Christianity Today’s email update from today has a link for this piece, “A Climate of Change,” which reviews the current situation among evangelicals regarding environmental stewardship. And here’s a useful link to the CT Library archive of articles on the environment.
Remember when I said that I thought there is a dangerous incentive in climate change research to make things seem worse than they are? (If not, that’s OK. I actually called it an “analogous phenomenon” to the possibility that AIDS statistics are exaggerated.)
Well, TCS Daily reports that a letter to Canadian PM Stephen Harper signed by over 60 scientists asks a similar question. Richard Lindzen, Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wonders, “How can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into claims about future catastrophes? The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism.”
Peter C. Glover, author of the article, “Climate Change’s Gravy Train,” continues, noting that “Lindzen goes on to identify how the doom-mongers in both the science research community and media have a ‘vested interest’ in ‘hyping’ the political stakes for policymakers who provide more funds for more science research to feed more alarm. ‘After all’, Lindzen wonders, ‘who puts money into science — whether for AIDS, or space, or climate — where there is nothing really alarming’?”
Read the whole thing. Lindzen raises a number of good points, including the discrimination faced by scientists who haven’t drunk from the GW Kool-Aid. As he says, “Scientists who dissent from alarmism have seen their funds disappear, their work derided, and libelled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse.”
Andy Crouch, a columnist for Christianity Today, who wrote in support of policy action on global warming, would do well to listen. As I said in response to his column, “It’s ironic that Crouch finds the source of evangelical distrust of scientific global warming dogma in the contemporary creation/evolution debates. If there’s any group that should know about the difficulty of breaking through the groupthink of mainstream science, it ought to be the proponents of Intelligent Design.” IDers really ought to be able to identify with the plight of scientists who question the predictions of the global warming alarmists.
And not only does the alarmism assure that there money for climate research funding, it means there’s commercial money available too. The Day After Tomorrow (2004) grossed $186,740,799 domestically (as might be expected, it was a bit more popular abroad, grossing $542,771,772 worldwide).
Jordan Ballor, “A Love/Hate Relationship with Science,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (February 8, 2006).
Andy Crouch, Response #1 (September 10, 2005).
Jordan Ballor, “Comet-Busting Lasers: A Response to Andy Crouch,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (September 12, 2005).
Andy Crouch, Response #2 (September 12, 2005).
Rev. Robert A. Sirico, “What Stewardship Means,” BreakPoint WorldView (September 2004).
Roy Spencer, “Global Warming Hysteria Has Arrived,” TCS Daily (April 4, 2006).
Hans Von Storch and Nico Stehr, “A Climate of Staged Angst,” Der Spiegel (January 4, 2005).
Amy Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy passes along a report from Peyton Knight about a briefing in Washington sponsored by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, the Acton Institute, and the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
According to Knight, at the luncheon “top theologians and policy experts articulated a vision of Biblical stewardship based upon the Cornwall Declaration.” You can read the text of the Cornwall Declaration here.
Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, an Acton adjunct scholar and professor at Knox Theological Seminary, said, “While we recognize that some environmental problems are well-founded and serious, we are concerned that some are ill founded or greatly exaggerated. We are interested in priorities placed on well-founded concerns, especially those that put large numbers of people, usually the poor, at risk.”
On a related note, for an overview of the vision of stewardship as articulated in two different documents, check out this commentary in which I compare the Cornwall Declaration to the Evangelical Environmental Network’s “Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation.”
This article, “Evangelicals Debate the Meaning of ‘Evangelical’,” which appeared in the New York Times on Easter, is instructive on a number of levels. First off, the article attempts to point out widening “fissures” among evangelicals, in which “new theological and political splits are developing.” While the article does talk at the end about so-called “theological” differences, the bulk of the piece is spent discussing the political divisions.
Michael Luo writes, “Fissures between the traditionalist and centrist camps of evangelicalism have begun to emerge much more prominently in recent months in the political realm.” He points specifically to the issues of global warming and immigration, which recall the topics of a post of mine from a few weeks back. Incidentally, the text of my post somehow found its way onto no less an auspicious locale than the Sojourners site.
The fact that political differences about issues on which there are a variety of defensible biblical positions is viewed as a threat to the unity of evangelicalism says something important about how the movement is more broadly perceived. That is, evangelicalism has become publicly identified as much or more with particular political views than any necessarily corresponding theological position.
Thus, while Rick Warren is identified as “theologically and socially conservative,” the fact that he has generally avoided politics makes him a “centrist” rather than a “traditionalist” evangelical, according to the categories that the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life uses. And on climate change, for example, there is “a tension that exists between the traditionalists and the centrists,” according to the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.
In my mind, however, this political aspect really is a red herring, albeit one of great interest to the secular media. Aside from the few social issues on which the perspective of Scripture is rather straightforward, evangelicals should be free to express the convictions of their consciences without being perceived as outside the tent.
And the reason that such clear moral evils need to be opposed is because their affirmation would directly undermine the normativity of the Bible. If anything, this is the baseline identifiying characteristic of evangelicalism, as evidenced by the doctrinal basis for the Evangelical Theological Society: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.” (See also the “Statement of Faith” of the National Association of Evangelicals.) But otherwise, where prudential judgments are concerned, evangelicals enjoy a wide freedom and diversity.
And it is with respect to the theological differences that the NYT article truly gets to the heart of real cracks in the evangelical edifice. Ultimately the unity of any group of Christian believers must be founded on doctrinal agreement. Practice is informed by belief. The eventual failure of the Life and Work and the Faith and Order movements of the ecumenical enterprise to remain completely separate testify to this reality
This is why creeds and confessional statements have enjoy such an important place in the history of Christianity, and why the NAE and the ETS define themselves in theological and doctrinal rather than political, practical, or social terms.
If the unity of evangelicalism is threatened by disagreements, however sharp, over prudential political concerns, then the so-called “unity” is something more like the unity enjoyed by political parties and factions rather than that of the body of Christ. One characteristic of the spirit of sectarianism is that it makes matters of moral prudence and permissibility a litmus test of true Christianity.
“Letter on Immigration Deepens Split Among Evangelicals,” trumpets a story from the Washington Post. Ever since evangelicals received such credit in the election and reelection of George W. Bush, the ins and outs of evangelical politics has recieved a greater share of media attention. A great part of this attention has focused on so-called “splits” among evangelicals, as a way to highlight the newly recognized reality that all evangelicals aren’t card-carrying Republicans.
So from issues like immigration to global warming, the press is eager to find the fault lines of evangelical politics. And moving beyond the typical Jim Wallis-Jerry Falwell dichotomy, there are real and honest disagreements among evangelicals on any number of political issues.
This stems from the fact that political policy is most often about the prudential application of principles, and thus is a matter where there can and should be a variety of informed and committed voices. Thus, says Aquinas, human law should not seek to make illegal everything that is immoral, but only that which is necessary for the maintenance of a just society.
He writes, “many things are permissible to men not perfect in virtue, which would be intolerable in a virtuous man. Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like” (Summa Theologica, II.1.96.ii).
For Aquinas then, human law is the result of the prudent and contextual application of the natural and divine law. And it’s not surprising that among a diverse group like evangelicals, different opinions will exist as to what considerations are relevant to the construction of a particular policy.
With respect to immigration reform, for example, the previously noted Cooperman article reports that a letter signed by numerous evangelical leaders outlining four major points of emphasis was sent to members of the federal government (original letter here in PDF). Among the national evangelical organizations that signed on to the letter are the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the World Evangelical Alliance.
Notably absent, however, was the National Association of Evangelicals, and the lack of support for the bill was noted as the occasion for the Cooperman headline. According to the NAE’s vice president for governmental affairs, Rev. Richard Cizik, “the NAE itself did not sign the letter because its members are divided on how to deal with immigration.” Since the letter makes rather specific policy proposals rather than general moral and theological guidelines, many evangelicals are not ready to endorse the statement. (more…)
This is an article worth reading by Steven Waldman in the Washington Monthly, “The Framers and the Faithful: How modern evangelicals are ignoring their own history.” The article examines the attitudes of many 18th century evangelicals toward government, and specifically with respect to a number of the founding fathers, including Jefferson, Madison, and Patrick Henry.
While the provacative subtitle may be true, it shouldn’t really be all that surprising. After all, Waldman does a good job throughout noting that “each side of our modern culture wars has attempted to appropriate the Founding Fathers for their own purposes,” and that convenient facts are omitted by each group. The article does a good job getting at some of the complexities and diversity of voices in the 1700s, and shows that there isn’t just a single univocal view of the proper relation between church and state. Check it out.
I take on the current upswing in public support for euthanasia laws, especially among certain sectors of Christianity in a BreakPoint commentary today, “Give Me Liberty and Give Me Death.” I note especially the stance taken by a Baylor university professor of ethics and the student newspaper in favor of legalizing euthanasia.
In a recent On the Square item, Joseph Bottum notes a similar trend, as he writes, “Euthanasia has been making a comeback in recent months, bubbling up again and again in little snippets in the news.”
As this happens, I argue that both scholars and laypersons need to realize that advocacy for a “right to die” represents a significant diametrically opposed challenge to a biblically Christian view of the human person—both in life and death.
One of the religion beat’s favorite canards is to implicitly equate what it calls American Christian “fundamentalism” with what it calls Muslim or Islamic “fundamentalism.” After all, both are simply species of the genus. For more on this, check out GetReligion (here and here) and the reference to a piece by Philip Jenkins, which notes,
Also, media coverage of any topic, religious or secular, is shaped by the necessity to summarize complex movements and ideologies in a few selected code-words, labels that acquire significance far beyond their precise meaning. Though designed as guideposts for the perplexed, all too often, such words rather tend to stop intellectual processes. One such demon word is fundamentalism, originally a description of a particular approach to reading Christian Scriptures, but now a catch-all description for supernaturally based anti-modernism, repression, and misogyny. Within the past few years, evangelical has been similarly debased, gaining its popular connotations of white conservative politics.
Indeed, evangelical and fundamentalist are often used interchangeably in media parlance.
One way to get at the radical difference, so to speak, between the two groups would be to guage the respective reaction when something sacred is mocked and blasphemed. We have seen what the Islamist reaction to the infamous Mohammed cartoons has been: violent protesting resulting in death. The Danish cartoonists have had to flee into hiding out of fear for their lives, a la Salman Rushdie circa 1989, and certainly with Theo Van Gogh circa November, 2004 in mind. (Update: It looks like they indeed have good reason to fear. A Pakistani cleric has put a $1 million bounty on the head of one of the cartoonists.)
By contrast, Charles Krauthammer has profiled some of the things that are offensive to many Christians, including the publication of pictures of the Virgin Mary covered with dung and the so-called “Piss Christ,” (a crucifix sitting in a jar of urine). The most you are likely to see from Christian “fundamentalists” in reaction to issues like these are public expressions of outrage and disgust, maybe a letter-writing campaign with some vitriolic prose, perhaps some picketing and protesting, and even some threats to pull public funding thrown in for good measure. The upcoming movie The Da Vinci Code, based on a Dan Brown novel, which depicts much of the Bible and church tradition as fictitious, has not resulted in either Tom Hanks or the author fearing for their lives.
The trouble comes, of course, from the connotation of the word fundamentalist. For even liberals have fundamental beliefs.
Perhaps no one gets at the popular connotation of the word fundamentalist better than Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. In discussing his epistemological model in Warranted Christian Belief, Plantinga writes,
I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged to first define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relative conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’ (pp. 244-45).
In yesterday’s Acton Commentary, I argued that the biblical foundation for the concepts of stewardship and economics should lead us to see them as united. In this sense I wrote, “Economics can be understood as the theoretical side of stewardship, and stewardship can be understood as the practical side of economics.” I also defined economics as “the thoughtful ordering of the material resources of a household or social unit toward the self-identified good end” and said that the discipline “helps us rightly order our stewardship.”
Within the context of environmental stewardship in particular, I concluded that economics should play a key role in defining public policy. This is becoming a more pressing issue as a number of evangelical and religious leaders around the world are endorsing specific policy initiatives to combat global warming.
Following the formation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative by a number of prominent evangelical leaders in the United States, general secretary of the World Council of Churches Rev. Samuel Kobia said yesterday, “Just as atomic weapons changed the very way we thought about life, so too the potential of major climatic changes put life as we know it in danger” He said this while emphasizing that all religious people should “speak with one voice” about climate change.
My brief commentary outlined some reasons why Christians may have differing opinions on this point. And Chuck Colson’s BreakPoint feature, “Evangelical Activism,” details some of the other aspects of the debate.
“Now, we all have a stewardship responsibility for God’s creation, but we also have responsibility for God’s creatures. Balancing those interests requires prudence,” he writes. On issues of prudential wisdom, Christians on both sides of a debate may well have good reasons to disagree. Check out his commentary for links to a number of pertinent resources.
A brief but timely editorial appears in this month’s issue of Christianity Today, “We Are What We Behold.” Here’s a taste:
“…evangelicals have wrestled with our relationship to power. When in a position of influence (and in our better moments), we leverage power to better the lives of our neighbors. Cultural savvy enables us to successfully translate the gospel for a changing world.
But it’s a double-edged sword—influence and savvy can also dull the gospel’s transcendence. We achieve a royal position, but soon we are using a worship service to Almighty God to hawk Justice Sunday III. We worry that the culture has forgotten the meaning of Christmas, but we cancel Sunday worship because it’s Christmas. We fret because of our culture’s biblical illiteracy, but sign up for the Sunday school class on our pet social-justice cause rather than the Bible or theology track. In short, we complain that the church has sold out to culture, but we subconsciously give our allegiance to a political or social subculture and champion its agenda.”