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Can religion and environmentalism find common ground in the 21st century?

Day 2: Wednesday, Sept 6th

  From Richard Cizik

Dear Gentlemen:
Yes, Stuart, it's true that there have been religious leaders (e.g., Patriarch Bartholomew I and Pope Benedict) who have challenged their flocks to take a stand on environmental concerns, and now the National Association of Evangelicals has done so in its landmark document For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.

The push-back from the groups mentioned is not surprising. Already this document and the "Evangelical Climate Initiative" have substantially altered the public perception on these issues about our movement and the propects for achieving progress. Media and other analysts laud these documents for how they've helped move the center of gravity toward state (e.g., California) and congressional action, though we'll need to do much more to apparently convince the White House and Republican leaders to alter their perception of the need to act.       
The scapegoating is over. Namely, that Christianity is somehow responsible for environmental destruction teaching (e.g., the idea that Adam and Eve have some special responsibility to look after creation was said to justify the destruction) or that environmentalists by their actions or views (e.g., pantheism) have turned off evangelicals to their responsibility. It's a new day. Quite obviously, if we believe that God will judge us for destroying the environment, we Christians are obligated to be more vigilant than most people. Sadly, for the most part, we have not been.
New polling from Pew Research helps explain this non-vigilance. It reveals that "very few people say that their religious views are the most important influence on their thinking about environmental regulations." Asked to choose among a list of five possible influences, such as what they have seen in the news (26%), a personal experience (24%), their education (18%), their family and friends (8%), or their religious beliefs, just 9% said religion was the most important influence. The rest (14%) stated that "something else" explained their view of regulations to protect the environment.
Interestingly, the number who chose "religion" was basically the same for those who said environmental regulations are worth the cost and those who said regulations hurt the economy. What this data reveals is that we have a lot of work to do, but a great opportunity. If our people are guided by their deeper values, they'll be more willing to work for substantive protection of God's creation and creatures.  
If evangelical Christians go back to study Genesis, and realize that we are tasked with looking after this planet for Someone Else, that will help us decide whether we should accept the responsibility to care for creation or not. Those who say that these issues of species extinction or climate change are "silly" are not reading their Bibles. Maybe they're letting "something else" determine their beliefs and actions. Could it be politics? Maybe, but either way everyone will have to answer to God. No exceptions.  
Indeed, Ed, species extinction is a serious issue although some evangelicals have been focused on dealing with climate change because of its impact on people and God's other creatures. We focus on climate change for important reasons it's the biggest issue around and transcends even the "environmental" label. But to give credit where it's due, the Evangelical Environmental Network was credited for their work back in 1996 in helping preserve the Endangered Species Act (first passed in the early 1970s with bipartisan support) from being gutted by the new Republican majority. Today evangelicals are working with Jewish organizations in the Noah Alliance to protect that legislation.    
Our most important contribution here is our Christ-centered approach, which I can explain more about later if you are interested. You've said that the subject of species destruction may be "harder to grasp, both in content and in its relation to human welfare."  
From a biblical view, it's important to see how God values these creatures as opposed to what value they are to humans. Thus, our approach is based not on human values, such as a utilitarian ethic, but rather a valuation based on God's priorities, namely to exercise concern for all of creation. We need scientists to help us understand the threat but biblical values to understand why we as evangelicals must care. I can elaborate further, if you or Stuart so desire.  
Richard (Cizik)
National Association of Evangelicals
Washington, D.C.    


  From E.O. Wilson


It’s going to be hard to add to your documentation, statement of the overall problem, or direction we must jointly take. Richard, you’ve confirmed my perception that Christian belief, expressed so well in its way by the core spirit of American evangelism, is pro-environment. The logic of Judaeo-Christianity is humanity-centered, and it follows that humanity will, if for no other reason, wish to preserve Earth’s biodiversity as its own life-support system. May we think of conservation as the ultimate pro-life position? It makes no sense for God to approve wanton destruction of such a large part of His creation.

That is, it makes no sense unless you take one extremist interpretation of the Book of Revelation, and insist that the planet needs to be trashed before the Rapture will occur. So Stuart, you are wise to remind us in plain language that such anarchic sentiment is often expressed, and in a manner that casts a dark shadow over the true message of Christian belief, or what most perceive it to be.

It will help at this point to acknowledge that extremists also exist among the secular humanists, notably the radical technophiles who envision a genetically metamorphosed humanity living in an entirely humanized world. Now, I admit that scares me as much as apocalyptic dispensationalism.

Richard, I’ll admit to being startled by the polling results that show such a relatively low influence reported by Americans on their personal lives. To the extent that these preferences are an accurate reflection of their deepest feelings, an even greater attention in the Judaeo-Christian magisterium to the environment would be a logical goal for its diverse ministries. Equally important would be a more effective stress on environmentalism by secular-based bioethics. All of this entails the necessary pursuit of the occupation we three pursue in our separate ways: education. If people don’t know something, then no matter what their world view they will not care about it.

Warmest regards,




Day 1, Tuesday September 5th

Day 2, Wednesday September 6th

Day 3, Thursday September 7th

Day 4, Friday September 8th

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