Evangelical environmentalists emerging
WASHINGTON ” In a world of shrinking rain forests, growing pollution, and rising temperatures, what would Jesus do?
According to a burgeoning movement among evangelical Christians, the answer to that question is that Jesus would recycle, work to reduce pollution and carefully watch carbon dioxide emissions for signs of global warming.
“God placed us here on the earth, gave the earth to us, and asked us to take care of it,” said Calvin Beisner, founder of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, a coalition dedicated to environmental responsibility. “It’s our Christian duty.”
Evangelical groups are a growing voice in the environmental movement, exerting influence on a cause long associated with liberal groups. Some conservative Christians, it seems, are ready to join hands with liberals and hug a tree.
But there is no contradiction in being politically conservative and concerned about the environment, said Beisner, who is also an associate professor of social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary in Florida. After all, the call to be a protector of the earth is in the Bible.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it,” reads Genesis 2:15.
With Earth Day celebrations scheduled across the country today, organizers of the event are focused on religious groups, offering a “Religious Earth Day in a Box” kit. Hoping to take advantage of the fact that many churches double as networking tools for social causes, the kits provide “all the information you need” to plan an Earth Day event.
“Religious leaders often speak from a moral and ethical perspective on social problems,” said Helen Rose, a spokeswoman for the Earth Day Network. “And this is a social problem that affects all of us.”
One prominent evangelical leader, Richard Cizik, has said that Christians don’t need to become “liberal weirdoes” to get behind environmental issues. Some environmental groups, meanwhile, are surprised to be joined by people they thought cared only about Bush, the Bible, and abortion.
The alliance of groups on different ends of the political spectrum comes as a surprise to many, but not to Beisner.
“People who share the same goals wind up as strange bedfellows,” he said.
Conservationists are encouraged by the interest of a group that includes millions of people and, as a bloc, is capable of flexing serious political muscle.
“It’s a good thing from our perspective, that they recognize the need for people to take care of the earth,” said Will Shafroth, executive director of the Colorado Conservation Trust. “There’s an appreciation for our place on earth, and they also have a lot of sway in Washington.”
The National Association of Evangelicals ” of which Cizik is vice president ” comprises 45,000 churches, 54 denominations, and an estimated 30 million people.
But evangelicals are not immune from divisive issues in the environmental debate ” and, like the rest of the country, the faithful are split on the question of human contributions to global warming.
The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement calling for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, has been signed by 160 countries, but not by the United States. Citing disagreement in its ranks, the evangelical association declined to sign a statement petitioning Congress to mandate a reduction in the emissions, which many scientists have linked to global warming
A group of 86 leaders, including Rick Warren, author of the wildly-popular book, “A Purpose-Driven Life,” decided to sign the petition anyway, a move Beisner opposed.
The Bible also calls for Christians to care for the poor, Beisner said, and it is this population that would be most hurt by curbing emissions.
“The Kyoto Protocol would require huge reductions in fossil fuels,” Beisner said. “The only way to accomplish this is to drive up the price of energy, and the poor can’t make slight adjustments.”