c. 2006 Religion News Service
WASHINGTON _ Warning of millions of potential deaths worldwide from climate change, a new network of evangelical leaders launched a campaign Wednesday (Feb. 8) for government and grass-roots action to reduce global warming.
The network’s formation illustrates a growing divide among evangelicals on how _ or even whether _ to address climate change. Some evangelical leaders, such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, oppose activism on global warming, saying there is neither a scientific nor an evangelical consensus on the topic. But others, including best-selling author and megachurch pastor Rick Warren, see it as an important Christian issue, and have joined the network.
As leaders representing Christian college and relief organizations took turns at a National Press Club microphone Wednesday decrying global warming, another group of evangelicals that includes Dobson issued a statement declaring objections to the new approach.
The new group, the Evangelical Climate Initiative, issued a document Wednesday, titled “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.” As of Wednesday, it was signed by 86 evangelical leaders.
“Climate change is the latest evidence of our failure to exercise proper stewardship and constitutes a critical opportunity for us to do better,” the document said.
The Rev. Jim Ball, executive director of the Washington-based Evangelical Environmental Network, said he and others in the Evangelical Climate Initiative would meet with U.S. senators on both sides of the issue, hold meetings on college campuses and at megachurches and, later in the year, a private meeting with leaders of energy companies. Print and broadcast ads are scheduled to appear in a range of mainstream and Christian media this month (February), costing “a couple of hundred thousand dollars” and funded by individuals and foundations.
“What we need is a requirement that carbon dioxide start to be reduced,” Ball said. The “call to action,” which expresses special concern for the poor, calls for passage of legislation to achieve that goal “the most important immediate step” for federal officials.
But some evangelicals do not endorse such legislative action.
“Mandatory emission reductions would make energy more expensive,” said E. Calvin Beisner, a founding member of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, whose efforts are supported by Dobson and Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson.
“Energy is an essential component of economic development and economic development is what the poor desperately need.”
The alliance released a statement in January, signed by 22 leaders, declaring that evangelicals have not reached a consensus on global warming and asking the National Association of Evangelicals to refrain from taking an official position. NAE President Ted Haggard responded by saying his association’s executive committee had reaffirmed that there is not a consensus but that it is committed to caring for creation.
Haggard added that NAE applauds the work of both the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance and the Evangelical Environmental Network because “they are both striving to protect God’s creation and arrive at a biblical worldview concerning these important issues.”
The Rev. Richard Cizik, NAE’s vice president for governmental affairs, attended the launch of the Evangelical Climate Initiative but said in an interview that he withdrew his name from its call to action to prevent confusion about NAE’s stance. He said more than 20 NAE board members have signed the statement.
“I believe climate change is real and human-induced and will have consequences,” said Cizik, who owns two hybrid cars. “But I want to be a facilitator, a diplomat of sorts, for those who don’t yet hold that conviction.”
Ron Sider, president of Wynnewood, Pa.-based Evangelicals for Social Action, said he and other signatories on the new anti-global warming statement represent the center of the evangelical movement. Signers include Warren, Pentecostal leader Jack Hayford, Bishop Charles E. Blake of the Church of God in Christ and Christianity Today Editor David Neff.
“There’s just no way you can describe these people as fringe,” Sider said in an interview.
Though he respects some of those who agree with the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, Sider said he’s saddened by their stance.
“Frankly,” he said. “they’re going to look really silly in another 10 years.”
John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said the debate over global warming is yet another indication that evangelicals are not a monolithic group. While some, like Dobson and Colson, say battles on social issues like abortion and marriage are not over, others are trying to broaden the agenda to include the environment.
“I think there’ll be a real effort to bring this argument into the pews,” Green predicted. “Evangelicals certainly are not leading the charge on the environment but they’re not as opposed to the environment as you might think.”
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