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February 22, 2018

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Does Jesus Love Smog?

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Quotes are piling in the wake of Billy Graham’s death, and they often show his dim view of partisan religion — especially after he realized he’d been suckered into Richard Nixon’s maw. This statement on ecological care is a case in point, and it swims up-current against hijacked evangelicalism’s contemporary stream.

Some well-publicized evangelicals advocate an ecological philosophy that adds up to this: “Let the heat waves come as civilization swims in rancid swill.” Toxins are good; clean air is the devil’s breath; socialist climate hoaxers plot to foil the world in their weekly conference calls. They hurl suspicion on anyone agreeing with the scientific majority, for whom pagan Earth worship is the next ledge on the slippery slope. Society at large can’t help but notice the irony: Pro-life evangelicals rightly cite science in their arguments against abortion. They want it both ways. The skeptics howl and hail the vindication of Lynn White (1907-1987), who famously blamed Christianity for the environmental crisis in 1967.

Such environmental hostility is actually an aberration in the Christian heritage, where the burden of proof lay with industrial innovators. Alister McGrath pointed out that the church in the Middle Ages doubted the morality of mining because it altered the Earth: God’s designated stewards were meant to toil in harmony with His creation. They were not His tyrants. Industrialization, with all its benefits, was anchored in the humanity-against-nature thinking of the 18th-century Enlightenment. Machines could whip back the forests, slaughter wild and rabid wolves, drain mosquito-infested swamps, fill-in bays, and spread European civilization to far-flung fronts. McGrath demolished White’s argument in The Re-enchantment of Nature: Science, Religion and the Human Sense of Wonder. 

Both CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien carried traditional Christianity’s torch. Their writings reveal suspicion of soot-laden, impersonal mechanization demoting human beings to economic cogs. A host of American evangelicals now run the race. There’s Calvin B. DeWitt, born in 1935, sometimes hailed as “the modern-day father of Christian environmentalism.” He served as the first executive director of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, co-founded the Evangelical Environmental Network in 1993, and has written a slew of essays and books. There’s the Canadian-reared Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University and pastor’s wife. She tours the Christian college circuit and gives forceful, data-driven arguments for action on human-induced climate change. Time Magazine listed her among the one hundred most influential people in 2014. There’s the Au Sable Institute itself, which began its pre-natal infancy in 1961 as a nature-study summer youth camp in northern Michigan. It blossomed into its present state in 1979 and, today, offers courses to students from sixty Christian colleges, with campuses on the Pacific rim, in India, Costa Rica, and, of course, Michigan. Many ecologically-aware evangelicals have passed through Au Sable and now write volumes. One is Dorothy Boorse; another is Ben Lowe; yet another is Ed Brown.

And never forget the Evangelical Environmental Network, led by Mitch Hescox. Ronald Sider’s Evangelicals For Social Action founded EEN in 1993 and it eventually spun off into its own entity. Among other things, EEN personnel lobby senators and congressmen for sound environmental policies.

Billy Graham was not a leading environmentalist, of course, but his brand of pre-politicized evangelicalism made room for biologists, physicists, and atmospheric scientists. He, along with other evangelicals like Francis Schaeffer, didn’t find them threatening.

 

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February 21, 2018

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Good-bye, Billy Graham

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The accolades are pouring in upon news of Billy Graham’s death. Russell Moore even hailed him as the greatest evangelist since the Apostle Paul in an indulgent tweet.

That’s a bit much. John Wesley’s reach still expands over two centuries after the death of Methodism’s founder, and church choirs still sing hymns written during 19th-century revivals stewarded by Dwight L. Moody.

Still, Graham left a legacy stretching far deeper and wider that the evangelistic gatherings for which he was famous – and surely some cynics are off the mark in refusing to forgive him for his Nixon partisanship in the 1972 election and his unfortunate comments caught on tape. He apologized for those comments and his momentary partisanship. He steered clear of any hint of political endorsements for the rest of this life.

Graham was not perfect (why do I even need to say that?), but he was – for lack of a better term – a humble gentleman who showed more grace than most of his opponents. Many are unaware that he was an organizational hombre.  He helped establish two theological seminaries, a relief organization, the National Association of Evangelicals, an international organization called the Lausanne Movement, and Christianity Today. He also bucked the Jim Crow south and made sure his rallies were integrated. The same was true when he toured apartheid South Africa.

We don’t hear about that.

Graham teamed up with Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry and, along with others, changed the face of biblically-centered Christianity in America, which had devolved into a separatist, anti-intellectual fundamentalism walled off from the surrounding culture. The three men began to call themselves “neo-evangelicals” or “new evangelicals” to distinguish themselves from the fundamentalists. The “neo” and “new” were soon dropped while “evangelical” stuck. At the time, evangelicalism conveyed sophistication – and the word had nothing to do with partisan affiliation (Graham himself was a registered Democrat).

Alas, times have changed. The word “evangelical” has been hijacked – a tragedy against which Graham had warned: “I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form,” he said in 1981. “It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

Graham really believed in Jesus, as do I. And I thank God for his example of integrity.

Here are a couple quotes from around the web.

Katelyn Beaty, a writer, said this:

I will be forever grateful for Billy Graham’s evangelicalism: bold yet winsome, convicting and compassionate, always driven by a love for God and neighbor. This is the soil of faith I was planted into. Thank you for your life, Billy. You ran the good race.

Dan Rather, former CBS News reporter:

Condolences to the family of the Reverend Doctor Billy Graham. The great preacher and pastor has died, leaving a legacy of being one of the most influential Americans of his time.

I knew him fairly well; interviewed him several times, had some long personal conversations with him over the years and saw him preach in person some.

He had his shortcomings and made his mistakes, as we all do. But he did his best to do good and succeeded better than most of us.

Have fun in Heaven, Doctor Graham. Maybe we’ll have a chat when I get there.

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February 20, 2018

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A Living Anachronism Helps Kill Children

Our debate over gun regulation dances around the obvious: The fears and assumptions of a previous century reach into ours, groping like an alien’s fingers until they find us and strangle us.

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February 15, 2018

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Lives Sacrificed On An Altar of Cliches

So here we go again: An assault rifle designed for war is used to snuff out innocent lives. And, again, we feel paralyzed. Our political leaders defy the predominant will of gun owners, let alone the majority of citizens, in their quest to channel the NRA’s cash flow into their campaign coffers.

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February 7, 2018

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Evangelicals Favor Dreamers

Today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave a marathon speech in which she appealed for the safety of so-called “dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who have lived in the US since they were children. They know no other country. Was she aware that the National Association of Evangelicals supports her? The organization promptly issued this statement on […]

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February 2, 2018

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A Caution To The Enraged

A friendly warning to all believers reeling in America’s Great Evangelical Hijacking, where partisan bullies bray over a microphone once yielded to genteel Billy Graham: At first, bitterness feels like a cozy sweater. But it soon itches. We scratch so hard we flare welts and our screams drive people away.

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February 1, 2018

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We Were Warned

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January 23, 2018

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Falsehood’s seductive charm

Once again, we see a lie’s allure when matched with the abrasive truth – especially after the tyranny of the urgent locks us up and tosses the key. The truth: Newly-released NASA and NOAA reports say 2017 was one of the three hottest since recording began – and the most stifling without an El Nino […]

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January 18, 2018

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More Evangelical VIPs Censure Trump

It’s a new day. Shock at a Republican president is no longer the exclusive province of the Evangelical Left’s flagship, Sojourners Magazine. Last week, several back-to-the-Bible leaders scolded Donald Trump over his foul dismissal of Latin American and African countries. The beat goes on, with rebukes emanating from American Reformed Christianity’s Vatican: Grand Rapids, Michigan, […]

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January 14, 2018

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Evangelical Heavyweights Decry Trump’s Comments

Predictably, reporters scoured quotes from evangelical leaders in the wake of President Trump’s s——- comments – and, of course, his supporters grabbed the publicity. The Washington Post January 12 article begins: “A few members of President Trump’s evangelical advisory council — including its spokesman — on Friday defended the president after he made comments about […]

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