On January 17 a small group of high-profile environmental activists and evangelicals announced an alliance against greenhouse gas emissions, but spokesmen for leading religious organizations quickly countered that the individuals do not speak for any evangelical organization.
At a news conference in Washington, DC that day, a group of environmental activists with the United Nations-affiliated Center for Health and the Global Environment and a group of evangelicals affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) launched what they called “an unprecedented joint effort to protect the global environment and advance policies that address some of the most pressing threats to our planet, including global warming, habitat destruction, pollution, and species extinctions.”
To publicize what it claims are threats posed by human activities, including emissions of greenhouse gases, the group also sent out a news release headlined “An Urgent Call to Action: Scientists and Evangelicals Unite to Protect Creation.”
The ink on the “Urgent Call” had barely dried, however, when the legitimacy of the collaborative effort was called into question by prominent evangelicals. Although NAE Vice President for Government Affairs Rich Cizik played a key role in promoting the “Urgent Call,” NAE has never supported such global warming activism.
NAE’s Position Unchanged
The NAE, which has more than 40,000 affiliated churches in 60 denominations, has not officially weighed in on the topic since January 26, 2005 when the organization’s board issued a statement refusing to embrace a particular view on the question of global warming.
That statement, “For the Health of the Nation,” says in part, “Recognizing the ongoing debate regarding the causes and origins of global warming, and understanding the lack of consensus among the evangelical community on this issue, the NAE Executive Committee, while affirming our love for the Creator and His creation, directs the NAE staff to stand by and not exceed in any fashion our approved and adopted statements concerning the environment contained within the Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.”
Calls to NAE seeking to ascertain whether its official position had changed were not returned by press time.
Dr. Calvin Beisner, national spokesman for the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA), a coalition of scientists and religious leaders committed to responsible environmental stewardship, said in a January 17 press statement, “If Rich Cizik wrote or was aware of and permitted the release of the media advisory claiming that today’s effort was ‘spearheaded by the National Association of Evangelicals,’ he has overstepped the boundaries set for him by the NAE’s board in last year’s statement.”
Activists Continuing Pressure
The release of the “Urgent Call” and Beisner’s public dressing down of Cizik for the latter’s refusal to comply with the NAE’s guidelines on global warming are but the latest skirmish in an ongoing conflict within the evangelical community.
That conflict has seen environmental activists, working through surrogates within the evangelical community, attempt to make inroads into the predominantly socially conservative evangelical movement.
Some of the efforts have been hamhanded, to say the least. In late 2002, for example, the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) launched a high-profile anti-SUV campaign asking, “What Would Jesus Drive?” Headed by the Rev. James Ball, EEN is a subsidiary of the Rev. Ronald J. Sider’s Evangelicals for Social Responsibility.
Ball, Sider, and Cizik have tried to meld the notion of “Creation care” to environmental policy, particularly as it relates to global warming.
Teaming with Radicals
As the global warming debate has unfolded within the evangelical community, nagging questions about the ultimate agenda of Ball, Sider, Cizik, and their allies have persisted.
For his “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign, Ball’s organization availed itself of the services of the decidedly left-leaning Washington public relations firm Fenton Communications, whose clients have included the communist governments of Angola and Nicaragua, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Rainforest Action Network, Environmental Working Group, and George Soros’s Open Society Institute.
“There has been a lot of news coverage lately asserting that there is a widespread movement among evangelicals to take an activist stance about global warming. However, this is simply not true. There is no such consensus among evangelicals,” said Jay Richards, a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.
Richards explained, “For Christians, the issue of environmental stewardship is an appropriate topic. We are biblically charged to be good stewards of the Earth. Regarding global warming, however, there is substantial scientific disagreement on what may or may not be happening. Because of this, global warming is an issue that more appropriately calls for scientific and economic judgment.
“Personally, I am skeptical that humans are largely to blame for our recent moderate warming, and I am very skeptical that any future warming is likely to be catastrophic. I am still more skeptical that asserted solutions such as the Kyoto Protocol will effectively address the topic or be worth all the economic costs necessary for their implementation,” added Richards.
Bonner R. Cohen ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C. and author of The Green Wave: Environmentalism and its Consequences, published by the Capital Research Center.