“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. Read more on Surprise! Evangelical Politics Isn’t Univocal…
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.”
There’s something like a question of theodicy implicitly wrapped up in the debate about global warming among Christians. It goes something like this:
Why did God create oil?
One answer is that the burning of fossil fuels is simply a divine trap for unwitting and greedy human beings, who would stop at nothing to rape the earth. Another answer is that there is some legitimate created purpose for fossil fuels.
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:
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:
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.
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? Read more on Evangelicals and Global Warming…
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.”