Vail Daily column: Van Ens versus Evangelicals

Steven J. Willing
Valley Voices
Steven J. Willing
Special to the Daily |

Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at

Jack Van Ens’ latest salvo continues his pattern of religious intolerance. While engaging his favorite pastime of bashing Evangelical Christians, his Sunday, June 25, column (“Environment’s care splits Christians”) is so fraught with error in both science and theology one feels like a dog set loose in the deli: Where to even begin?

His representation of dual revelation (enunciated in the Belgic confession) is embarrassingly wrong. The two revelations, Scripture and Nature, do not “correct each other’s mistakes,” invoking the preposterous assumption that God would err in His revealing. What they do enable is the correction of errors in the interpretation of one another — pretty shoddy work from someone holding a Ph.D. in theology.

There seems to be no point at all to this column, other than taking potshots at Evangelicals. Would any other religious group be so vilified? What about Trump Mormons (61 percent)? Trump Catholics (52 percent)? Trump Jews (24 percent)? Trump Muslims (13 percent)?

Evangelicals do not “follow” Trump. That is an unwarranted insult with no basis in reality. As the sole viable alternative to Hilary Clinton, Trump received Evangelical support only minimally higher than George W. Bush, John McCain or Mitt Romney. Muslims, Catholics and Hispanics also voted Republican in higher percentages than the 2012 election. (Among Jews, Trump did better than McCain in 2008.)

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Van Ens doesn’t even bother to define the group he attacks. Who are Evangelicals? According to the Barna Research Group, merely 6 percent of the American population embraces all eight theological criteria constituting foundational principles of historic Protestantism. On the other hand, data from the Pew Foundation indicates that about 25 percent of the American public is affiliated with traditional Evangelical denominations, or about half of all Protestants. Less than 15 percent of Americans are affiliated with the old mainline Protestant denominations.

I can understand the sour grapes. While Evangelical denominations continue to grow, liberal mainline Protestant denominations are shrinking faster — by far — than the global icepack. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with which Rev. Van Ens has been affiliated, has fallen from 4.25 million members in 1965 to fewer than 1.5 million today, while the U.S. population has doubled. Believers vote with their feet, and if there are any institutions suffering lower approval ratings than Donald Trump, then the aging mainline denominations fit the bill. At the present rate of decline, the mainline denominations will flatline within a generation and will soon disappear from the nation’s landscape.

Evangelicals are hardly the bastions of resistance to climate activism. The role of moderation is assumed by eminent climatologists such as Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, Richard Lindzen of MIT and an array of high-octane conservative think-tanks. In contrast to climate activists, most Evangelicals do not view global warming as a theological issue at all. Their passion on the issue does not differ substantively from the rest of the American public.

In a running Gallup survey, a whopping 2 percent of Americans consider environmental issues “the most important problem facing the country today.” This fact alone underscores the absurdity of singling out Evangelicals on climate issues. Political party affiliation, on the other hand, is a powerful predictor of climate opinion. For some bizarre reason, however, Van Ens prefers bashing Evangelicals above bashing Republicans, though the latter would at least be honest.

In this latest essay, Jack Van Ens again demonstrates he no longer has anything useful to contribute to public discourse. It is past time to pull the plug on this column.

Steven J. Willing is an Edwards resident.

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