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September 12, 2018

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Heretic Hunting Among The Innocents: Intimidation & Climate Change

fires

Behold a chapter in a book I’m writing, an updated blend of two pieces I wrote for Christian Ethics Today. The book maps out how white American evangelical Christianity morphed from intellectual sophistication into an arena for bullies, trashing its heritage and time-honored creeds in the process. 


Few arenas display Evangelicalism’s bully takeover more than climate change, where the coal mine’s canary has been hacking, spitting, and turning blue.  Deniers of the scientific consensus, often trained in political advocacy and marketing techniques, yell at the bird. They question its motives, tell it the fumes are imaginary and drop hints that it’s wheezing a heretical wheeze.  Consensus-driven evangelical moderates, sometimes housed in academies and poorly-funded think tanks, rallied to the cause at first, then muted their voices for unity’s sake when the fists slammed the tables.  The sad result: The deniers hogged the microphone for far too long, needlessly embarrassing biblically-centered Christianity and harming the Gospel’s advocacy.

Fortunately, the Board of Directors for the National Association of Evangelicals displayed moral courage in its resolution of October, 2015.  The key sentence: “A changing climate threatens the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest citizens.”[i]  Unfortunately but predictably, news outlets barely mentioned the statement.  The impression that evangelical Christianity is the headquarters for anti-scientific denialism lingers in the public mind.

I deeply respect the NAE, which represents forty member denominations and a slew of groups and individuals.  I admire its president, Leith Anderson.  He wisely shepherded the organization through pain and controversy when he took the helm in 2006.  I have no wish to sully its reputation.  But the NAE’s slow response, however understandable, makes for a case study in bully evangelicalism’s dynamics: intimidators foment fear, often playing loose with the facts; evangelical moderates silence themselves in the interest of unity. They conceive themselves as peacemakers when they’re really conflict-avoiders.

The Realities

Cold reality prompts the canary’s cough.  Fact: The world’s glaciers are shrinking.  Fact: The polar ice caps are melting. Fact: Sea levels are rising. Another fact: Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman discovered that 97% of all active climatologists are agreed – human activity spurs the Earth’s rising temperatures and glacial melting.[ii] Then there are the reports: A federal advisory draft released in January, 2013, predicted catastrophe unless policies change.[iii] as did a World Bank warning in November, 2012.[iv]  A UN study revealed that this century’s first decade was the hottest in 160 years.[v]

These facts and reports – as well as droughts and super storms – resemble that poor canary in the coal mine, whose death signaled dangerous methane levels and the need for action.

Surely evangelical Christians can emulate their Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brethren and explore this dilemma without fear. No historic creed is at stake and Scripture advocates creation care:  We’re the Lord’s designated stewards (Genesis 1:27-30).  We were called to guard God’s sanctuary (a more literal rendering of the wording in Genesis 2:15).  Our Earthly rule fits Walter Kaiser’s description: “The gift of ‘dominion’ over nature was not intended to be a license to use or abuse selfishly the created order in any way men and women saw fit. In no sense were humans to be bullies and laws to themselves.”[vi] Kaiser is right: God’s leadership motif is “help” (Psalm 121:1-2), and service (Matthew 20:28). Psalm 19:1-4 testifies to God’s glory in creation and Romans 8:18-22 looks forward to its redemption.  Kudos to Francis of Assisi, who cherished the animals and plants.

And just to make sure everything’s on the up-and-up, we’ve had our inside people: Sir John Houghton, a British evangelical, co-chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, one of the important agencies issuing alerts.[vii] Katharine Hayhoe, a Billy Graham fan, pastor’s wife, and Texas Tech university professor, has served as an IPCC reviewer.[viii]

The evidence, the Bible, and historic Christianity motivated 280 leaders to sign the petition, “Climate Change, An Evangelical Call to Action” in 2006.[ix]  The names read like an evangelical VIP litany: Andy Crouch of Christianity Today; Jack Hayford of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; Gordon P. Hugenberger of Parkstreet Church in Boston; Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College; Gordon MacDonald, editor-at-large for Leadership Magazine; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Tri Robinson, pastor of the Boise Vineyard; Berten Waggoner, then the National Director of the Vineyard USA; and Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback.  To name a few.  What’s more, 44 Southern Baptist leaders, including the Convention’s then-current president and two past presidents, signed the initiative, “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change.”

A wrench is thrown

But something was amiss.  In some circles, calling attention to the hacking canary betrayed skewed orthodoxy and questionable patriotism, swaying many.  I experienced this as a pastor: I was blasted as a “liberal” (perish the thought) because I agreed with these two assertions:

  • “There is now a broad consensus in this country, and indeed in the world, that global warming is happening, that it is a serious problem, and that humans are causing it,”[x]
  • “we agree that climate change is real and threatens our economy and national security.”[xi]

The late Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona wrote the first quote in 2007 along with Senator Joe Lieberman.  Republican Senator Lindsay Graham wrote the second in 2009 along with Democrat John Kerry when he was in Congress.  The senators, along with retired generals and admirals alarmed about climate change’s potential security concerns[xii] implicitly invited us to embrace an opportunity: We can shelve annoying labels.  Let’s brew enough caffeine to spike our blood pressure, roll in the whiteboards, and brainstorm while pacing back and forth with our Type A personalities on full display …

No.  We’re “liberal.”  We’ve failed a vague orthodoxy test, which means we’re worse than erroneous:  We’re suspect.  Forget evidence, the biblical mandate for stewarding creation, precedent, and recognized authorities.  According to a 2007 CNN article, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Institute speculated that climate change is part of a leftist agenda threatening evangelical unity.[xiii] The late Jerry Falwell proclaimed this from his pulpit on February 25 of that year: “I am today raising a flag of opposition to this alarmism about global warming and urging all believers to refuse to be duped by these ‘earthism’ worshippers.”[xiv] Calvin Beisner, head of the misnamed Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, suggested the worries are “an insult to God.”[xv] He also insinuated that diminishing our oil dependence aligns us with the unfaithful steward of Matthew 25:14-30.[xvi] After all, the oil is there: God gave it to us.  We should use it (the same logic would render us fickle if we fail to smoke marijuana as well; after all, it’s there for the asking).  His organization veered close to rendering anthropogenic climate change a theological impossibility in its Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming: “We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence — are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.  Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.”[xvii]

That’s naïve.  Our species is not immune to world-wide calamity. Remember the fourteenth century, when nature and human activity wed in a ghoulish marriage. Commerce flowed over new trade routes between East and West and conveyed flea-bearing rats.  The fleas leaped onto humans and infected them with the Black Death.  Roughly half of all Europe died.

I long to ask: Who defines unity?  Is assessing evidence and asking questions inherently disruptive?   Is it wrong to seek solutions to a potentially grave problem – especially since there are virtually no doctrinal risks (Beisner notwithstanding)?  Apparently, yes. We’re pagan “earthism” worshippers.  We’re divisive conspirators in a leftist plot – never mind that Perkins was flourishing a rhetorical ploy with a one-two punch: levy a nebulous charge no one can disprove; then, as the opponent reels, accuse him of divisiveness.  Any challenge fulfills the charge.  Few can stay calm and ask: Who is calling whom names?  Who flings the accusations and mows down the straw men?  Who is really divisive?

But none of those questions stems the accusatory tide.  Deniers of climate change grab any real or imagined flaw.  I’ve been warned, over coffee and doughnuts, that I’m falling prey to Al Gore, who, apparently, is evil incarnate and wields hypnotic power.  The ice caps will recover if he vanishes just like the Vietnam War would have evaporated if a tiger ate Dan Rather. I try to tell people I’ve never seen An Inconvenient Truth, but no one believes me.

Gotcha … Maybe Not

For a brief moment in 2009, it looked like the climate change deniers were onto something.  Computer hackers stole more than 1,000 e-mails from a research unit at Great Britain’s University of East Anglia.  The e-mails, dating back some 13 years, held reams of information, “everything from the mundanities of climate-data collection to comments on international scientific politics to strongly worded criticisms by climate-change doubters,” to quote Bryan Walsh of Time.[xviii]  There seemed to be references to oppressing opposition, withholding information, pressuring editorial boards of academic journals, and skewing research.  Besides, the e-mails weren’t nice.

The unit’s head, Phil Jones, took a leave of absence pending an investigation.

Nothing came of it. Parliamentary and university reports exonerated Jones.  Perhaps he could have been more forthcoming and more couth, but, in the words of the parliamentary committee: “In the context of sharing data and methodologies, we consider Professor Jones’s actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community.”[xix]  References to performing research “tricks” were in-house slang for legitimate scientific procedures – and yes, Jones and his e-mail partners were a little rough in their private e-mails. They didn’t anticipate their theft.

What a scandal.

The Moderate Voice – or lack of it

At first, the moderates – epitomized by the gentlemanly NAE – vied for the lead on this issue. Its 2004 framework for social engagement, entitled “For The Health of the Nation,” delineated seven vital arenas: religious freedom, family life and children, the sanctity of life, caring for the poverty-stricken and helpless, human rights, peacemaking, and creation care. One eventual outcome: Dorothy Boorse’s 56-page pamphlet, “Loving The Least of These: Addressing A Changing Environment.”[xx] She stressed that “environmental change” strikes the poor most severely.  Richard Cizik, the organization’s vice president of government affairs until 2008, spurred seismic shifts that would free the movement from reactionary captivity.  Climate change was one of his top priorities.

Push-back arose, of course.  James Dobson tried to get Cizik fired, but the NAE president at the time, Ted Haggard, was unimpressed: “The last time I checked,” he told Dobson, “you weren’t in charge of the NAE.”[xxi] A more muted approach came early in 2006 from the so-called “Interfaith Stewardship Alliance,” since renamed the “Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.” The signatories – among whom were the distinguished Charles Colson along with a who’s-who in the Religious Right, including James Dobson (again), John Hagee, the late James Kennedy, and Richard Land – said they “appreciated the bold stance that the (NAE) has taken on controversial issues like embracing a culture of life, protecting traditional marriage and family, promoting abstinence as AIDS prevention, and many others,” but they requested it lay off climate change: it was “not a consensus issue.” An “official stance” should be filtered through official channels, and “individual NAE members or staff should not give the impression that they are speaking on behalf of the entire membership, so as not to usurp the credibility and good reputation of the NAE.” Then came the twist: “We respectfully ask that the NAE carefully consider all policy issues in which it might engage in the light of promoting unity among the Christian community and glory to God.”[xxii]

The irony: NAE officials were “bold” when advocating positions with which they agreed but potentially divisive (“… in the light of promoting unity …”) on climate change. Invoking “unity” often knocks the debate off the merits.  Suddenly, a thousand eggshells rattle across the floor, freezing us in our tracks lest we break our delicate bonds.  Don’t even dare ask: What about your position’s potential divisiveness? Have you pondered our possible disunity with Christianity’s other legitimate branches, such as Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and traditional Protestants? They’ve endorsed the scientific consensus on climate change.

It worked.  The NAE blinked.  Haggard answered in late January by defending the organization’s pro-environment stance but demurring on climate change. His executive committee directed NAE staffers “to stand by and not exceed in any fashion our approved and adopted statements concerning the environment contained within the Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.” Catch a glimpse of American evangelicalism’s blind spot toward the end. Haggard said: “I believe there are pro-environment, pro-free market, pro-business answers to the environmental questions facing our community.”

Do the Scriptures rally to free enterprise? Cultural standards were now mixed into a back-to-the-Bible organization, a charge evangelicals often levy against theological liberals. And pro-creation statements ring hollow without identifying its destructive agents.  Imagine federal authorities banning the mention of cigarettes while promoting cancer-free living.

The year, 2006, proved pivotal.  In February, 86 evangelical leaders – including pastors, 39 Christian college presidents, and not a few current NAE board members – signed the “Evangelical Climate Initiative,” which asserted the reality of human-induced global warming and said it imperiled national security and the poverty-stricken: “Love of God, love of neighbor, and the demands of stewardship are more than enough reason for evangelical Christians to respond to the climate change problem with moral passion and concrete action.  Christians must care about climate change because we are called to love our neighbors.” In May, one of the last creditable denial hold-outs, Gregg Easterbrook, cried uncle: “Based on the data I’m now switching sides on global warming, from skeptic to convert.”[xxiii]

But then calamity struck.  In November, Haggard resigned in the wake of a sexual scandal.  Anderson, who served as president before, was recalled and brought his steady hand. The evangelical world breathed a sigh of relief. “There’s an enormous trust that people have with (Anderson), and that allows him to lead,” said Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent of the Wesleyan church.[xxiv] The Minnesota megachurch pastor brought administrative efficiency and showed he was no right-wing poster boy: He opposed the death penalty, supported immigration reform, and signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative.  A Religion News Service profile said he “continues to press the issue of justice for the poor in the developing world, working hard behind the scenes to craft an official NAE statement on climate change.”[xxv]  Anderson’s pastoral style seemed the right prescription for a stunned organization laboring under a recent leadership scandal – and it fit with the NAE’s gentlemanly and lady-like ethos.

Calamity struck again in 2008.  National Public Radio’s Fresh Air host, Terry Gross, asked Cizik a question in an on-air interview: “A couple of years ago when you were on our show, I asked you if you were changing your mind on that. And two years ago, you said you were still opposed to gay marriage. But now as you identify more with younger voters, would you say you have changed on gay marriage?” Cizik waffled: “I’m shifting, I have to admit. In other words, I would willingly say that I believe in civil unions. I don’t officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don’t think.”

This was a bridge too far those who believe we should insist on the Church’s traditional teaching on sex (I’m among them).  Cizik apologized for his comment and re-affirmed the NAE’s official stance for the traditional view of marriage, but it was too late.  He stepped down from the NAE.

Christianity Today interviewed Anderson immediately after Cizik’s resignation.  He said NAE officials should speak for the association, not for themselves. When asked about Cizik’s climate change advocacy, he replied: “’For the Health of the Nation’ does state that creation care is one of our priorities.  It does not state in that document that we have a specific position, because we don’t, on global warming or emissions.  So he (Cizik) has spoken as an individual on that.  However, to most of our constituents, marriage and related moral issues and of greater importance and significance than specific stances on the climate.”[xxvi]

The question hovers: “But is it right?”  Does the Bible prioritize family moralities over others?  Did you, Anderson, not sign a statement underscoring the moral imperative entwined in climate change?  Post-interview quarterbacking is easy (and let’s shout “take two” on Cizik’s NPR conversation), but we’re left with that vague “opportunity lost” feeling.  Reel back the tape.  Say this: “The NAE has no formal position on climate change, but Richard was educating us and I’m on record as agreeing with him. I hope the education process can go on.”

No doubt some would have screamed for Anderson’s professional head so they could line it up on Cizik’s platter, but aren’t mega-church pastors writing books on “courageous leadership”?  Did NAE heroes like Luther, Calvin, and Wesley – or founding President Harold Ockenga – poll their constituents?  Haven’t evangelicals always claimed that truth trumps popularity?  Otherwise, Ockenga would have fawned before Henry Emmerson Fosdick and Carl Henry would never have written The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.

Perhaps the NAE ailed with the same malady once infecting me: Conflict avoidance in the guise of resolution. Many in its institutions and churches offer courses in communication and negotiation in an attempt to quell their internecine battles.  Such efforts are laudable, but they can lead to unintended consequences: Argument (the process of defending a viewpoint by marshalling facts in a quest for the truth) is deemed intrinsically bad. Suddenly, we’re nomads in the labyrinth of passive aggressiveness, choked by stilted “I statements” and confined by the tyranny of the sensitive. And, for the sake of “unity,” absurdities gain the respect of actualities: Representatives from the Flat Earth Society and the American Astronomical Society sit at the same table – and Luther withdraws his 95 Theses because he did not validate the bishop’s feelings. Meanwhile, bullies see concessions as weaknesses: The Flat Earthers pound the table, yield nothing, display offense when the astronomers show photographs of a round planet, and demand a wider audience. The sad fact is that enemy-centered, antagonistic parties do not play for win-win resolution. They grab olive branches and use them as whips in their battle for all-out victory.

More on that dynamic later. Suffice it to say that such has been the scene in the debates over climate change and creation care (and other issues): The deniers kept at it while the moderates demurred.

For instance …

A few samples of denial in Christ’s name will suffice.

Sample One: In 2009, Republican US Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois read from Genesis 8:21-22 in a hearing of the Energy and Commerce Committee: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done.  As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.”  Then a passage from Matthew 24: “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

He interpreted: “The earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over.  Man will not destroy this earth.  This earth will not be destroyed by a flood … I do believe that God’s word is infallible.  Unchanging.  Perfect.”

I agree with Shimkus’ assertion of God’s Word.  I’ll also point out that most credible scientists are not predicting the earth’s destruction or humanity’s extinction.  They are, however, forecasting droughts, weird weather, and rising sea levels – all of which may pave the path for a calamity on par with the Black Death.

Shimkus also said this: “Today we have about 388 parts per million [of carbon dioxide] in the atmosphere.  I think in the age of the dinosaurs, when we had most flora and fauna, were probably at 4,000 parts per million.  There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet, not too much carbon.”[xxvii]

Sea levels in the dinosaur era were 550 feet higher than today’s. Much of the modern United States was under water.

Sample Two: Shimkus was at it again in 2012, when Mitch Hescox, President and CEO of the Evangelical Climate Network, testified before the House Energy and Power Subcommittee on the merits of Environmental Protection Agency regulations aimed at reducing mercury pollution from coal-fired plants (research indicates that one in six children are born with threatening mercury levels).  Hescox stood on a solid consistent life foundation, which places the protection of the unborn within a broader pro-life context: All human life is sacred, from conception to the grave – which means curbing mercury levels is a pro-life issue.  “Let’s not endanger our children with a substance we can control,” said Hescox.  “We must protect the weakest in our society, the unborn, from mercury poisoning.”

Shimkus responded by reading a statement from the Cornwall Alliance web site: “The life in pro-life denotes not quality of lie but life itself” and only refers to “opposition to a procedure that intentionally results in dead babies.”[xxviii]  Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) employed the guilt-by-association tactic: “I find it extremely ironic that Rev. Michell Hescox and the Evangelical Environmental Network think that the pro-life agenda is best aligned with a movement that believes there are too many people in the world, actively promotes population control, and sees humans principally as polluters.”[xxix]

Apparently, Senator Inhofe was unaware that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops also supported the regulations.

Sample Three: The Family Research Council had already impugned Hescox and EEN when it claimed the organization “has received funding from such liberal groups as the Rockefeller Foundation, and specific signatories are beneficiaries of the largesse of far-Leftists like George Soros and Ted Turner” (Hescox denied that charge).  An FRC e-mail issued a dire caution: “Since the beginning, factious people and religious cults have tried to infiltrate, divide, deceive and delude us (Ephesians 6:10-13).”  So EEN is suspect.

I cry to the FRC: Why are you so sure you have not been seduced, deceived, and deluded?

Sample four comes from Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.  While dazed Philippine survivors picked through debris of Typhoon Haiyan, he inaccurately blogged on November 13, 2013: “Much of the worst hysteria about apocalyptic Global Warming has cooled, especially after more than 15 years of no global temperature increases, evincing at least that climate computer models are less than infallible.” He then skipped past warnings from President Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Schultz,[xxx] The World Bank, the US commander of the Pacific Fleet,[xxxi] a dozen retired admirals and generals,[xxxii] two hundred evangelical scientists,[xxxiii] the Christian Reformed Church (an NAE member),[xxxiv] and the many leaders who signed Evangelical Climate Initiative, and declared: “Some of the most committed believers in the theory that human activity is uniquely fueling a disastrous increase in temperature are on the Religious Left.” He singled-out former Chicago Theological Seminary President Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, “who’s ordained in the ultra-liberal United Church of Christ” and who “faulted Global Warming skeptics for the murderous typhoon in the Philippines.”  She allegedly displays “unwavering faith in apocalyptic global warming” and “strict adherence to climate fundamentalism.”  His last line evokes Greek mythology’s earth goddess: “But zealots like Thistlethwaite will not likely forsake the solace of Gaia’s temple, from which they’ll continue to issue thunderbolts against the heretics who dare to doubt.”[xxxv]

I could supply other samples, but that will do for now.

Many US evangelicals are in danger of sealing themselves in a clannish cul-de-sac, perhaps isolating themselves from their own international tribe. Their brothers and sisters throughout the world embrace the imperative of addressing human-induced climate change. Yet the deniers have monopolized the debate, invoking “unity” to silence their perceived enemies while growing more shrill themselves.  This is not sound argument.  This is classic bullying.

And, as we will see, enabling bully climate deniers was the tip of the iceberg. Probe more, and we find that we paved the path for our own disgrace.

[i] “Caring For God’s Creation: A Call To Action,” https://www.nae.net/caring-for-gods-creation/, recovered April 26, 2018.

[ii] Doran, Peter; Kendall Zimmerman, Maggie, “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Eos, Volume 90, Number 3, January 2009, pages 21-22

[iii] See Justin Gillis, “An Alarm in the Offing on Climate Change,” New York Times Green: A Blog About Energy and the Environment, http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/14/an-alarm-in-the-offing-on-climate-change/, January 14, 2013.  The full draft, overseen by the 60-person National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, is found here: http://ncadac.globalchange.gov/.

[iv] Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, Turn Down The Heat: Why a 4oC World Must Be Avoided, Washington DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, November, 2012, http://climatechange.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/Turn_Down_the_heat_Why_a_4_degree_centrigrade_warmer_world_must_be_avoided.pdf; cf., Howard Schneider, “World Bank warns of ‘4-degree’ threshold of global temperature increase,” The Washington Post, November 19, 2012, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-11-19/business/35506100_1_celsius-climate-change-temperature.  Also see Juliet Eilperin, “World on track for nearly 11-degree temperature rise, energy expert says,” Washington Post, November 28, 2011, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-11-28/national/35282761_1_celsius-climate-talks-energy-expert

[v] UN News Center, “New UN report cites ‘unprecedented climate extremes’ over past decade,” http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45330#.Ud1eNvmkq9Z, July 3, 2013.

[vi] Walter Kaiser, Peter Davids, FF Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1996), p. 89.

[vii] See Houghton’s presentation, “Climate Change: A Christian Challenge and Opportunity,” Presentation to the National Association of Evangelicals, Washington DC, March 2005, http://megaslides.com/doc/1472597/climate-change-a-christian-challenge-and-opportunity.

[viii] See the video, “Ten Questions for Katharine Hayhoe,” at The Biologos Forum: Science and Faith in Dialogue, http://biologos.org/blog/kathryn-hayhoe-evangelical-christians-climate-scientist, November 9, 2012.  Hayhoe also wrote, with Andrew Farley, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Discussions (New York, Boston, and Nashville: FaithWords, 2009), which explains climate change without technical jargon.  She accomplishes the same thing in a youtube video of her talk at a chapel service: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c2kXMdgAkc

[ix] Laurie Goodstein, “Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/08/national/08warm.html, February 8, 2006.

[x] John McCain; Joe Liebermann, “The Turning Point on Global Warming,” The Boston Globe, February 13, 2007. http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2007/02/13/the_turning_point_on_global_warming/

[xi] John Kerry; Lindsey Graham, “Yes We Can (Pass Climate Change Legislation),” New York Times, October 10, 2009,  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/opinion/11kerrygraham.html.

[xii] A Report submitted by 11 retired generals and admirals: “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” 2007, http://www.npr.org/documents/2007/apr/security_climate.pdf

[xiii] CNN, “Global Warming Gap Among Evangelicals Widens,” March 14, 2007, http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/03/14/evangelical.rift/index.html

[xiv] Adelle M. Banks, “Dobson, Others Seek Ouster of NAE Vice President,” Religion News Service, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/marchweb-only/109-53.0.html, 3/2, 2007.

[xv] See “Beisner: Believing in Climate Change is an Insult to God,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6Q6vkxs3XQ

[xvi] See “Fisher & Beisner: Not Using Fossil Fuels Is An Insult to God,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpDd_Kq_vRk

[xvii] See the full statement at http://www.cornwallalliance.org/articles/read/an-evangelical-declaration-on-global-warming/.

[xviii] Bryan Walsh,“Has ‘Climategate’ Been Overblown?” Time Magazinehttp://www.time.com, December 7, 2009.

[xix] Joe Romm, “House of Commons exonerates Phil Jones,” ThinkProgress: Climate Progress,http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2010/03/30/205732/house-of-commons-exonerates-climate-scientist-phil-jones/, March 30, 2010.

[xx] A free PDF download can be found here: https://signup.e2ma.net/signup/1792452/1750437/?v=a

[xxi] Amy Sullivan, The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing The God Gap (New York: Scribner, 2008), p. 191.

[xxii] The letter can be found here: http://www.cornwallalliance.org/docs/appeal-letter-to-the-national-association-of-evangelicals-on-the-issue-of-global-warming.pdf, retrieved on May 27, 2018.

[xxiii] Greg Easterbrook, “Finally Feeling the Heat,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/24/opinion/24easterbrook.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print

[xxiv] Jeffrey Macdonald, Religion News Service, “Pawlenty’s pastor stays politically neutral,” USATODAY.com, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-06-21-pastor-leith-anderson-tim-pawlenty_n.htm

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Sarah Pulliam, “Interview: NAE President Leith Anderson on Richard Cizik’s Resignation,” Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/decemberweb-only/150-41.0.html

[xxvii]Quoted in Graham Parkes, “The Politics of Global Warming: (2):Two Obstacles to Circumvent,” In Environmental Philosophy: The Art of Life in a World of Limits,”  edited by Liam Leonard (Bingley, UK: Emerald Group, 2013)  P. 88.; also in Charles Redfern, “Let’s Grovel in an Old-Time Lent,” HuffPost, April 25, 2012, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/old-time-lent-and-climate-change-denial_b_1292242.html, retrieved April 27, 2018.

[xxviii] Quoted here: https://creationcare2015.wordpress.com/author/evangelicalenvironmentalnetwork/page/12/, recovered April 27, 2018.

[xxix] Imhof’s press release is quoted here: https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases-republican?ID=5E700C58-802A-23AD-478D-7FEF03416208 (recovered, April 27,2018); I commented on his statement: Charles Redfern, “The Far Right Embarrasses The Pro-Life Movement – Again,” Huffpost, April 16, 2012, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-redfern/the-farright-fringe-embar_b_1278936.html, recovered 4/27/2018.

[xxx] See David Bielo, “A Republican Secretary of State Urges Action on Climate Change,” Scientific American, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=questions-and-answers-with-george-shultz-on-climate-change-and-energy, recovered, 4/27/2018

[xxxi] Bryan Bender, “Chief of US Pacific forces calls climate biggest worry,” Boston Globe, March 9, 2013, http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2013/03/09/admiral-samuel-locklear-commander-pacific-forces-warns-that-climate-change-top-threat/BHdPVCLrWEMxRe9IXJZcHL/story.html, recovered, 4/27, 2018.,

[xxxii] “US Admirals, Generals, Link Climate Change To National Security,” Public News Service, July 11, 2013, http://www.publicnewsservice.org/index.php?/content/article/33407-1, recovered, 4/27/2018.

[xxxiii] Jim Ball, “Evangelical Scientists Call for Climate Action,” http://creationcare.org/view.php?id=857, July 15, 2013; cf., Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman, “Climate Change: Evangelical Scientists Say Limbaugh Wrong, Faith and Science Complement One Another,” The Christian Post, CP Opinion, http://www.christianpost.com/news/climate-change-evangelical-scientists-say-limbaugh-wrong-faith-and-science-compliment-one-another-103470/, August 31, 2013, recovered, 4/27/2018.

[xxxiv] “Synod Recognizes Climate Change,” June 13, 2012, http://www.crcna.org/news-and-views/synod-recognizes-climate-change, recovered 4/27/2018.

[xxxv] Mark Tooley, “The Heresy of Doubting Apocalyptic Global Warming,” Juicy Ecumenism: The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Blog, http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/11/13/the-heresy-of-doubting-apocalyptic-global-warming/, recovered, 4/27/2018.

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September 6, 2018

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“Evangelical” Once Meant Freedom

theology

Obtained from http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/2014/01/theology-and-biblical-studies-whats.html

“What do I do when the near-angelic choir that wooed me to Christ morphs into an attack-dog platoon?” 

I’m wrestling with that question in a book I’m writing, tentatively entitled The Intimidator’s Club.  It ponders American evangelical Christianity’s descent from graciousness into an alpha-dominated sparing pit, with time-honored creeds dumped in favor of partisan orthodoxy. I’m giving sneak previews with a few sample chapters. The synopsis is here; an autobiographical sample is here.

The sample below describes what happened after I abandoned my carrier in journalism and unpacked my bags at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on the north shore of Massachusetts Bay. Suffice it to say that “evangelical” meant something far different in 1985 then than it does now.

 

Some intentionally mispronounce seminary as “cemetery” because God supposedly shrivels into yellowed lecture notes and theological tomes. I relished it. I could actually talk God-talk without meeting a journalist’s sneer.

Freedom!

Gordon-Conwell is one of several seminaries spawned by the evangelical resurgence, which began in the early 1940’s and was led by Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry and (most famously) Billy Graham, among several others. Each was reared in fundamentalism, which initially heaved intellectual heft in its summons back to basic doctrines, but quickly slid into a separatist, legalistic, anti-intellectual cacophony – especially after the infamous “monkey trial” of 1925: Darwinist Clarence Darrow humiliated creationist William Jennings Bryan on a witness stand in Tennessee. The word “no” dangled in the sky: No movies; no drinking; no smoking (not a bad no, really); no card-playing; no mixing with those apostate, Modernist-Liberal mainliners adoring Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969), pastor of New York City’s Riverside Church. Most were Dispensationalists and mandated literalistic readings of almost all biblical texts, whatever their literary form. The seven days of Genesis One were 24-hour periods; the Earth was about 5,000 years old; the thousand-year reign of Christ in Revelation 20:1-6 is exactly one thousand years – never mind the obvious symbolism of numbers in the Apocalypse.

Ockenga began calling himself a “neo-evangelical” or “new evangelical” to distinguish himself from the fundamentalists (the “neo” was soon dropped). Henry, who emerged as evangelicalism’s informal academic dean, challenged back-to-the-Bible believers to abandon their cultural fortresses in his 1947 landmark book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Graham ruffled feathers when he reached out to leaders in mainline and Catholic churches. Ockenga served as the founding president of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942 and, in 1947, the troika joined radio evangelist Charles Fuller and founded Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. The school remains post-conservative evangelicalism’s intellectual Mecca. Again, Ockenga served as the seminary’s first president and manned its board even after it veered away from biblical inerrancy (more on this later; Fuller now describes the Bible as “infallible,” a slightly looser word). So did Graham.

But Ockenga also fixed his eyes on the East Coast and establishing a Fuller-like institution there. He helped merge Gordon Divinity School and Conwell School of Theology in 1969 and took its helm in 1970. The seminary clung to inerrancy while employing more sophisticated exegesis than fundamentalists (inerrancy is often mistaken for wooden literalism, which is not necessarily the case). He led Boston’s prestigious Park Street Church in his spare time.

Graham, of course, traveled the world and led mammoth revival meetings, founded a relief organization, and spurred the publication of Christianity Today, over which Henry presided as its first editor.  Meanwhile, Neo-evangelicalism’s influence spread to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois. Weslyan-flavored Asbury in Kentucky also played a key role, and The Evangelical Theological Society was established in 1949 in an effort to deepen sound scholarship. The organization’s publication, the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, JETS, does not fly at supersonic speed and is no thrill ride – but it’s learned.

The term, “evangelical,” opened new vistas and panoramas for me. I could study the Bible from different angles without falling off orthodoxy’s edge – and I needn’t be anti-Catholic, anti-science, anti-women, anti-democrat, and anti-education. My professors relished the life of the mind (many did their graduate studies at Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton).  They took a dim view of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and dismissed the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition as passing fads.

Would that they had been right.

Most were Reformed, or Calvinist. Calvinists are often caricatured as stern grouches relishing a God with a grudge: The Lord predestined most to eternal Hell while rescuing a few lucky souls for Heaven. As usual, the caricatures are misleading. Some of my favorite professors – Garth Rosell, the now-late Nigel Kerr, David Wells, Greg Beale, and Richard Lints  – gladly embraced the Reformed label. And they laughed up a storm. They were the veritable emblems of the “Christian gentleman” (there weren’t many women on the faculty then; there are more now).

I never came around to Calvinism. I substantially agreed with Dutch theologian Jacob Arminias (1560-1609), who probed the Bible and found more latitude for choice. John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, popularized the Arminian view in 18th-century Britain.

But I’m thankful for these Calvinists. They rid me of flaky fundamentalism. The now-late Old Testament Professor Meredith Kline, for example, showed how Genesis 1 could be read as a prose poem, with its days interpreted symbolically. Others showed how the biblical genealogies are intentionally incomplete, which meant they couldn’t be used to determine the Earth’s age. And they opened my eyes to an entirely different approach to eschatology (the study of the end times) courtesy the writings of the late George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982). Ladd and others explored a slew of biblical texts and found that the blessings of the eschatological age began in the ministry of Jesus; they will become complete at the second coming, or the consummation of His kingdom. We live between the already and not yet. Believers are meant to be tokens of the end times, a people of the future dwelling in the present. We’re the future’s harbingers, a people of “realized eschatology,” to use a phrase coined by British scholar C.H. Dodd (1883-1973). Miracles, such as healings, point to a future of absolute health and blessing. Tokens of love underscore a future of absolute love. Holy lives point to a future of total holiness.[i]

The future is now. Eschatology invades through us, which gives the term deeper relevance than playing guessing games on the Rapture’s date – and, incidentally, there’s no “there” there on the so-called Rapture. All the biblical proof texts supporting it can easily refer to the Second Coming itself. Perhaps that’s why no Christian thinker mentioned the event before the rise of Dispensationism. It’s not in the Bible. We’re trying to locate an empty spot on the calendar in our Rapture predictions, so let’s leave the Left Behind series behind.

My professors also showed me the biblical tension involving women in ministry. True, some passages seemingly prohibit it; but there’s also Deborah, a judge over all Israel about 1100 years before Christ, and Huldah the prophetess (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-28) and Phoebe in Romans 16:1 and Junias in verse seven of that same chapter. Most of my teachers supported ordaining women. I gladly followed them.

I was fascinated by the history of revivals, first with the 18th-century Great Awakening, led by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield in the American colonies and Methodist founder John Wesley in Britain. Converts wept and swooned and displayed other signs and manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power. Church attendance plummeted in the later 18th century but sky-rocketed after an enormous camp meeting in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801. Again, there were those manifestations: Swooning and weeping – even barking and roaring. Some historians dubbed the 19th century “The Methodist Century,” which gave the era an Arminian hue. The emerging leaders spearheaded abolitionism and moved into slums. The late Timothy Smith pointed out that political reform, not conservatism, was all the rage – at least in the north.[ii]

Calvinism, of course, did not die. Some followers joined the Wesleyan fun and mingled with Methodists while remaining Reformed; a more cerebral branch lauded the scholasticism of Geneva theologian Francis Turretin (1623-1687) and found a home at Princeton Theological Seminary. The Old Princeton theologians – successively Archibald Alexander (1772-1851), Charles Hodge (1797-1878), AA Hodge (1823-1886), and Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921) – lobbed critical shells into the revivalist camp. They frowned on altar calls, the manifestations, and all the exhilaration. To their credit, they were intellectually rigorous and personally charitable, especially the elder Hodge, but they demanded stifling tidiness.

Maybe it’s because I’m a mess, but I’m one with those 19th-century evangelicals and their transformation-minded 20th-century heirs, especially Ronald Sider, author Rich Christians in a Hungry World and former head of Evangelicals for Social Action. And I loved those fervent Pentecostals, who inherited the mantle of Wesleyan enthusiasm and whom Warfield condemned (he preached cessationism). I even prayed in tongues at seminary, although I could never bring myself to agree with Pentecostalism’s two-tiered theology (tongues marked off those who were “baptized in the Holy Spirit” from other deprived souls).

Thanks for the brain power, Old Princetonians, but do yourselves and everyone else a favor: loosen up; chill out; join the party. And Warfield: Could you walk beside the Pentecostals instead of disparaging them?

Sadly, the union of high spirituality and societal reform dissolved in the later 19th and early twentieth centuries. Advocates of the Social Gospel, like Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), embraced Liberal Christianity – which, in its more radical forms, jettisoned cardinal doctrines like the resurrection. Huge sections of the Bible littered the cutting-room floor. Evangelicalism devolved into anti-cultural and anti-intellectual fundamentalism, with Modernist leaders like Fosdick predicting its demise.

Fosdick did not foresee the influence of Henry, Ockenga, and Graham.

The threesome and their cohorts were not flawless. First, Henry and Ockenga extolled the Old Princetonians even while they shook hands with Pentecostals and admired Wesley (his portrait hung on Ockenga’s office wall). Pentecostal and Wesleyan churches joined the Reformed faithful in the National Association of Evangelicals, which would have prompted Warfield’s glare. But the Hodges and Warfield emerged as the new ideal. Old Princeton no longer rimmed a Wesleyan-Arminian universe, and some of its descendants in the new evangelical academic elite would eventually impose an arbitrary, neo-fundamentalist dogma smothering legitimate creativity. An unspoken covenant brooded over the scene: Everyone’s a guest in Hodges’ manse.

Second, historian George Marsden observes that most leading new evangelicals supported Republican Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, the guru of the GOP right in the 1940’s and 1950’s[iii] (it should be said: Billy Graham was a registered Democrat and pushed for civil rights and social action).[iv] They did not baptize the Republican Party in Jesus’ name, but perhaps their political unanimity rendered them near-sighted to the 1980 emergency, when Jerry Falwell and others pasted an overtly partisan label on theologically traditional Protestantism. The Evangelical Left, which had developed later and swum in its own stream, filed deep grievances, but most evangelical establishment leaders responded with a frown instead of a protest. They failed to see the invasion of a gurgling political idol.

Very unwittingly, the genteel new evangelicals left the door open for subsequent intimidators.

I would see that later. For now, I was lapping it all up and tagging myself with the evangelical label. It was a liberating insignia, a stamp that freed me to breathe in the whole Gospel.

I also met my future wife at seminary (the former Andrea LaCelle) and, in a strange twist, I contracted tongue cancer just before our wedding. I submitted to twice-a-day radiation therapy at Massachusetts General Hospital. I stood before the altar in the winger of 1987, pledged the until-death-do-us-part oath, and wondered if I’d render my beloved a widow in a year. I didn’t know the cancer wouldn’t recur for another 27 years.

 

[i] Ladd wrote his analysis in the scholarly The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), and the more approachable The Gospel of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1959).

[ii] See Timothy Smith, Revivalism and Social Concern (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2004).

[iii] George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 62.

[iv] Eliza Griswold, “Billy Graham’s Striking Gospel of Social Action,” The New Yorker, February 22, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/billy-grahams-striking-gospel-of-social-action; retrieved, 9/5/18.

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August 30, 2018

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Before The Snarlers Grabbed Power

This is a sampling from a book I’m writing, tentatively entitled The Intimidator’s Club. It wrestles with the question: “What do I do when the near-angelic choir that wooed me to Christ morphs into an attack-dog platoon?” The term, “evangelical,” once described brainy believers who lofted the Scriptures high while remaining culturally engaged. They were just as likely to lean to the political left as well as right. Here, I describe how I came to the faith in the 1970’s — a very different time indeed.  

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August 20, 2018

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When Bossy Alphas Hijack A Faith

I’ve been writing a book, tentatively entitled The Intimidator’s Club, that wrestles with the question: “What do I do when the river that swept me into the life of Christ now empties into a toxic morass?”

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August 16, 2018

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A Memorial’s Curative Power

Maya Lin’s design illuminates the intrinsic worth of those 58,220 slain men and women: Each bore a name, which means each possessed an identity and humanity and, therefore, nobility.

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June 27, 2018

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A snowflake-mossback embrace

Talking heads often bicker over immigration through a left-right grid: Snowflake “libturbs” abhor President Trump’s anti-immigrant travel ban and policies; government-suspicious conservatives supposedly rally to his cause. Think again. Some of the most eloquent Trump bashers – David Brooks, David Frum, Kathleen Parker, Michael Gerson, Ana Navarro, Bill Kristol, Evan McMullin, Peter Wehner, and Jennifer […]

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June 8, 2018

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Cowboy, preacher, nature-lover

There’s a documentary slated for release featuring Tri Robinson, founding pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Boise, Idaho, and a leader in his denomination’s creation care movement. He wouldn’t like it if I called him a “hero,” so I won’t — even though he is.

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May 21, 2018

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Reclaiming Jesus

Leaders from across the theological spectrum have gathered under the banner, “Reclaiming Jesus.” They denounce religious nationalism and bigotry and remind everyone that our God favors no nation. The full statement is found here. Several of those leaders read from the statement in this video:  

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May 19, 2018

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When “thoughts & prayers” void real prayer

It’s now a macabre routine: Many tweet their “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of a school shooting, this time with ten dead in Santa Fe, Texas. Others chime back: “Drop the talk of thoughts and prayers unless you’re willing to do something.” Welcome to contemporary America, where even the language of prayer polarizes. What’s […]

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