Evangelicals and Global Warming
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2006 Feb 10
It seems that evangelical Christians cannot resist the urge to jump on the doomsayer's bandwagon no matter what the form. Despite scientific and biblical rationale to the contrary and "despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, the New York Times reports. Their statement, released in Washington on Wednesday, says 'millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.'" The statement calls for federal legislation mandating reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
"Among the statement's signers are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, and megachurch pastors including Rick Warren...Some of the nation's most high-profile evangelical leaders, including Chuck Colson, James Dobson, and Richard Land, signed a letter in January declining to throw their weight behind the issue, declaring, 'Global warming is not a consensus issue [among evangelicals].'"
Baptist Press reports that "the new global warming coalition, known as the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), made four claims in its statement." 1) "Human-induced climate change is real." 2) "The consequences of climate change will be significant and will hit the poor the hardest." 3) "Christian moral convictions demand our response to the climate change problem.” 4) "The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change -- starting now."
Signers of ECI call this move "ground breaking," assert that global warming is "mainly human-induced," and cite a fifty year rise in global temperature as part of their rationale. The biblical basis for their action is love for God, love for neighbor, and the responsibility for stewardship of creation. "Climate change likely will produce more droughts and floods, more powerful hurricanes and the spread of diseases -- all of which will affect the poor more significantly, the statement said."
"Leith Anderson, a mega-church pastor in Minneapolis and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told reporters a 'grassroots constituency' already was 'on board' on the issue. He predicted the number of leaders who endorse the statement will increase, as will the involvement of churches and the personal and political action of evangelicals."
Those leaders opposed to the NAE taking a stance on global warming issued this statement: "We are evangelicals, and we care about God's creation. However, we believe there should be room for Bible-believing evangelicals to disagree about the cause, severity and solutions to the global warming issue."
But even that statement gives too much away. Noteworthy is the fact that "the NAE did not endorse the new statement, and its president, Colorado Springs mega-church pastor Ted Haggard, did not sign it. [However], Haggard told The New York Times he is convinced climate change is occurring and action should be taken, but he did not want his signature to be interpreted as an endorsement by the NAE."
Richard Land, president of Southern Baptist’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a stronger statement noted, "It would be unethical and irresponsible for me to sign such a statement giving the impression that there is a consensus among Southern Baptists on this issue when there is clearly not one. We will continue to foster discussion and debate on issues such as global warming and Christians' responsibility for the stewardship of the environment and the best ways to address our energy needs in the future. But until and when a consensus develops among Southern Baptists, it would be a disservice to Southern Baptists to give the impression that such a consensus existed."
By the way, the ECI press conference is only the beginning of a campaign to recruit evangelicals to the cause of fighting global warming. "The coalition announced an advertising campaign that includes a full-page ad in the Feb. 9 issue of The New York Times and the March edition of Christianity Today, as well as television spots on the Fox, CNN and ABC Family channels and ads on the Salem Radio Network." According to the New York Times, at least one spot "links images of drought, starvation and Hurricane Katrina to global warming."
What are we to make of this move? A few implications are in order here.
First, Christians should undertake to be good stewards of the earth upon which God has placed us. We are to be good stewards of all that God owns, including the earth (Ps. 24:1), and we are to do all that we do for the glory of God (Lk. 16:1f; 1 Cor. 10:31). This issue is not open to debate.
Second, Christians are indeed commanded to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. This commandment is the fist and greatest and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself (Mk. 12:30-31). We are to love God and neighbor and in so doing, we are to take special interest in the poor and downcast of society (Deut. 15:7). This dynamic is part and parcel of undefiled religion and not open to debate either (Jas. 1:27).
Third, while Christians are be good stewards, love God, and love their neighbors, it does not follow that Christians must jump on the global warming band wagon. For one thing, not all are agreed that global warming is real. A fifty year temperature trend means nothing in a six-thousand year history. Moreover, well-documented are climate change trends that ebb and flow. To use such a dynamic is alarmist, irresponsible, and disingenuous.
"E. Calvin Beisner, associate professor of historical theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., helped organize the opposition into a group called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance. He said Tuesday that 'the science is not settled' on whether global warming was actually a problem or even that human beings were causing it."
Moreover, some would assert that global warming is merely a myth spun by liberal environmentalists who seek to spread fear in order to justify their cause and are willing to do so even with bad science. Predictions of doom in one form or another are regularly propagated by liberal ideologues. Ronald Bailey, science correspondent with Reason Magazine and adjunct scholar with Competitive Enterprise Institute, noted that "not a single major prediction of ideological environmentalism has come true." A friend reminded me of predictions that surfaced in the 1970's in regard to a coming ice age. Icebergs were supposed to have invaded San Francisco Bay. We're still waiting of course. Those who predicted such have been quelled in that regard but have resurfaced waving the global warming banner.
In an article entitled "Chimera of Global Warming" (April 22, 1999), Patrick Michaels, Senior Fellow of Environmental Studies at the Cato Institute, noted, "Ten years ago the Alps endured a virtually snowless winter. Environmentalists blamed global warming. A Swiss lobbying group, Alp Action, wrote in 1991 that global warming would put an end to winter sports in the Alps by 2025. This year  the Alps have had their greatest snowfall in 40 years, according to very preliminary data."
Global warming is nothing but another political issue that puts money in the coffers of special interest groups and big government. Well documented is the fact that climate changes are not static. Sea level is not static. As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclites noted, "One can never step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are forever flowing upon you." So too is the environment in a constant state of flux and should be no cause for alarm.
In fact, Thomas Gale Moore, author of Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn't Worry about Global Warming, asserts that if global warming were to occur, it would actually benefit most people. Historically, human beings have "prospered during warm periods and suffered during cold ones." Not only does his research affirm the value of warm periods, but it also highlights the very fact that there are warm and cold periods or trends respectively on an alternating basis. Thus, we should be grateful for periods of warming. And make no mistake; a future generation will be talking about global cooling if Christ tarries.
Fourth, taking ECI's four assertions one by one, not only must we question whether or not climate change in the sense of global warming is real (and we deny such as noted), we certainly cannot say that global warming is human-induced. Not only is the human factor in regard to carbon dioxide emission infinitesimal compared to other factors, but no evidence exists that humans play any part in regard to global temperature flux. Moreover, scientists point out that atmospheric conditions have not changed over the last fifty years.
With regard to climate change being significant and hitting the poorest the hardest, no one can predict such a thing: that is, climate change being significant. Again, we are talking doomsaying speculation here. At the same time, while the rich and the poor suffer during catastrophe, there is no doubt the poor suffer more in terms of inability to cope under certain conditions or in terms of inability to recover. The poor must be taken into consideration as a matter of Christian love. But, the connection between energy consumption and global warming is unfounded. Further, during a catastrophic situation, we would want more energy available, not less, as we discovered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Suppose we had no oil in reserve. What would we be paying for gasoline now? And how would that dynamic affect the poor? The catastrophe would be far greater. We must think about the consequences of ideas and actions before we jump on the bandwagon.
The ECI statement notes that Christian moral convictions demand a response to the climate change problem. Again, the question remains: what problem? Christian moral convictions demand that we not create a problem where there is no problem. Not only are the economic and social consequences too high, the spiritual consequences are as well. More on that angle momentarily.
And then the statement reads: "The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change -- starting now." Well, let's just lay hold of one more item that will take our focus off the gospel and the salvation of souls. No doubt some will remind me that we are to be salt and light and engage the culture. Agreed. But, we are to do so from a Christian Worldview and that imperative leads us to another implication.
Fifth, in regard to being salt and light in connection with the environment, equally as important as the issue of stewardship is the cultural mandate given in Scripture. "Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth (Gen. 1:28).'" Don't miss the command to fill the earth and subdue it. God has given us resources to improve our lives, the lives of others, and the cultures in which He has placed us. Yes, we are to be good stewards along the way. But, we are to use the resources God has given us. The taking of natural resources and using them for the benefit of human beings, and yes preserving the beauty of forests and lakes for example at the same time, are all part of subduing the earth for God's glory. Moreover, well documented is the fact that we will never be able to deplete those resources. Are we to say that God miscalculated? Climate change or global warming is just a red herring.
Sixth, let us not forget that catastrophe related to the climate is the result of the curse God put upon creation as the result of Adam’s sin. "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Rom. 8:20-22)." Again, while we should take care of the environment as much as is humanly possible, we will always have those things that are perceived to be the result of global warming. But note, in the end, God is the One who will deliver His creation from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Note that the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a megachurch in Longwood, Fla., said, "The good news is that with God's help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world and for the Lord." Well, the truth is that the good news is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, not that we can stop global warming. We know Hunter knows that. But it ought to strike us as odd that our evangelical focus is so often so earthly. Moreover, in what regard can we stop global warming for the Lord? We don't do anything for the Lord. He has done it all for us. This world is under a curse and while creation groans, "not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23)." God is not waiting for us to solve the problem of global warming. We are waiting for Him to solve the problem of the global curse. And again, if there is such a thing as global warming, He'll take care of that too on that great day.
Seventh, Leith Anderson is right when he says that the political action of evangelicals will increase in regard to this issue. That is because evangelicals are confused. There is no doubt that evangelicals should be involved in politics. But, they are to influence the political arena with the gospel and a Christian Worldview as noted earlier. That means thinking rightly about global warming: as myth. It means seeking to help the poor because they are poor, not because they can be used to stir emotion in the midst of political debate and thereby advance the cause of liberal special interest groups. It means staying away from government solutions. We would be better served and serve others better by presenting the Christian Worldview of stewardship to a hurting world. Evangelicals have already proven their uncanny inability to think things through. We need look no further than the Jack Abramoff fiasco. Let us not leave our thinking caps off in regard to this issue.
Eighth, along similar lines, we regard Hurricane Katrina and its association with Global warming as the height of exploitation. Enough said.
Ninth, governmental action and initiatives of the kind in question may not help the poor but, in fact, may harm the poor even more. "Land, Dobson and Colson signed on to a 2000 statement known as The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship that called for care of creation but rejected the certainty of human-caused global warming. The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) was founded in November, with the Cornwall Declaration as its statement of principles. In a 20-page paper on global warming, the ISA has contended that climate change is difficult to verify and some proposed responses would harm the economy and be most detrimental to the poor." Further, others have asserted that, "Environmental ideologues have been proven wrong because they fail to understand that the economic processes in which humans engage are radically different than the ecological processes that govern other creatures. Human beings not only consume given resources but also make new resources by using their fertile minds (Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths, Prima Publishers, 2002, page xxiii)."
The same collegue who reminded me of the false doom predictions of the 70's also pointed out that Scientist John Christy affirmed that America does in fact produce a lot of carbon dioxide. But, America also produces over thirty percent of what the world wants and needs including technological and medical advances, food products, transportation and information innovations, etc. Additionally, plants thrive on carbon dioxide and in turn produce more oxygen proportionately. The truth is that the benefits of carbon dioxide emission far exceed the costs.
Christy also notes that the best government intervention could hope for in terms of temperature reduction based upon the environmentalists recommendations would be 0.2ºF. That figure is not only negligible, it is almost undetectable. Christy poses this critical question in light of such a reality: "Will democratically accountable governments truly subject their constituents to economic pain for a result that is this miniscule?" The real problem in his mind is not global warming, but "governments and bureaucracies that have no democratic accountability (Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths, 20-28)."
Remember "E. Calvin Beisner, associate professor of historical theology at Knox Theological Seminary...[who] helped organize...the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance...He said that the solutions advocated by global warming opponents would only cause the cost of energy to rise, with the burden falling most heavily on the poor." If we really want to help the poor, let us do so. Let us not use them as political cannon fodder.
Tenth, we really have no need to worry about global warming. We must worry about taking care of God's creation for His glory; we must worry about the poor; we must worry about cultural engagement; gospel advance; and being salt and light. But again, we need not worry about global warming.
Environmental ideologues would have us believe that carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases are warming the earth and putting our very existence in jeopardy. The time is urgent say evangelicals who are part of ECI. And yet, the Scriptures are clear. We know what will put an end to this present existence and reality. "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat (2 Pet. 3:10-12)." Now that’s global warming!
"Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless (13-14)." And that's our focus.
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