Evangelicals get religion on climate change

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Dobson: global warming a distraction

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.

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  1. James - March 14, 2007

    According to Christian theology, the garden (the Earth) was given into the stewardship of Adam and Eve. Christians have failed miserably (have “sinned”
    greatly, one could say, using Christian ideology) in rejecting any of the environmental calls over the last many decades. I welcome their new-found embrace of their own religion’s call to take care of the Earth. I guess I am just suspicious of their motives, since they have so horribly used so many other people and issues to further their own agenda.

  2. FD - March 14, 2007

    I think that the evangelical community is just like any other large group of people, there are those that care about the environment and those that don’t give it a second thought. To be fair the traditional environmental groups don’t exactly make most evangelicals comfortable when they walk through the door. We could benefit from the assistance that this group could provied in money and manpower. Just because we don’t agree on everything doesn’t mean that we can’t unite around things we do agree on. Treating green evangelicals with suspicion and contempt won’t do anything but give our advasaries more things to point and laugh at.

  3. Cheryl - March 14, 2007

    I am an evangelical Christian and also an environmentalist. I am young, and I don’t fit into many of the traditional evangelical political ideologies (I am also against the war in Iraq, for example). I am seeing a change in young evangelical thought, and am excited to see this shift getting political attention. God created our planet with amazing detail and balance. If we are paying attention, we should all be in awe of the intricate systems that keep our planet in tact and should feel great shame in detroying it. The point of being Christian is not always to get it right the first time (can anyone really do that all the time?), but to change our ways when we see that we are wrong. We must all join together to save our planet!

  4. Alex Censor - March 14, 2007

    Echoing what someone commented earlier — it has been a tragic mistake, always, to stereotype a whole group with derogatory images/names (be that “radical leftwing tree-huggers”, “right wing christian fundementalist kooks” or whatever.) At minimum it misses opportunities to find both common ground and common humanity… to say nothing of the possibility of effectively working together — even if from different angles — on common goals — whether one calls it bibilically commanded stewardship of what God has given us or practical concern for our children’s future.
    Many in both communities have made the error of viewing the other with suspicion and discomfort because of the language/idiom that each group uses and the sometimes cultural and regional and generational differences.
    Let’s hope this is a significant start to both changing this specific relationship and even a breaking down of the isolationism and polarization in the so-called culture and political wars.
    I suspect most traditional environmental activist on the left, although usually speaking at the practical scientific level when trying to make their cases in public, at heart, have not trouble at all considering environmental issues as moral issues and, although the word is not used, “religious” or spiritual issues. Similarly, those in the evangelical community and other religious communities and groups who have been for sometime (this is not that new there) have been concerned about “stewardship” as a religious obligation are not village idiots and are well aware of the practical and scientific issues and consequences of failing to live up to that religious obligation.

  5. Kim - March 15, 2007

    This whole “fight” around global warming confuses me, especially why Dobson would be so opposed to someone preaching to protect the environment. Just like protecting your home and family for safety and well being, the envirmenment is your bigger home and shouldn’t you care for that too. And why wouldn’t you want to protect what God created so beautifully. I don’t understand why you can’t preach on the values he strongly believes in as well as taking care of the environment. I am not that familiar with global warming but do know that the environment is changing, whether natural or human induced, doesn’t change the fact that we need to take care of our environment. I hate to say this (and not saying Dobson is like this), but sometimes I feel that people are afraid (both Christians and non-Christians) to stand up to be strong environmentalist b/c they are afraid for example to give up their big vehicles that are terrible with gas and its emissions or they are afraid they might make less if they don’t promote this big vehicles …..greed for the big business and dollar can deter support for what is right. I can’t stand the fact too that Christians are expected to be Replicans and that we have to be labeled one or the other, its like saying no Democratic is a good Christian and that is wrong. I love the enviorment, I am pro-life in a major way, yet I can see the good and bad in both democratic views and replican views. Just because you say you are for the enviroment also doesn’t mean you are democtriac and are pro-choice. Its sad to be labeled so quickly and that a Christian will judge you (I don’t think we are suppose to judge) if you say you voted Democtratic b/c you care for the environment over the mighty dollar yet you are still pro life), I think Repulicans can be just as corrupt and use religion to hide behind and win votes. Christians should almost create their own party and mix the goods things from both. I think God would be disappointed in how we are acting over this.

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