'Creation Care' Concerns Increase Among Evangelicals

Tending to your soul at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Boise, Idaho, involves recycling old cell phones and printer cartridges in the church lobby, pulling noxious weeds in the backcountry and f
( [email protected] ) Sep 08, 2006 02:02 PM EDT

Tending to your soul at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Boise, Idaho, involves recycling old cell phones and printer cartridges in the church lobby, pulling noxious weeds in the backcountry and fixing worn-out hiking trails in the mountains.

This is part of the ministry of Tri Robinson, a former biology teacher whose rereading of the Bible led him to the belief that Christians focused on Scripture need to combat global warming and save the Earth.

"All of a sudden Boise Vineyard is one of the most important driving forces in our community for the environment," Robinson said. "People say, 'Why are you doing that?' Because God wants it."

Many evangelicals have dismissed environmentalists as liberals unconcerned about the economic impact of their policies to fight global warming. Long-standing distrust between the two camps over issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage has discouraged evangelicals from joining liberals on the environment.

But shared concerns over global warming and protecting the Earth are bringing together the two groups in ways that could make the Republican Party more eco-friendly and lead some evangelicals to vote Democratic.

In signs of change, Robinson had a Sierra Club representative at his environmental conference recently, and the Sierra Club invited Calvin DeWitt, a University of Wisconsin biology professor and a founder of the Evangelical Environmental Network, to its summit last year where it declared global warming the top issue for the coming decade.

"More and more evangelicals are coming to believe creation care is an integral part of their calling as Christians. It is becoming part of their faith," said Melanie Griffin, director of partnerships for the Sierra Club and an evangelical.

Dewitt said evangelicals will not call themselves environmentalists.

"They are going to call themselves pro-life," he said. "But pro-life means life in the Arctic, the life of the atmosphere, the life of all the people under the influence of climate change."

The last time the environment was a major political issue was the 1970s, when rivers were catching fire, acid rain was killing lakes and Earth Day was created. President Nixon, a Republican, signed landmark legislation to combat air and water pollution, protect endangered species and create the Environmental Protection Agency.

Since then, League of Conservation Voters scorecards show Democrats getting greener and Republicans browner. President Bush earned the organization's first "F" for a president.

Hoping to sway Bush, 86 evangelical pastors, college presidents and theologians signed a letter in February calling on Christians and the government to combat global warming.

One of the signers was Bert Waggoner, national director of The Vineyard USA, a network of more than 600 churches with 200,000 members.

"If you believe, as I do, that the ultimate end is not the destruction of the Earth but the healing of the Earth, you will be inclined toward wanting to work with God to see it restored," he said.

Much of the old guard remains unmoved.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, adopted a resolution in June denouncing environmental activism and warning that it was "threatening to become a wedge issue to divide the evangelical community."

Focus on the Family leader James Dobson admonished evangelicals to remain focused on stopping abortion and gay marriage.

The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, which includes Christian leaders with close ties to the Bush administration, argues that if humans are responsible for global warming, the costs of preventing it outweigh the harm it causes, said spokesman Calvin Beisner.

"This is not a split," DeWitt said. "It is a transformation. What you find in the evangelical world in contrast to mainline denominations is that they are very suspect of authority."

A Pew Research Center for the People survey this year found that 66 percent of white evangelicals said there was solid evidence the Earth was getting warmer, with 32 percent blaming human activity, 22 percent natural patterns and the rest undecided.

John Green, professor of political science at the University of Akron and a senior fellow of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, sees evangelicals, particularly the young and educated, increasingly interested in issues that could take some of them out of the Republican Party.

"Climate change is not only a part of this but perhaps the most public part," Green said.

Robinson said he voted for Bush in 2004 because of his opposition to abortion, but it was a tough decision, making him feel he was voting against the environment.

"If the conservatives want the Christian vote, they are going to have to address this," he said.

The pastor feels like Noah cutting his first tree to build the Ark.

"God blesses small beginnings," he said. "That's why we're trying to get people to recycle — do the little things. I believe God will meet us."

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