Last year The National Association of Evangelicals, a group that represents 30 million religious Americans, declined to take a position on global warming, citing an inability to reach a consensus. This year the NAE changed course, joining with scientific leaders to announce concerns over “human-caused threats to Creation” that includes climate change, species extinction, and habitat loss.
For outsiders accustomed to viewing the evangelical community as a monolith, the reversal might come as a surprise. But the evangelical community has never been the same thing as the Religious Right, and the rift exposes some important fault lines between the old guard of the evangelical community, personified by James Dobson, and the new guard, made up of younger leaders of rising prominence, such as Rick Warren and Rich Cizik.
The actual announcement from the NAE is full of straightforward common sense. (“There is no such thing as a Republican or Democrat, a liberal or conservative, a religious or secular environment.”) The only thing remarkable about it, really, is the reaction it has provoked from the old guard.
James Dobson has issued a letter declaring that the only proper issues of concern for the evangelical community are “the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.”
Rev. Jim Wallis, who thinks that issues such as war, poverty, disease, and the environment also belong on the list, has taken Dobson’s letter as the opening point for a delightfully feisty challenge:
So Jim, let’s have that debate – the big debate. What are the great moral issues of our time for evangelical Christians? You’re right, a new generation is embracing a wider and deeper agenda than you want them too. I think that is a very good thing. You think it is a bad thing, and want to get people fired for raising broader issues than those connected to sexual morality. So, today, I am inviting you to have that debate about what the great moral issues of our time really are…Let’s have that debate, Jim, and see what America’s evangelicals think the great moral issues of our time really are. How about it?
We’d like to see this debate as well. Not only would it drive awareness of climate change in a large and important demographic, but it has a lot of clear implications for politics on a national level.