Last week, evangelical environmentalists gathered in Orlando for a conference on the use of styrofoam cups in church. No, not really (though that subject did come up the the United Methodist Church several years ago). Instead, this was about global warming, and as usual the rhetoric was straight out of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” according to the Orlando Sentinel:
Calling climate change “the civil-rights movement of the 21st century,” evangelical Christian leaders gathered at a daylong environmental conference in Longwood Thursday.
Global warming is “an offense against God,” said the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals, at Northland, a Church Distributed. “America needs our biblical outrage. We as a nation will face a judgment from God if we don’t do this.”
We’ve seen this act before. The reason Cizik can claim that global warming “is an offense against God” is because he is as sure that climate change is anthropogenic as he is that Jesus rose from the dead. There is no scientific controversy, there are no unanswered questions, there is no doubt that can be expressed. For Cizik and the evangelicals who stand with him, this has become an article of religious faith, just as it is for the followers of Al Gore.
Religious activism on the environment should be directed at both the grass-roots and the national political arena, speakers said, urging everything from congregational recycling to lobbying for legislation.
“Evangelicals have become the go-to religious community on climate change,” Cizik said. “The political center of gravity has unmistakably shifted on this issue.”
That’s a total reversal of “a mere six years ago,” he said. “It’s gone from being irrelevant to being at the center of the action.”
And if you listen closely, you can see what this is really about. It’s about political influence, and a perceived way back into the halls of power. Apparently the thinking is that alliance with Republicans on abortion and homosexuality-related issues didn’t get evangelicals anywhere, so now it’s time to try an alliance with the Democrats on the environment. Yeah, I know, folks like Cizik will deny ’til the cows come home (or stop spewing methane into the atmosphere) that a desire for political say-so has any role here, but I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it. If the NCC can play this game, so can the NAE, and that looks to be just what’s happening. And even if it isn’t about power per se, there’s no question that it is about applying the certainties of Christian faith to the uncertainties of politics and public policy, and doing so in a way that brings the church into disrepute. Cizik and his friends no doubt like the idea that they come across like Old Testament prophets–just as Bob Edgar did on economic and foreign policy issues when he was in charge of the NCC. Instead of prophets, however, they look like the NCC does every time it takes an issue on which there are various prudential considerations and understandings and treats them as though the solution is revealed from heaven itself via the Book of Hezekiah. Evangelicals shouldn’t be falling into that trap.
(Hat tip: Toby Brown.)