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Evangelical Leaders Call For Government Action On Warming

By Jim Lobe

09 February, 2006
Inter Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb 8 (IPS) - Breaking with some of their colleagues in the Christian Right, a group of more than 85 U.S. evangelical Christian leaders called on Congress Wednesday to enact legislation that would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which most scientists believe contribute to global warming.

"Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to solve the global warming crisis," the group, which included the heads of a number of prominent evangelical universities and so-called "megachurches," said in a statement that will appear in a full-page advertisement set to run in Thursday's New York Times.

The "Evangelical Climate Initiative" was motivated primarily by biblical injunctions to protect creation and help the poor, who stand to suffer most from climate change, said Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, one of the most influential U.S. evangelical institutions for more than a century. "This isn't someone else's issue; this is our issue," he said.

The group also released the findings of a recent poll that found that 70 percent of self-described evangelical Christians in the United States said they believed global warming will pose a serious threat to future generations, and nearly two-thirds said the problem required an immediate response.

"There is a grassroots constituency that is already on board," said Rev. Leith Anderson, senior pastor of a megachurch in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a past president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

The new initiative comes in the wake of an unprecedented appeal issued two weeks ago by six former chiefs of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including five Republicans, for the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to impose mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions to curb global warming.

"This is not a sort of short-term cycle problem," said Russell Train, who led the EPA under former Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. "This is a major disaster for the world."

His remarks were echoed by Lee Thomas, former President Ronald Reagan's EPA chief, who warned that that the administration and its supporters were making a serious error by delaying action until scientists could be more certain about the causes of global warming and how it can be addressed.

"You can't wait until you have certainty on these issues," he told the Washington Post. "Then it's way too late."

The new evangelical initiative comes in the immediate aftermath of a clash on the issue between its signers and another group of evangelical leaders who enjoy particularly close relations to the White House and the right-wing Republican leadership of the House of Representatives.

While Bush himself has acknowledged the reality of global warming change and the likelihood that humans -- primarily through their combustion of fossil fuels like oil and coal for energy -- are causing at least some of it.

But unlike the leaders of rest of the world's industrialised countries, with the exception of Australia, Bush has refused to back the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that imposes reductions in greenhouse emissions or take any other action that would require U.S. businesses and consumers to reduce them or that might, in his words, "wreck the U.S. economy."

The United States currently produces more than 25 percent of all global greenhouse emissions. Although the United States signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol under the Bill Clinton administration, Bush announced the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in 2001.

Top leaders in the Christian Right, which consists mainly of socially conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, have supported the administration in this view.

Among the most influential are Charles Colson, a former Nixon political aide who founded Prison Fellowship Ministries; James Dobson, the founder of the Colorado-based Focus on the Family; Richard Land, a top official in the Southern Baptist Convention; Donald Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association; and James Kennedy, the head of Coral Ridge Ministries, another megachurch in Florida.

Organised into their own "Interfaith Stewardship Alliance," the right-wing group last week successfully blocked the leadership of the NAE, an umbrella group of more than 50 denominations representing some 30 million evangelicals nationwide, from endorsing the new Climate Initiative or taking any formal position on global warming.

The Alliance's spokesman, a Florida theology professor, E. Calvin Beisner, told the New York Times that his group believed that the "science is not settled" on whether global warming was actually a problem or even that human beings were causing it and that the poor would suffer most from increased energy prices caused by mandatory emission curbs as endorsed by the Initiative's backers.

But, Litfin stressed Wednesday that the NAE had never been formally asked to take a position on the matter and noted that 22 members of its board of directors had decided to sign the Initiative in their personal capacity.

"There will be other leaders who will sign," he said, while Anderson, pointing to the survey results, suggested that the Alliance group was lagging behind their constituency. "We will see tens of millions of evangelicals engaged in this work," he predicted. "Some leaders haven't understood this yet."

Indeed, the NAE's president, Rev. Ted Haggard, has frequently urged evangelical Christians, including his Colorado congregation, to take on global warming as a test of "creation care," a provision in an unprecedented statement issued in October 2004, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," that declared that the government had an obligation to "protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation."

He told the Times that he decided against signing the Initiative only because his signature would be misinterpreted as NAE endorsement. "There is no doubt about it n 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 (it)."

Similarly, Rev. Rich Cizik, the NAE's chief lobbyist and public spokesman, has been an outspoken proponent of creation care within the organisation, although he also refrained from signing the Initiative.

The editor of "Christianity Today," the most influential evangelical publication, was among the signers, as were Rick Warren, the best-selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life," and the pastors of three African American megachurches who have also had good ties to the White House under Bush.

Evangelical concern about the environment first gained the national spotlight four years ago when Jim Ball, head of the Evangelical Environmental Network, launched the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign for hybrid vehicles. The slogan quickly appeared all over the country in the form of bumper stickers that were also interpreted as directed against gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles (SUVs).

"We want to engage America," Ball said Wednesday. "We need to get our country moving in the right direction on this issue. We think what's required now is leadership."

Initiative signers, who included the head of the Salvation Army, the largest U.S. charitable organisation, and World Vision, one of the largest U.S. overseas relief groups, said they intended to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week to urge support for bills that would mandate emission curbs, particularly the McCain-Lieberman bill that was narrowly defeated last year.

That such a lobbying effort could make a major difference to the outcome this year is reflected in the fact that four out of five evangelicals voted for Bush in 2004 and a similar majority identify themselves as Republicans.











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