Wednesday, February 08, 2006

It's a free ride, but you've already paid

This is, of course, a good thing:

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors."

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."

"For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority," the statement said. "Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough."

The statement calls for federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through "cost-effective, market-based mechanisms" — a phrase lifted from a Senate resolution last year and one that could appeal to evangelicals, who tend to be pro-business. The statement, to be announced in Washington, is only the first stage of an "Evangelical Climate Initiative" including television and radio spots in states with influential legislators, informational campaigns in churches, and educational events at Christian colleges.

"We have not paid as much attention to climate change as we should, and that's why I'm willing to step up," said Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, an influential evangelical institution in Illinois. "The evangelical community is quite capable of having some blind spots, and my take is this has fallen into that category."
I had noticed this story earlier, from a different angle, but had held of on posting about it. Newsweek took this angle on the story:

But in recent years, Cizik, 54, has also been at the forefront of a Biblically inspired environmental movement known as Creation Care, which holds that Christians have an obligation, described in the Book of Genesis, to "replenish the Earth" as God's stewards. "This is not a Red State issue or a Blue State issue or a green issue," Cizik says. "It's a spiritual issue."

And a controversial one. Until now, the movement has emphasized the individual responsibility of Christians to conserve. But this week a coalition of leading evangelicals will issue "An Evangelical Call to Action," asking Congress and the Bush administration to combat global warming by restricting carbon-dioxide emissions. "Christians must care about climate change because we love God the Creator," it reads. The challenge to the Bush administration—which rejects mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions as economically harmful—has caused a major rift within evangelical circles. Last week the president of NAE, the Rev. Ted Haggard, announced that the group would not endorse the document, since it was not unanimously approved by members. And Cizik says NAE executives instructed him to remove his own name from full-page newspaper ads promoting the
"Call to Action."
Which lead me to think about the changes in Protestantism, and the not-changes based on inaccurate perceptions of Protestantism. Protestantism is often understood as a sort of "one man, one vote" version of Christianity. But this isn't true across the board, and wasn't true for what was "mainstream" Protestantism until the Baptists became mainstream in American in the 19th century. Until then, Calvin ruled Geneva and Presbyterian pastors in Scotland strictly enforced rules over their parishioners (one reason Alexander Carmichael had to save the prayers and songs of the Carmina Gadelica; the Presbyterian pastors were vigorously stamping them out), and Luther's church was largely Catholicism without the Pope (the Anglicans supplied their own, in Canterbury).

That's an over-simplification, too, but the general idea of Protestantism was that there would be a new boss, and he wouldn't be Catholic (indeed, to this day, many Protestants still define themselves largely against Roman Catholicism).

This was why Baptists and other Protestants, such as evanglicals, were marginalized for so long; because they believed so strongly in individual liberty and the liberty of the individual conscience. But, of course, individuals alone are just individuals alone. So even Baptists and Pentecostalists form churches, communities of like-minded people, to share the urgings of their individual decisions to live in community.

The reach of Creation Care is toward the conscience of individuals. But Mr. Cizik is being told to ignore his individual conscience, and toe the party line.

That was, more or less, the original post. But now the "party line" has shifted, and even purveyors of spiritual pablum like Rick Warren (I can only be honest here; no pastor makes a lot of money without selling spiritual pap) are taking Rev. Cizik's stand, even as the NYT article reports that Rev. Cizik is not lending his name to this initiative.

But even more interesting is the reasoning of those who disagree. NPR reported on this story, too. And in that report, Rev. Richard Land makes the point quite clear: human beings first, and human economic systems over all.

"I don't see James Dobson. Is there a more influential evangelican than James Dobson?" observes Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "I don't see Chuck Coleson. I don't see Franklin Graham. So these are obviously prominent evangelicans and I -- please don't in any way think that I am denigrating anyone who's on this list -- but it is not an exhaustive list of evangelical leaders, let's put it that way."

Land, along with Colson and Dobson, wrote a letter opposing the Evangelical Call to Action because, he says, there is not consensus about climate change among evangelicals. Land says the Bible makes clear that God expects human beings to take care of the earth. But "human beings come first in God's created order," he adds. "And that primacy must be given to human beings and for human betterment. If that means that other parts of nature take a back seat, well, then they take a back seat."

Land argues that slowing economic growth and development by overly strict environmental controls will harm human beings.
Because, after all, the most important thing to human beings, is economic growth. I'm not sure Karl Marx could have said it better.

I am not being flip or merely inflammatory with that observation. Marx saw human beings as purely material creatures, and economics is concerned with purely material matters. That is not a position I agree with, but neither do I condemn it outright or consider it unworthy of any consideration. But when it is the position of the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, well, as Alanis Morissette would say: "Isn't it ironic?"

Maybe Protestantism hasn't changed all that much. Maybe it still hasn't changed enough.

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