Acton Institute Powerblog

Evangelical Environmentalism’s Moral Imperative

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In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine recent events surrounding the conflict amongst evangelicals over global warming political activism. In “Evangelical Environmentalism’s Moral Imperative,” I compare the shape of the argument to the debate over the last decade on the topic of poverty.

In the same way that conservatives were accused of not caring for the poor because they opposed an expansive welfare state, critics of climate change politics are being portrayed as not caring for the environment. To the extent that conservative critiques have not made it a point to sharply distinguish between global warming and the broader moral mandate to steward the earth, they deserve blame for this state of affairs.

This fault is exemplified well in the recent letter from James Dobson and others to the National Association of Evangelicals questioning the activities of Rev. Richard Cizik, who is actively promoting federal policy on climate change. The Dobson letter (PDF) challenges global warming but only notes pro-life issues, marriage, and sexuality as “the great moral issues of our time.” While the letter doesn’t explicitly exclude stewardship of the environment as a “great moral issue,” its omission from this list can easily give the impression that the letter’s signatories don’t find environmental stewardship to be a compelling moral imperative.

But it also falls to the responsibility of evangelicals who favor government action to combat climate change to acknowledge “the commitment of their opponents to ‘care’ of the creation, even amidst the sometimes pointed disagreements over the means and institutions responsible for that care.”

Read the entire commentary here.

I also recommend Andy Crouch’s recent review in Books & Culture of Roger Gottlieb’s A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, in which Crouch writes that Gottlieb’s book “could not be more calculated to inflame the suspicions of the politically and theologically conservative.” Crouch also outlines some of the recent activities and perspectives of groups like the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

Update: Bob Francis of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, reacting to reader comments, acknowledges that “whether the issue is poverty or the environment, well-meaning Christians differ on solutions.”

Kathryn Joyce at The Revealer writes about “the real point of contention between Dobson, Bauer and Perkins on the one hand, and Cizik, on the other. Not so much that Cizik is drawing energy and outrage to global warming and away from gay marriage and abortion, but that, in the mind of many conservative Christians, choosing between pro-life or environmental activism must be a zero-sum game.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Lorri Grover

    Hmm… As Christains we can teach our children to throw trash in the garbage. That would be a way to clean up the enviroment… I think the whole “toxic green gases, emissions or whatever they are called, are responsible for the “warm weather” is pure bogus!! There was a time, I understand in the 70’s, when “global cooling” or another word for it was called “ice age” that was a concern. I do believe we had more emissions and toxic gases coming out of our cars back then.
    Last time I checked, man was NOT in charge of the weather. But I do believe that GOD is!!!!!!!!!! I bet more than half of these “global warmists scientists” are atheists or agnostics. Those that claim to be Christains are the “elite” who have been mislead!! In other words they have been “punked”

  • Just got done watching this video online over at Powerline blog.

    No Hollywood stars or former VEEPS, just a dozen climate scientists talking about the climate and the history of the global warming movement.

    Share it with your friends.

  • Steven Daskal

    "Global warming" is the result of natural, cyclical solar activity and is nothing new. To make a huge outcry over fractional changes in "global average" and "mean" temperatures overlooks that if one goes back more than 150 years, we don’t have any global temperature data, and even localized data was very inaccurate.

    Further, I still recall in the ’70s (when I was at the Bx. H.S. of Science and then University of Conn.), I was being preached out by the enviro-Statists that we faced "a new ice age" by the end of the century if we didn’t severely curtail pollution. Of course, shifting to more nuclear energy use was anathema — they were Luddites, not advocates for advanced power technology. There ice age never materialized, so now they are trying the opposite scare campaign.

    This is all about POLITICAL control over society and the economy by self-appointed technocratic "Leaders," not about climate control. As Ms. Grover noted before me, climate control is in God’s hands.