How did conservative evangelicals, who tend to present a unified front on most matters of political significance, end up in such a public battle over how to approach environmental issues like global warming? What’s behind this difference of opinion? (Taken from http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/environment.html)
In most respects, the divide comes down not to a disregard for the world — which is, for evangelicals, the creation of God but on how exactly to care for that creation. Evangelicals part company on what God calls them to do about the environment: where to focus their attention, how to interpret scientific data, what the role of legislation and/or the free market should be in protecting the environment and human interests. Does God ask Christians, explicitly or implicitly, to make environmentalism, or “creation care,” part of their ministry and political platform? (Find out more about creation care, wise use and environmental stewardship)
Concern for the environment, and the current debate it has engendered, might be a hot topic in the evangelical community, but it is not a new one. Environmental policy debates emerged among evangelicals…in the 1960s and ’70s. There were some critics, like medieval scholar Lynn Townsend White Jr., who went so far as to blame organized religion itself for the world’s ecological ills, arguing that medieval Christian attitudes in particular, and the entire Judeo-Christian tradition in general, taught a disregard for nature and led to exploitation of the environment. That argument finds echoes today among certain evangelicals who insist that in Genesis, God gave man “dominion” over the earth and its creatures — essentially, carte blanche to do what he wants with his environment.
But for a number of religious Christians and evangelicals, this represents a dangerous misreading of the Bible. God, they contend, appointed man steward of the world, to protect it and sustain it as a way to honor to the divine work of the Creator. Caring for the environment, they say, isn’t a political issue — it’s a theological imperative.
In 1970, one such group, the National Association of Evangelicals (NEA), released a strongly worded policy resolution that called on Christians “to support every legitimate effort to maintain balance in ecology, preservation of our resources, and avoidance of the cluttering of our natural beauty with the waste of our society.” And they didn’t hedge at adding a bit of fire and brimstone: “Today those who thoughtlessly destroy a God-ordained balance of nature are guilty of sin against God’s creation.” (Read the documents)
In 1993 the Evangelical Environmental Network began to turn creation-care beliefs into action, publishing a declaration which began, “As followers of Jesus Christ, committed to the full authority of the Scriptures, and aware of the ways we have degraded creation, we believe that biblical faith is essential to the solution of our ecological problems.”
But another religious group, which later became known as the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship, wanted to take the environmental debate in a different direction. They made their opposing views known in the 1999 “Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship,” which warned that groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network’s presented “a romantic view of nature, a misguided distrust of science and technology, and an intense focus on problems that are highly speculative and largely irrelevant to meeting our obligations to the world’s poor.”
The Cornwall Declaration stressed a free-market environmental stewardship and emphasized that individuals and private organizations should be trusted to care for their own property without government intervention. It also claimed that environmental concerns like global warming, overpopulation, and the extinction of species were either unfounded or greatly exaggerated. In the words of Father Robert A. Sirico of the conservative Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and member of Interfaith Council, “Environmental ideology is increasingly being used, not to preserve nature’s beauty, but to restrict human enterprise that is essential to a more humane existence for people.”
The Evangelical Climate Initiative The rhetoric over the role of evangelical Christians in the global warming debate escalated significantly in February 2006 when 86 Evangelical leaders signed and publicly released a statement entitled Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.
Among the tenets of the statement:
(a) Human-induced climate change is real.
(b) The consequences of climate change will be significant and will hit the poor the hardest.
(c) Christian moral convictions demand our response to the climate change problem.
(d) The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change-starting now. (Read the document)
News that the call to action was in the works in January 2006 prompted the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, a group related to the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship and the Acton Institute, to attempt to forestall any global warming policy statement by the National Association of Evangelicals. They sent the group a missive warning them to “not adopt any official position on the issue of global climate change,” as “global warming is not a consensus issue, and our love for the Creator and respect for His creation does not require us to take a position.” Led by high-proflie evangelical leaders Charles Colson and James Dobson, (also included Pat Robertson/John Hagee/Calvin Beisner) Interfaith Stewardship Alliance called for the National Association of Evangelicals not to put their name to the document.
For others in the evangelical community, taking a public stand on issues like global warming just isn’t part of the religious plan. Christian broadcaster Jan Markell believes that evangelicals are called by God to win souls for Jesus, not to take up social issues, and that environmentalism distracts from the real mission of the evangelical church.
I personally like the fact the NEA took a stand for something to do with the environment, which caused the split in the first place within evangelicialism. I have been fairly big on social issues and this one fell into my lap while watching Moyers TV show. What do you think? Is environmentalism a Christian ideal or just a bunch of hog-wash?