Posts tagged with: evangelicals

A few others have addressed this issue in previous posts, but I wanted to jump in with my two cents.

Yesterday’s New York Times notes that a group of evangelical leaders have entered the debate over climate change:

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying “millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.”

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

“For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority,” the statement said. “Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough.”

Later in the article, Rev. Ted Haggard – speaking for himself and not in his capacity as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which is not participating in this effort – states that “there is no doubt about it in my mind that climate change is happening, and there is no doubt about it that it would be wise for us to stop doing the foolish things we’re doing that could potentially be causing this. In my mind there is no downside to being cautious.” Well, no downside except nearly destroying the global economy in an effort to reverse a process that may or may not be caused by man in the first place. (Jay Richards sums up the downside nicely in this post.)

One wonders whether Rev. Haggard and the others behind this declaration have been informed of the recent discovery that plants release vast amounts of greenhouse gasses. Or that one of the most famous pieces of supporting evidence for the global warming hypothesis – the “hockey stick” graph that purports to show a sudden rise in global temperatures at the beginning of the 20th century after centuries of relative stability – has been found to be riddled with serious errors. Or that global warming is not just restricted to Earth, but also seems to be occurring on other planets in the Solar System, which may cause one to think that global warming on Earth might just have something to do with… the Sun.

Since the dawn of time, man has longed to destroy the sun…

The group will be taking their message into the media via a television campaign:

The television spot links images of drought, starvation and Hurricane Katrina to global warming. In it, the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a megachurch in Longwood, Fla., says: “As Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of God’s creation. The good news is that with God’s help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world and for the Lord.”

That would all be well and good if we knew for sure that humans were the cause of global warming. But it’s clear that we don’t know that for sure. (And if warming is indeed caused by the Sun, we’re completely dependent on God for a solution unless we embark on a Monty Burns style quest to block the Sun’s energy from reaching Earth.) In their editorial on the “hockey stick,” the Wall Street Journal sounded a note of caution that we would all do well to heed:

But the important point is this: The world is being lobbied to place a huge economic bet–as much as $150 billion a year–on the notion that man-made global warming is real. Businesses are gearing up, at considerable cost, to deal with a new regulatory environment; complex carbon-trading schemes are in the making. Shouldn’t everyone look very carefully, and honestly, at the science before we jump off this particular cliff?

The Chicago Tribune has a story about the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) launched February 8th. (See my initial response here.) Most reports of this story have been somewhat fair. But the Chicago Tribune story takes an unjustified swipe at evangelicals who disagree with the ECI statement. The reporter, Frank James, describes the disagreement among evangelical Christians this way:

But environmental issues have proved divisive within the body of believers who identify themselves as evangelicals. Some who believe the world is in the “end times,” with a return of Jesus imminent, have not seen the necessity of protecting the environment for the long term. Others, meanwhile, have taken the view espoused by the evangelicals who unveiled their campaign Wednesday, that humans were given dominion over the Earth with the responsibility to protect it.

This should be printed in journalism textbooks as an obvious case of media bias. Notice the false dilemma: If you’re an evangelical, you either you agree with the ECI or you don’t care about the environment because you’re expecting the Lord’s return any day now. I read several evangelical responses to the ECI yesterday, and this is one argument that I didn’t see. I note that James doesn’t offer any quotes from representative evangelical leaders who make this argument. Hmm. I wonder why?

If I had to guess, I would say that Frank James has the “James Watt Myth” planted in his memory. James Watt was Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan. It was reported that he once said in congressional testimony: “after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” This calumny has been repeated countless times by figures such as Bill Moyers. There’s only one problem. The story is false. The Chicago Tribune has now made the false story a generic argument of “some evangelicals.” If Frank James can provide some current, direct quotes by representative evangelical leaders (not random loose cannons) who argue that the environment is unimportant because Jesus is about to return, I’ll be the first on record denouncing the argument. If he can’t produce such quotes, then he should retract this statement.

One aspect of the evangelical involvement in debates over global warming and climate change that has intriqued me has been what I deem to be a rather large blind spot about the relation of religious conservatives to science.

By this I mean that if there is any group of people who ought to understand the rigidity of scientific dogma, it should be evangelical Christians. Given the treatment of their views in debates about evolution and more recently “intelligent design,” it shoud be clear just how biased and close-minded scientific orthodoxy can be. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get anything published in scientific journals that takes ID seriously.

There’s a similar dynamic at work in the debate about global warming. Sure, most prominent scientists that you hear about in the news believe that global warming is real, humans are causing it, and something like the Kyoto protocol is the answer. But why can’t evangelicals see that the minority opinion among scientists in the global warming debates is receiving similar treatment to that which IDers receive?

For more background to the evangelical approach to global warming, and today’s announcement of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, you can see my dialogue with CT’s Andy Crouch. Interestingly enough, he argues that part of the fallout from the evolution controversy was that evangelicals distrust science, but that this distrust is misplaced when it comes to global warming.

See Crouch’s original piece, “Environmental Wager,” my response, “Pascal’s Blunder,” Crouch’s rejoinder to my response, my further reply, “Comet-Busting Lasers,” with Andy getting the last word here.

Blog author: jrichards
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
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After much whispering and pre-publicity, a group of 86 evangelical leaders has announced their support for what The New York Times calls “a major initiative to fight global warming.” As part of the “Evangelical Climate Initiative,” they are calling for “federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through ‘cost-effective, market-based mechanisms.'” (For a response from another group of evangelical leaders, go to the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance.)

I have great respect for the supporters of this initiative, and I don’t doubt their sincerity. And I’m glad to see a call for “market-based” solutions to a problem. Unfortunately, this looks to me like another example (alongside the fuzzy advocacy of the ONE Campaign) of Christians, evangelicals in this case, endorsing a hip cause without thinking through its economic logic.

I doubt any of these evangelical leaders has relevant expertise when it comes to global warming, especially since the scientific issues involved are exquisitely complex and change from day to day. So presumably they are simply trusting the advertised “scientific consensus” on this issue and using that perceived consensus as a filter for interpreting mundane events, like ice melting in Antarctica. That’s a problem, not only because the consensus is more manufactured than real (that is, objectively decided), but also because a scientific consensus that the planet is warming still wouldn’t tell us what to do about it. That’s a prudential question that can only be answered by taking account not only of the intended consequences of a policy, but also its unintended consequences.

The issue is not whether we should see ourselves as stewards over creation. That’s a non-negotiable Christian principle. The issue is whether these evangelicals have done the obligatory serious thinking before advocating a specific public policy.

When it comes to global warming, there are at least four separate issues to keep in mind. You don’t need to be a climate expert to do this.

(1) Is the planet warming?

(2) If the planet is warming, is human activity (like CO2 emissions) causing it?

(3) If the planet is warming, and we’re causing it, is it bad overall?

(4) If the planet is warming, we’re causing it, and it’s bad, would the policies commonly advocated (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol, restrictions on CO2 emissions) make any difference? (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
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Here’s a convincing op-ed piece by William Romanowski, who teaches film studies at Calvin College, “Missing the big picture.” He writes in USAToday about the ambivalent impact of the upswing of religiously-oriented movies coming from Hollywood. “Were more evangelicals to think about movies in terms of their faith beliefs, they would actually have an opportunity to not only buy tickets, but also to begin to shape the entertainment industry,” he writes.

But how evangelicals (broadly defined) attempt to shape the industry is important as well: “The best motion pictures transform the real world into an imaginary one with ideals, values, attitudes and assumptions woven into characterizations and storylines.”

“Evangelicals can influence Hollywood when they think of the cinema as an arena for cultural discourse but not a place for converting members of that culture to a specific Christian orientation. In other words, evangelicals’ goal for the movie industry should be to encourage discourse, not merely evangelizing,” he concludes. He cites Million Dollar Baby, Syriana, and A History of Violence as examples of films with moral complexity and texture that can precipitate important discussions about issues like social violence, politics, and euthanasia.

These aren’t normally the kinds of films that are considered “family friendly,” but Romanowski makes the case that they can be considered as important touchstones for salient religious conversation.

HT: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Religion News

After a year of lobbying by vice-president for governmental affairs Rev. Richard Cizik, the National Association of Evangelicals has backed off of attempts to formulate specific policy recommendations to the federal government on global warming. According to the Washington Post, “The National Association of Evangelicals said yesterday that it has been unable to reach a consensus on global climate change and will not take a stand on the issue.”

Of course, this disappoints those environmentalist groups that had looked to find a new ally and gain legitimacy from the evangelical movement. The evangelical push on global warming met “internal resistance,” and “In a letter to Haggard last month, more than 20 evangelical leaders urged the NAE not to adopt ‘any official position’ on global climate change because ‘Bible-believing evangelicals . . . disagree about the cause, severity and solutions to the global warming issue.'”

Among the signatories to the letter were Charles W. Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family; the Rev. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries; the Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University; Donald E. Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association; and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition.

Following the letter, NAE president Ted Haggard claimed that “We are not considering a position on global warming. We are not advocating for specific legislation or government mandates.”

But if this is the case, it is an abrupt shift from the NAE’s recent position. In an interview in October of last year, Rev. Richard Cizik said, “We are currently working on a paper that is scheduled to come out this month on climate change that will get into some policy details, but for the moment we have no specific positions on any environmental legislation.” The article also says that in November of 2005 the NAE “will begin circulating a charter calling on its member network and top-level Beltway allies to fight global warming.”

But Haggard denies this ever happened, saying, “Allow me to confirm at the outset that the NAE is not circulating any official document on the environment.”

The WashPo article paints the decision to back off of official policy recommendations on global warming as a defeat for the “fledgling movement…’the greening of evangelicals.'” The assumption is, of course, that all environmentally-responsible evangelicals must embrace particular positions with respect to global warming. This is simply false.

Part of the reason the NAE had been so unwilling to embrace secular environmental groups was because it did not want to be beholden to a specific political ideological position with respect to the environment. It wants to exercise the freedom of Christian conscience regarding environmental stewardship. Cizik says, “We need to develop our own voice and strategies and tactics, and once we’ve gotten our own feet on the ground, then we can talk about possible cooperation.”

Cizik himself sees it as only a matter of time before evangelicals learn to compromise with more secularist and radical groups. “There are those in my community who are concerned that environmentalists are advocates of population control, of big-government solutions, or New Age religion, and have apocalyptic tendencies,” he says. “I am trying to reason with my community that we’ve earned our spurs in co-belligerency — collaborating with groups we wouldn’t otherwise work with, in the name of the common good.”

But in the interim, evangelicals will continue to retain their independence in defining environmentalism. And that means dealing with debate and consensus among evangelicals.
Rev. Gerald Zandstra, onetime director of programs at Acton (now on a leave of absence), writes that evangelicals are “not as monolithic, closed-minded, or dangerous as some, especially those who are unfamiliar with Christianity, seem to think.”

He also says about evangelical environmentalism: “The Judeo-Christian community for 5,000 years or more has taken its responsibility for the environment seriously. The whole concept of ‘stewardship’ is one that comes directly from sacred texts. It is built into the opening chapters of Genesis and woven into the whole of Scripture. Human beings, acting as God’s stewards, are to provide care for the earth, remembering that it does not belong to us. Rather, we are managers.”

E. Calvin Beisner, adjunct scholar with the Acton Institute and professor of social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary, also signed the letter to Haggard asking the NAE to suspend its policy course.

Beisner said that the signers “feared that the NAE was going ‘to assume as true certain things that we think are still debatable, such as that global warming is not only real but also almost certainly going to be catastrophically harmful; second, that it is being driven to a significant extent by human activity; and third, that some regime, some international treaty for mandatory reductions in CO2emissions, could make a significant enough drop in global emissions to justify the costs to the human economy.'”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 2, 2006
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The Feb. 6 edition of NEWSWEEK features a story on the debate program at Liberty University, in a bit by Susanna Meadows, “Cut, Thrust and Christ: Why evangelicals are mastering the art of college debate.” The story trots out a number of tired old formulas, with the lede referencing the fact that fundamentalists (used interchangeably with the term evangelicals) view of the imminence of the second coming: “When you believe the end of the world is coming, you learn to talk fast.”

But what really makes this an item worthy of notice on GetReligion is an illustrative misquote of Jerry Falwell. “We are training debaters who can perform a salt ministry, meaning becoming the conscience of the culture,” says Falwell. That’s what he actually said.

Apparently, though, “in the original version of this report, NEWSWEEK quoted Falwell as referring to ‘assault ministry.’ In fact, Falwell was referring to ‘a salt ministry’—a reference to Matthew 5:13, where Jesus says ‘Ye are the salt of the earth.’ We regret the error.” No doubt NEWSWEEK still considers it an “assault,” albeit of the verbal and intellectual variety rather than physical.

Still, the story does illustrate one of the more important growing trends in contemporary evangelicalism: the emphasis on the use of political power as a means for furthering the aims of the Church: “Falwell and the religious right figure that if they can raise a generation that knows how to argue, they can stem the tide of sin in the country. Seventy-five percent of Liberty’s debaters go on to be lawyers with an eye toward transforming society.”

“I think I can make an impact in the field of law on abortion and gay rights, to get back to Americans’ godly heritage,” says freshman debater Cole Bender.

Meadows writes, “Debaters are the new missionaries, having realized they can save a lot more souls from a seat at the top—perhaps even on the highest court in the land.” The article does implicitly raise the challenge to politics-minded evangelicals to recognize the difference between moral suasion and political coercion. The former addresses matters of the heart and soul, while the latter necessarily addresses externals. A religion that focuses too much on externals to the detriment of the heart will at some point become legalistic and Pharisaical.

And it remains to be seen if and when evangelicals achieve the political victories they desire if they will be willing to only seek to enact public policy that addresses clear moral matters and issues of justice, as the governing authority is “God’s servant to do you good” and “an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4 NIV).

I’m simply not convinced that the “top-down” method of evangelization is the right way to view things. Falwell says, “So while we have the preaching of the Gospel on the one side—certainly a priority—we have the confronting of the culture on moral default on the other side.”

I would think that a necessary part of evangelism is “confronting the culture,” but can’t that be done as part of the proclamation of the Gospel (see the Second Use of the Law)? After all, the conscience can falsely justify as well as condemn, and the “conscience of culture” is no different.

I’m always suspicious when I hear “the Bible and…” or the “the Gospel and…”. It signals to me that the Church is getting away from its calling, the commission to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Engaging, critiquing, and transforming culture are all important things. But we’re wrong if we think that the primary means to accomplish these goals is something other than the preaching of the Word.

The other activities of the Church (moral suasion, charitable work) need to be consciously and intentionally connected to this ultimate purpose of the Church (or viewed as simply as penultimate). Otherwise, they run the risk of subverting the Church’s mission through distraction. They are never simply ultimate goods unto themselves.

Even Friedrich Schleiermacher, often called the “father of modern liberal theology,” knew better. He writes:

That a Church is nothing but a communion or association relating to religion or piety, is beyond all doubt for us Evangelical (Protestant) Christians, since we regard it as equivalent to degeneration in a Church when it begins to occupy itself with other matters as well, whether the affairs of science or of outward organization; just as we also always oppose any attempt on the part of the leaders of State or of science, as such to order the affairs of religion.

While we would differ on what the concerns of “religion” or “piety” consist in, I do agree with Schleiermacher that the tendency of a Church to emphasize “the Gospel and…” is a degeneration. Perhaps this is just an infelicitous coordination between the two on Falwell’s part. But it isn’t the only place I’ve heard such things, and I do think it’s illustrative of broader trends in evagelicalism.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 19, 2006
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Mark your calendars: The Institute for the Study of Christianity and Culture at Michigan State University is hosting a conference on April 7-8 with the keynote address to be given by Dr. Randall Balmer, Ann Whitney Olin Professor, Barnard College, Columbia University.

From the conference site: “Dr. Balmer will be giving a lecture and a panel discussion on the topic of his upcoming book Taking the Country Back: How the Religious Right is Winning the Culture Wars.”

There will also be a Saturday morning roundtable on the topic, “Politics, Culture Wars, and the Soul of American Evangelicalism,” featuring Dr. Balmer as well as Dr. Corwin Schmidt, Professor of Political Science and as Director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College.