Three different organizations have more in common that appears at first blush.
One is an anti-civil rights and anti-income tax organization founded as an anti-communist body fearful that alleged traitors in the American government were seeking to establish a one-world government run by socialists. It was named after John Morrison Birch, a fundamentalist Baptist missionary from Georgia.
Another is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, founded in Georgia, and run by fundamentalists who have a noted track record of being anti-Disney, anti-women and anti-public education.
The third is an anti-tax, anti-Social Security and anti-government political group that seeks to protect corporate and special interests from regulations that advance the common good.
The John Birch Society shares an anti-everything disposition with the Southern Baptist Convention and Club for Growth.
All three share opposition to the bi-partisan “American Climate Security Act of 2007” (S. 2191). They reject the bill co-sponsored by Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.).
“Climate-change Bill Would Devastate Families and Industries” read the headline of a JBS press release on Thursday. A JBS action alert heading said, “Senate Bill to Reduce Greenhouse Gases Would Cripple U.S. Economy.”
Two SBC officials signed a letter in March opposing the Warner-Lieberman bill.
Last Wednesday, the SBC publishing house, LifeWay Christian Resources, issued an article based on a survey which found that an amazing 86 percent of SBC pastors think the media have hyped the threat of climate change. The survey found that an astonishing 75 percent of pastors think the government should not take “significant action to reduce carbon emissions to combat global warming.”
A day earlier, a Club for Growth press release said, “Club for Growth Unveils Ad Campaign to Combat Economy Crushing Climate Change Legislation.”
Calling the Warner-Lieberman bill “a massive redistribution of wealth,” the Club claimed it would aid foreign companies, create unemployment and drive up energy costs.
Behind this shared opposition to pragmatic climate-change legislation is another commonality, one that shapes the viewpoint of all three organizations.
While all three have distinct purposes and appeal to different constituents, they all share a common civil religion on economic matters. They have an idolatrous relationship with the laissez-faire market. They see an “invisible hand” at work. They act as if that economic theory is divinely sanctioned.
In their shared doctrine of the market, the pursuit of private gain trumps the advancement of the public good. They reject government actions which further the common good. They oppose taxes that result in aid to the impoverished and working poor. They oppose regulations that protect the health of all citizens. They oppose bills that address climate change.
Their moral pivot points may differ, but the results of their positions are the same ”keep the rich and powerful rich and powerful with all the harmful consequences accrued to ignoring social justice and earth care.
It is this “market” theology that causes all three to care little about the tangible protection of the global commons ”the earth. It is what causes them to prioritize corporate wealth over the near-consensus of the scientific community about climate change.
Although the Birchers, Southern Baptist fundamentalists and Club for Growth extremists have staked out opposition to the only realistic climate-change legislation this year, others have stated their support for the Warner-Lieberman bill.
Some 140 Baptist leaders signed a letter supporting the bill, a letter rooted more in a biblical moral vision than the civil religion of the market.
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church called for the bill’s support in late March. The National Council of Churches and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed earlier support to the Warner-Lieberman initiative.
According to press reports, the Warner-Lieberman bill will be considered this week. The choice appears clear for the faith community that advocates for the common good: speak up or let the extremists carry the day.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.