Eighty-six evangelicals broke ranks with religious-right kingpins including James Dobson and Charles Colson and urged the Bush administration to limit carbon-dioxide emissions to battle global warming.
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of The Purpose Driven Life, Jack Hayford of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Los Angeles, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action and David Neff, editor of Christianity Today were among signatories of an “evangelical call to action” on climate change.
“For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority,” the statement, released Wednesday, said. “Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians.”
It put forth claims that “human-induced climate change is real” and that consequences of global warming will most hurt the poor. “Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors,” the statement said.
It also claimed that “Christian moral convictions” demand a response to global warming, and that governments, businesses, churches and individuals all have role to play.
The statement stopped short of calling for stricter standards for fuel-efficiency of motor vehicles but endorsed market-based ventures such as “cap-and-trade” legislation now being drafted by New Mexico’s senators, Republican Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat.
The group, calling itself the Evangelical Climate Initiative, includes the presidents of Southern Baptist colleges located in Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. But it doesn’t include Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptists’ official agency for social concerns.
Instead, Land was among 22 evangelical leaders who earlier convinced the executive council of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals to pass a motion saying there is “ongoing debate” and a “lack of consensus” among the evangelical community on the causes, impact or solutions to climate change.
That group, led by religious right leaders James Dobson, Charles Colson, John Hagee, D. James Kennedy, Richard Roberts, Louis Sheldon, Donald Wildmon and others, warned that efforts to cut greenhouse gases will hurt the poor by driving up energy prices.
The international Kyoto climate treaty, for example, which is opposed by President Bush, they say, could cost the global community $1 trillion a year, money that could instead be used to provide sanitation and safe drinking water in third-world countries.
They represent another group, the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, which argues on its Web site that science is not settled about the cause or effect of climate change and discourages Christians from taking political stands without first examining what it calls “biblical principles” about God’s creation and preservation of the earth.
The rift represents a setback for NEA leaders like president Ted Haggard and vice president Richard Cizik, who worked to two years to build consensus for an ethic of “creation care,” which they present as a religious alternative to environmentalism.
Both men were among 30 evangelicals in June 2004 to sign a statement pledging, among other things, to foster discussion toward reaching a consensus statement on global warming within 12 months.
But neither signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative, according to the New York Times, because it would be interpreted as an endorsement by the NAE.
An article in the January 2006 NAE newsletter noted that Wednesday’s statement of spiritual principles was “erroneously reported in some news articles” as being a statement of the NAE.
While the signers of the Evangelical Climate Initiative realize there is not yet a “consensus” on the issue among evangelicals, the article said, “it is a start at building some critical bridges between religion and science” and “a sign of the growing interest in ‘creation care.'”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said the tiff reveals that Dobson, Colson and others “are more hardwired to the anti-environmental agenda of the Republican Party than they are the Bible.”
But Parham was also skeptical that the Evangelical Climate Initiative signaled a significant step forward. While some of the signers have past records of commitment to protecting the earth, he said, others “have spent decades advancing the religious right’s agenda and turned a blind eye to America’s materialistic culture.”
“If their past record is any indicator of future performance, they and their constituency will talk but not walk an environmental ethics and the earth will continue to warm up,” Parham predicted.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.