Is God Green? Common Ground?
|Backgrounder: Common Ground?|
Those inside the Christian environmental movement gained a high-profile "convert" when Pat Robertson recently changed his stance on global warming. In October 2005, Robertson had castigated the National Association of Evangelicals for their support of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, accusing them of teaming up with "far-left environmentalists" in their campaign to combat global warming and other environmental problems. But in the summer of 2006 ... [more]
Class Is in Session...
The Citizens Class on Religion & Politics explores the power of faith at the polling place. Religion & the Environment examines the evolution of the evangelical environmental debate. The following audio and video clips and documents map out some of the major issues addressed in those classes and shed light on the possibilities for political and social dialogue between evangelicals and others, and between evangelicals themselves, in America today-be sure to join in.
Rev. Richard Cizik is a national leader in the evangelical environmental movement. Based in Washington, D.C., he serves as vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, America's most influential Christian lobbying group, which represents 59 denominations, 45,000 churches, and 30 million believers. When Cizik heard Sir John Houghton, a noted scientist and fellow evangelical speak about global warming, he realized that "the fate of the earth may well depend on how Christians, especially evangelical Christians who take the bible seriously, respond to the issues of climate change." In the following video clip, Cizik describes why he came to embrace an environmental agenda and how he has come under fire from his partisan brethren for his stance.
This disagreement among conservative evangelicals on global warming and environmental change is particularly noteworthy because it is taking place within a group of people who agree on just about every other important public policy issue .And some critics of the creation-care contingent view those who forge an "unholy alliance with the environmentalists" as aligning themselves with a movement that is seen as uncomfortably close to those that support abortion, support for gay marriage, and support for a number of other political causes that are anathematic to traditional evangelicals.
In her article, "Green Christianity," Christian broadcaster Jan Markell lays out her criticism of evangelical environmentalists and emphasizes the danger of taking on an issue that is generally associated with another worldview. "This effort," she writes, "is partially funded by leftist outfits like the Rockefeller Brothers' Fund and the Hewlett Foundation, which support many anti-Christian ideals and organizations. Their worldview would make it appear like the signers on to the EEN are 'unequally yoked together.' These organizations do NOT have any interest in what evangelicals stand for. They are pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage and lean to the left on many issues." Later she writes, "Liberal Christianity has infected enough of evangelicalism to the point where 'evangelicalism' doesn't mean what it did even twenty years ago."
Certainly, Richard Cizik has not abandoned the evangelical platform on abortion and homosexuality in order to take up the charge of creation care.
The question becomes, What does it mean to be politically inconsistent? Some, like Markell, would argue that being politically inconsistent means compromising core values or at least diluting the movement's focus.
In her book, THE ARGUMENT CULTURE: STOPPING AMERICA'S WAR OF WORDS, Deborah Tannen describes how the definition of compromise as "giving in for the purpose of reaching agreement" has taken on a negative connotation in our political life and has become synonymous with selling your soul or cheapening yourself.
In a passage that has great significance for the evangelical debate on the environment, Tannen quotes U.S. Senator J.J. Exon on his early departure from politics: "Unfortunately, the traditional art of workable compromise for the ultimate good of the nation, heretofore the essence of democracy, is demonstrably eroded." Senator Warren Rudman gives this reason for leaving: "I thought the essence of good government was reconciling divergent views with compromises that served the country's interests ... The spirit of civility and compromise was drying up."
When the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance sent its January 2006 letter to the National Association of Evangelicals in an effort to convince leaders of that organization to back away from their stance on global warming, their words were telling. They requested that "the NAE carefully consider all policy issues in which it might engage in the light of promoting unity among the Christian community and glory to God."
If a split over environmentalism threatened to destroy the unity of the evangelical movement as a whole, how many evangelicals would be willing to risk it? And if partisanship and ideology are allowed to trump, compromise and dialog, what possibility for discussion and common ground is left? More importantly, what does it mean for the future of the planet?
The insights and perspectives featured here, while focusing on the debate within the evangelical community, have implications that stretch far beyond religious and environmental issues. They also raise some interesting questions for discussion:
- In the documentary Richard Cizik said "…to be biblically consistent means you have to, at times, be politically inconsistent." What are the implications of that statement for the future political power of the religious right?
- What happens to our democracy when our affiliation with particular organizations or groups inhibits our ability to disagree?
- How can we begin to humanize and work with those with very different perspectives?
- How have labels crippled our ability to engage in a healthy dialogue and constructive debate? Do our assumptions that a person who is a member of X group must also be a Y do justice to our humanity?
- What guidelines will help make this online dialogue useful and productive for you?