[Mott] What Would Jesus Drive?

My sister Lisa accused me of being a communist. She was kidding, I hope. Lisa is a die-hard Republican by her own admission; I'm fairly certain that she prays for my lefty-liberal soul. We have some "colorful" conversations because we disagree on many issues, including global warming. While she admits there might be a problem, Lisa believes that most of the science is "junk," and she simply doesn't think that humans have the power to threaten the well-being of the entire earth.

Lisa isn't an evangelical Christian, but she might find common ground with conservative fundamentalists who overlay their own doctrine-based hypotheses over the theories of scientists studying global warming. By insisting there is no "proof" that global warming is real or that humans are having an irreversible impact on the planet, they seem comfortable to justify continued irresponsible environmental behavior, promoting the fairy tale that scientific theories are simply wild guesses (apparently dismissing gravity).

For Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, being an evangelical Christian and taking action to curb global warming aren't mutually exclusive. In a National Public Radio interview in December 2006, Cizik said that environmental destruction is a moral issue that should concern every true Christian.

Cizik didn't always think this way. In 2002, Jim Ball, evangelical Baptist originator of the anti-SUV "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign, invited Cizik to an environmental conference. Cizik went, but was skeptical. After hearing from leading world scientists, Cizik underwent, in his own words, a conversion.

Last year, Ball and Cizik joined forces to get the message out to their fellows, forming the Evangelical Climate Initiative. "Many evangelicals think that because they don't believe in evolution, they have to reject the science of global warming, too." Cizik said in a Fast Company interview last June. In "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action," posted on the ECI Web site, the ECI position is clear: "Love of God, love of neighbor, and the demands of stewardship are more than enough reason for evangelical Christians to respond to the climate change problem with moral passion and concrete action." Eighty-six evangelical pastors, college presidents and other leaders signed the statement.

Some conservative Christian leaders want to silence Cizik. They remain unconvinced that global warming is a problem that humankind had a hand in creating. In a March 2006 letter to L. Roy Taylor, chairman of the NAE, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association said, "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." Among the 24 signatories was James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Paul Weyrich of American Values and Ken Hutcherson of Mayday for Marriage.

In his response to criticism, Cizik wrote, "It boils down to this: How are we to fulfill God's commands to care for people ('love our neighbor as yourself') and this Earth ('watch over and care for it')?" Cizik and the ECI reframe global warming as "climate change" and environmental action as "creation care" to distance themselves from other liberal political issues.

It seems that many people of faith look to a party line first—and their own consciences last—in many of the issues facing our planet. But I have to ask: Who decides what constitutes a "great moral issue"? The issues Wildmon refers to are not "great" issues to people living in terror in Darfur, or under a repressive dictatorship in North Korea, or even, I suspect, to the Delta sharecropper who will put his babies to bed tonight without a decent meal. Certainly, global warming is not the only critical issue facing us. But honestly, on the day when you can't get clean water and can't breathe the air, where do you think the issue of gay marriage will fall on your own list of priorities?

There are those who believe the apocalypse is eminent and that we should do whatever it takes to make it happen faster. Some believe that global warming is a sign of the apocalypse. There are also those who believe most of the people on Earth are doomed to hell because they believe they have the corner on "the" truth. These are confounding positions for me. I have to admit: I pray for them.

My own long-cultivated skepticism compels me to weigh the arguments and come to my own conclusions. One is that humans are one with the Earth and are, as sentient beings, its stewards. To say that the "great moral issues of our time" do not include care for our neighors and our planet is a stance that deflects attention from far more critical world problems, like war, famine and disease. And that, my friends, is politics, not faith.

As I wrote to Lisa: "History tells me many scientists were scorned by their fellows until they were proven right. So what if the naysayers are wrong and the guys ringing the doomsday bells are right? ... If all of this press forces us to look long and hard at the damage we do to the planet—regardless of whether it's immediately fatal or not—weans us from our dependence on fossil fuels and wakes us up about what lousy planetary citizens many of us are, is that a bad thing?"

See American Public Media's "Speaking of Faith" and the Evangelical Climate Initiative websites for more information.


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