Green Religion

The Economist, one of my favourite global magazines, did a small insert on religion and conservation in their latest edition. When business and political magazines notice the trends, it’s an indication that the trend is significant. Hopefully, one day, all churches will have joined this revolution. Click here to read the article, or see below for extracts.

A cross of green

Nov 29th 2007 | AUSTIN
From The Economist print edition
The continuing rise of creation care

AS AMERICAN officials fly off to Bali for a meeting on climate change, they will be thinking hard about the people back home who are studying their every move. In contrast to 1997, when the religious right led denunciations of the deal negotiated in Kyoto, many of today’s evangelicals want America to be generous and constructive.

“Regardless of whether all nations agree to be part of the solution, America must do the right thing.” That was an amazing statement, when it was first made in 2006 as part of a green manifesto issued by a group of religious activists led by Richard Cizik, vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals. But Mr Cizik has gone a long way towards transforming the thinking of American Christians about the planet. It helps that he is no liberal softie: he still opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research.

Even so, Mr Cizik and other green evangelicals have faced an uphill battle. Their preference for the term “creation care” is a reflection, in part, of the horror that the word “environmentalism”—tinged with secular humanism, even liberal paganism—still strikes in the evangelical psyche.

The late Jerry Falwell, for example, loathed environmentalists. In March he said global warming was “Satan’s attempt” to distract the church from its fight against abortion and gay marriage. Since his death, the anti-environmental torch has been carried by leading evangelicals like James Dobson and Gary Bauer. But as the creation-care movement picks up, they are starting to sound like dinosaurs. According to a poll in October, two-thirds of evangelicals want immediate action on global warming. Creation care is only part of it: the urge to enhance national security by lessening America’s dependence on foreign oil is important too.

The new mood reflects a generational change among evangelicals, says Andrew Walsh, a religion-watcher at Trinity College, Hartford. The younger lot wants to focus more on issues such as AIDS and the crisis in Darfur—a cluster of concerns that have more in common with climate change than with crusading against homosexuality. Among many of the new generation there is less of a feeling that America must always pursue its own interests, adds Dennis Hoover, a writer on conservative Protestantism.

One open question is how far green evangelicals can go in co-operating with Christians with a different ethos. At least in his early green days, Mr Cizik avoided associating with mainline Protestants who were liberal in politics as well as theology. But some intriguing exchanges may be triggered by the recent conversion of Pope Benedict XVI—widely admired by American conservatives—to the view that global warming is a serious issue.

Already, even within the evangelical camp, some patching over of differences has been needed to rally round the green cause: some eco-evangelicals root their beliefs in a literal reading of the book of Genesis, while others interpret the Creation story a bit more freely. The theology is going to get more and more interesting.

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