their own group, called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance. They said in a statement that "the science is not settled on global warming," and argued that most U.S. evangelicals do not back the call for regulating greenhouse emissions.

Among the religious leaders who support the Stewardship Alliance are James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship Ministries and the Rev. Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant group.

The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 50 denominations and millions of Christians, did not endorse the initiative, but former NAE leaders did. The Rev. Ted Haggard, current president of the group, also did not sign on. In January, the Stewardship Alliance had urged the NAE to refrain from taking an official position on the issue. But Haggard said in an interview that he personally supports cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

The president has rejected mandatory controls on carbon dioxide, the chief gas blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse, and has kept the country out of the Kyoto international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases, saying the pact would harm the U.S. economy.

"If you look at public opinion surveys, there's a basis in the evangelical community for these kinds of initiatives on the environment," said John Green, a specialist in religion and politics at the University of Akron. "But they're not there yet."

Related links

Evangelical Climate Initiative

Interfaith Stewardship Alliance

Source: Associated Press 10 February, 2006

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