A major piece of good, perhaps transcendental, news was published in The New York Times recently: a core of evangelical Christian leaders in the United States have “decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming” (“Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative” by Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, Feb. 8).
The group of nearly 100 includes the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges as well as pastors of several mega-churches. Prominent author Rick Warren (“The Purpose-Driven Life”) is lending his voice. Many important churches and relief agencies, like the Salvation Army, have joined the strong new current.
This concern over the fate of the Earth (“mother earth,” to us) among evangelicals may just be the greatest signal of hope that we have picked up from mainstream America for a long time. All people dedicated to fulfilling our greatest obligation as human beings – the safeguarding of the land and its nurturance for the future generations – awaken and rejoice.
Global warming and its deadly impact on global climactic systems is the greatest challenge faced by humankind and, indeed, by all Earth-bound species. Along with all other species, which in the Native perspective are “our relations,” human beings require the delicate cycles of continuous creation. The cycle of creation is considered the gift received and is often appreciated in ceremony within indigenous human cultures.
That a fundamentalist group with widespread potential to witness for the Creator’s creation has suddenly sprung from the faith-based community of U.S. Christians provides reassurance that common purpose is possible with this important sector. Reasonable observation and science, for the health of our grandchildren, is thus possible among human beings of different faiths.
It makes sense that God’s creation deserves respect, even veneration. Human beings are so pitifully dependent on our natural environment – particularly water and air, but also on the status of the growing and carrying capacity of land – we always do well to humble ourselves before that primordial and supremely eternal reality.
The “Noah movement,” as its base calls the turn to environmental protection, stands in stark contrast to the death-cultish Rapture movement, which predicates an end-of-the-world cataclysm in which an avenging Christ will return to gather the faithful and damn all others to hell. Despite the ravings of certain talk-show hosts, not all fundamentalist Christians fit the profile of people who disregard the obvious destruction of environmental health. Again, this is great news.
The path of empathy appears to be concern for the impact of environmental devastation on the millions of people around the world who already do not (and increasingly will not) find food and shelter or even clean water. This type of compassion for the poor and afflicted is among the best of Christian values.
Pointing to an “ecological blind spot,” leaders in the Noah movement have generated an “Evangelical Climate Initiative” which is already using television and radio spots in states with influential legislators, and conducting informational campaigns in churches and educational conferences at Christian colleges. (Among trends in weather records, 2005 was the warmest year in modern times. Satellite photos reveal a 20 percent loss of Arctic sea ice since the first such pictures in 1978, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center). This campaign is being felt across evangelical country – including Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.
The Evangelical Climate Initiative is funded by individuals and foundations (the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Hewlett Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, according to the Times). With pastors of mega-churches on board, its financial base has good potential sustainability.
Notably missing from the early chorus were 22 early signers of a letter in January entitled, “Global warming is not a consensus issue.” These included Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
These warned the National Association of Evangelicals not to take a position on global warming. They argued that the “science” is not settled on the subject, therefore there is no consensus, so it must not be addressed. We hope they will see the light as well.
Here is one reluctant voice, making the argument against caring for the environment:
“The Evangelical Environmentalists are ignoring the very real violations of God’s law that the Endangered Species Act has brought about. Every opponent of the Act cites primarily its attack on private property rights. ‘Takings’ of property or of the right to use one’s property are the primary weapon that the Act puts in the hands of environmentalists. The right to own property is granted by God to each of us, and placed under His protection in the Seventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal,” and in the Ninth and Tenth Commandments prohibiting coveting. Property rights are rendered null and void when an owner is not permitted to use his property.” (“Evangelical Environmentalists are Wrong,” David W. Neuendorf, 1996).
The fear of opponents of Christianity’s love for the creation is that the new current of the Noah movement will blend with the broader movement among all Christian churches to address the climate change issue. This is largely represented by the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, a formal alliance of major denominations across the spectrum of “Jewish and Christian communities and organizations in the United States.”
A new and invigorated Christian movement for ecological protection and justice is entirely possible. It undercuts the bent toward property rights being the central and primary pillar of the teachings of Jesus, and many Christians are reminded that “greed” was once considered a sin. This is fearful to those so-called preachers who profess faith as a way to enrich themselves and pull the wool over good peoples’ eyes.
We could not be happier to endorse and encourage the increasingly formalized perception among evangelical Christians that the creation, being the work of many peoples’ spiritual “creators,” including the biblical God, is sacred and vital to the well-being of our children’s children.