Christianity’s Greatest Schism: Climate, Environment, Justice

 

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“The religious right asked for my head on a platter.”

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer

July 23, 2008

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/371963_greenfaith24.html

 

Christians taking on role as environmentalists

Many believe humans must be Earth’s stewards

By JOHN IWASAKI

P-I REPORTER

Like shrinking ice caps, resistance among American Christians to 

address the effects of global warming is diminishing, creating a 

once-unlikely connection between the scientific and the spiritual, 

representatives of national and local religious organizations said 

Wednesday.

 

Even opposition from evangelicals, the Christian group considered 

least likely to embrace warnings of climate change, might be 

lessening.

 

“Science asks what, religion answers why,” said Richard Cizik, vice 

president of governmental affairs for the National Association of 

Evangelicals, during a visit to Seattle. “People need reasons, not 

directives, to change their behavior when a profound change is 

required.”

 

Those reasons are evident in scientific research on global warming, 

he said, and correspond with biblical mandates to care for and 

protect the Earth.

 

Although in agreement that Christians are to be good stewards of what 

God created, evangelicals generally don’t view global warming as a 

threat partly because of opposition to other theories that challenge 

their faith, Cizik said in an interview before his appearance on a 

panel at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington.

 

“Evangelicals have not trusted mainstream science because of Darwin 

and evolution,” he said. “So there’s a deep repository of suspicion.”

 

Time magazine named Cizik, a native of Quincy in Eastern Washington’s 

Grant County, as one of the 100 most influential people in the world 

for 2008 for his activism, though noting his detractors “say there 

are more important issues for evangelicals to tackle, and there is no 

consensus within the community about global warming anyway.”

 

Cizik’s work made him a lightning rod among national evangelical leaders.

 

“The religious right asked for my head on a platter,” he said.

 

Christian concern for the environment has been more typical among 

mainline denominations, whose top values include Earth stewardship 

and social justice, said LeeAnne Beres, executive director of Earth 

Ministry in Seattle.

 

“There is no inherent conflict between science and religion,” said 

Beres, a former fisheries biologist. “We have an obligation to care 

for creation, whether we believe life evolved or is from God.”

 

Peter Illyn, founder of Restoring Eden in Vancouver, Wash., sees a 

growing interest in environmental issues among college-aged 

Christians and others “tired of debating the origins of life while 

forgetting the degradation” of God’s creation.

 

In her years of teaching about environmental issues at Seattle 

Pacific University, geography professor Kathleen Braden said, “I have 

seen a huge turnaround in attitude — from skepticism to true concern 

— and I would say the concern is often motivated by faith and their 

belief that God has entrusted the world to our care.”

 

A study released early this year by The Barna Group, which 

specializes in religious surveys, found that only 33 percent of 

American evangelicals considered global warming to be a major problem 

facing the country. (Barna regards evangelicals as a socially 

conservative subset of born-again Christians.)

 

Two years ago, 86 prominent evangelical leaders signed a major 

statement to combat global warming, saying it was imperative of 

Christians to protect the earth and those affected worldwide. Among 

the signers were Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, the 

Federal Way-based Christian charity, and Philip Eaton, president of 

Seattle Pacific University.

 

The Rev. Joe Fuiten, pastor of Cedar Park Assembly in Bothell and 

known for his conservative positions on social issues, takes a dim 

view of global warming.

 

“Who is causing the warming on other planets in our solar system, and 

how can we really know how much of the current temperature rise is 

human caused rather than just the normal cycle of nature?” Fuiten 

asked. “I also wonder why previous rises in temperature were a good 

thing for the Earth, but the current one is bad.”

 

Cizik said that 90 percent of global warming was attributed to humans 

by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations 

network of 2,000 scientists.

 

“It comes down to trust,” he said. “Whom do you trust?”

 

But Cizik said underlying troubles remain that science can’t solve.

 

“Loss of biodiversity, pollution and climate change are reflections 

of man’s greatest problem: pride, apathy and greed,” with society 

turning resources into commodities without replenishing the Earth, he 

said.

 

Solving global warming, he said, will “necessitate a cultural and 

spiritual transformation.”

 

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