Friday, March 02, 2007


Beyond the Pale on Climate Change

Leaders of the Religious Right have been moving more and more to the margins over the past few years. On the issue of global warming, they’ve jumped right off the edge.

The scientific consensus has become increasingly clear on the human role in climate change, and the religious community – across the theological and political spectrum – has likewise experienced a shift in consciousness about the need to take serious, concerted action on behalf of God’s good earth. Evangelicals jumped to the forefront in the issue with the launching last year of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

Enter the Flat Earthers. Last summer a group of conservative Christians pooh-poohed the evangelical initiative (and the overwhelming scientific evidence), claiming that “Foreseeable global warming will have moderate and mixed (not only harmful but also helpful), not catastrophic, consequences for humanity ....” Turns out the leading group, which calls itself the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, is linked to organizations funded by ExxonMobil, according to the watchdog group (In an interview with Bill Moyers last year, Moyers asked the ISA’s leading spokesperson: “In 2004 the journal Science surveyed 928 papers on climate change that were published in peer-reviewed scientific publications and found that, quote — I'm not making this up — ‘none of the papers disagreed with the consensus.’ That's pretty convincing, don't you think?” The ISA spokesperson, a professor of historical theology – and not a scientist – replied, “I don't find it convincing.” Sounds a lot like those "know-nothings" of a century ago ... )

This week the Religious Right went even further. On Sunday Jerry Falwell, of Moral Majority fame, said the debate over global warming was a “tool of Satan,” and that he expected negative response to his “Myth of Global Warming” sermon from “tree-huggers and the liberals and anybody who gets upset at any challenge to the alarmism and the hysteria that’s going on.” On Thursday James Dobson – along with other far right leaders such as Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Gary L. Bauer of Coalitions for America – again denied the scientific consensus on global warming and urged the National Association of Evangelicals to stay silent on the issue. They even went so far as to attack NAE vice president Richard Cizik, who has been a clear, honest, and courageous voice on behalf of “creation care.” The Religious Right leaders declared that “Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children,” and called for his resignation.

When extremist groups practice self-marginalizing behavior, it’s usually best to just ignore them. But when they engage in the politics of personal attack – as these Far Right leaders have done in their slanderous comments against Cizik and others – it’s necessary to point out how far off the edge they’ve gone.

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Nice post--I especially like the "flat earthers" reference. It would be a huge loss if Cizik had to step down; thankfully it doesn't look like it's going to happen.

My hesitation about all this is about the language: if Christian environmentalists of all stripes get funneled into this evangelical-led coalition--with its "creation care" and its "stewardship"--will that be a step back for those who have long insisted that longterm environmental preservation relies on subverting anthropocentric assumptions about nature? Or is this just semantic nitpicking in the face of global crisis? I can't decide...
I don't think your concerns are "semantic nitpicking" at all -- you're pointing to an essential change in perspective, in my opinion. But I don't think "Christian environmentalists of all stripes" ought to get funneled into this at all: The Evangelical Climate Initiative is doing good and important work in that constituency, and they use language and images that make sense for a certain group of people. Some of that approach, however, isn't at all what's needed for others.

My feeling in general is, everybody needs to take whatever their next step is to move forward on these issues. Some are ready for much bigger steps than others, but we should encourage any and all steps in the right direction.
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