Several week s ago, we asked the question: “Climate Change – Who Speaks for Christianity?” We traced the formal resolutions adopted by the largest Christian denominations and ecumenical bodies around the world. And we found that churches comprising over 90 percent of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians have formally acknowledged the reality of manmade climate change and its harm to the poor.
Apparently, the New Republic, a prominent progressive magazine, did not read our findings.
We know this because the New Republic just bought hook, line and sinker the claims of a libertarian fringe group – that they speak for Evangelical Christianity in America when it comes to denying the findings of climate science. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Here’s what happened.
The New Republic just published an article titled “Pope Francis Has Declared War on Climate Deniers.” Overall, it’s a pretty decent little essay. Yes, Pope Francis is planning to publish an encyclical on climate change in 2015. Yes, most Catholics around the world are united in demanding strong climate action. Yes, Christians everywhere recoil at the injustice inherent in carbon pollution, where rich countries pollute heavily, and poor ones suffer the bulk of the consequences.
So far, so good. But then they note that not everyone is cheering. And here’s where they go completely astray. “Evangelical Christians,” says the New Republic, “have already warned that they will protest” the Pope’s encyclical and related actions.
Really? So who – in the view of the New Republic – speaks for “Evangelical Christians?” Maybe the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals? Maybe the massive World Evangelical Alliance? Maybe major mission agencies like World Vision International?
No, nope, and no-siree. Instead, they chose to listen to a guy named Calvin Beisner. He’s not a pastor or an evangelist. He doesn’t represent any Christian church or denomination. But he does have one of those libertarian think tanks, and he’s a treasure trove of climate denial quotes.
“The pope should back off,” said Beisner on behalf of the controversially-named Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the U.S.”
That’s what the New Republic settled on as the voice of American Evangelicals.
Oh my. A think-tank spokesman named Beisner speaks for “millions of evangelical Christians” in the U.S.? Well, I suppose that would be hard to disprove, wouldn’t it? In a majority-Christian country of 316 million living souls, it’s entirely possible that “millions” might indeed join Beisner in his denial of climate science. We suspect millions of others might believe that Elvis is still alive, or that the President faked his birth certificate.
But what do we really know about evangelical beliefs about climate change? Well, for starters, we could look to the National Association of Evangelicals, the biggest affiliation of evangelicals by far in the U.S.
National Association of Evangelicals (NAE): In 2011, the NAE published a survey of the impacts of climate change, called “Loving the Least of These.” The NAE’s president, Rev. Leith Anderson, introduced the work with these words:
“While others debate the science and politics of climate change, my thoughts go to the poor people who are neither scientists nor politicians. They will never study carbon dioxide in the air or acidification of the ocean. But they will suffer from dry wells in the Sahel of Africa and floods along the coasts of Bangladesh. Their crops will fail while our supermarkets are full. They will suffer while we study…. Please read with an open mind and with open hands. But most of all, join me with an open heart for the poor.”
Okay Rev. Anderson, our minds are open. And what does the Evangelical report actually say? Regarding climate science, the NAE is measured, but firm: “The global average temperature has risen at a rate that is most likely greater than natural variability can account for. Evidence suggests that an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accounts for much of the warming over the last 50 years.”
The Evangelical group urges us to listen to the scientists: “Look to official joint statements from professional societies,” they write. “For example, the nation’s top scientists in the National Academies of Science (NAS) and other professional societies represent the conclusions of tens of thousands of scientists.”
And for all their scientific acumen, the NAE majors in ethics and ministry, not science. That’s why they devote most of their ink to the injustice of rampant climate pollution. With eyewitness testimonies from missionaries and Christians around the world, they tell us of increasingly erratic weather, of glaciers disappearing, of sea levels rising, of increasing water stress and drought, of the loss of forest habitats, of disappearing fisheries, of malnutrition and spreading tropical diseases.
In summary, the institutional leader of Evangelicals in America issues this call to action: “If the things we have been reading are true—that we are called to love God and to love our neighbor, that our climate is changing, and this change will affect the poor most of all—then we, the evangelical family, have no choice but to act on this problem.”
It’s clear. The U.S. National Association of Evangelicals believes that the global climate is being threatened, and that we’re complicit in the harm. But what about Evangelicals all over the world?
World Evangelical Alliance: The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) represents 600 million Christians in almost 200 countries. And it’s no secret what the WEA thinks either. In 2010 and again in 2012, the WEA sponsored global gatherings of Evangelicals under the banner of the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism. And each time, the conferees issued global calls to action on climate change.
“We lament over the widespread abuse and destruction of the earth’s resources, including its bio-diversity,” they wrote in 2010. “Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change. This will disproportionately affect those in poorer countries, for it is there that climate extremes will be most severe and where there is little capability to adapt to them. World poverty and climate change need to be addressed together and with equal urgency.”
World Vision International (WVI): When Evangelicals want to engage in missional giving to the world’s poorest people, more often than not they turn to World Vision. And if evangelical associations like the NAE and WEA are calling for action on climate change, their concerns pale in comparison to WVI, which is constantly combating the ravages of drought, flood and famine.
And what does WVI think about climate change? Christopher Shore, WVI’s Director for Environment and Climate Issues, speaks with a passion driven by first-hand experience among the world’s poorest:
“For the people whom World Vision serves throughout the world, climate change is not a fictitious or a far-off threat. It’s a very real intensifier of poverty today. For those already struggling under the weight of poverty, climate change increases vulnerability to environmental shocks that are outside their control, and it decreases the resources that would help them cope. The effects have already undone years of development investment by driving people climbing out of poverty back down the development ladder. Climate change is a global phenomenon that affects people everywhere, but it hits the poor hardest.”
So please listen, New Republic editors. For the sake of the Christian church in America, I deeply wish that evangelicals were more vocal about protecting the world that belongs to our Savior. And I wish that we were much quicker to demand justice for those who suffer from the effects of manmade climate change. But when you run to non-credentialed fringe elements as spokesmen for Christianity, and ignore clearly recognized religious associations and authorities, you participate – unwittingly, I’m sure – in a gross distortion of the witness of the church of Jesus Christ in our country.
If you take the time to look, you’ll find that evangelicals everywhere know who this world belongs to, and who has been appointed for its stewardship. “The earth is the Lord’s,” the Psalms tell us. And mankind was placed in the Creation to “tend and keep it” on behalf of its Creator, whom we love.
Please take the time to look. Climate deniers speak for themselves and their sponsors, not for the rest of us.