Don’t look now, but this creaky ship might be turning: After months of conference calls and drafts and re-drafts, a group of Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics has released a Joint Declaration on Life, which sees links “between those who seek to defend human life and those who seek to protect creation.” In other words, pro-life and ecological activism swims in the same river. Signatories are invited.
Participants in the calls included William L. Patenaude, a Catholic scholar and Rhode Island environmental regulator, who did the writing and re-writing; Delaware Attorney and author Mike Stafford, who catalyzed the meetings; Mitch Hescox, President and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, who contributed quotes; and Kristen Hayes, president and CEO of Protecting the Sanctity of All Life Movement (PSALM), who pushed to get the document into the public eye. Other callers: EEN’s Alexei Laushkin; author and Professor Marcia Pally; ConservAmerica President Rob Sisson; Cecilia Calvo, Environmental Justice Program Coordinator for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops; Dan Misleh, Executive Director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change; and me.
The drive for a declaration came after Hescox’s testimony before a Congressional Committee in which he framed escalating mercury levels, which endanger pre-natal babies, as a pro-life issue. Opponents, coached by the climate-change denying Cornwall Alliance, argued that “pro-life” only refers to abortion. Hear the rueful pro-choice reply: “Welcome to my room, said the spider to the fly – and thanks for the proof-positive of our age-old refrain: Pro-lifers don’t care about babies once they’re born – and (we now see) they’re not keen on their health in the womb. The Congressional Record says so.”
The Declaration shows that historic Christianity has always believed that “the incarnational message of salvation inextricably links the redemption of humanity and the renewal of God’s creation.” It cites the Genesis creation accounts, some psalms, New Testament passages, and quotes from Augustine, Bonaventure, Pope Benedict XVI, Francis Schaeffer, and Billy Graham. Other citations could have been included. Irenaeus, a venerated second-century Church Father, said this: “The initial step for a soul to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.” There’s Tertullian: “Nature is schoolmistress, the soul the pupil …”; and Basil the Great: “I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you the clear remembrance of the Creator …”
Listen to the twisting metallic groans as the ship turns. Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox Christians have long embraced the conservation movement, but evangelicals have been wary over what they see as New Age and pantheistic dominance. Such fear is waning as alarm over melting glaciers waxes. A group of Southern Baptist leaders have issued their own “Statement on Climate Change;” the Christian Reformed Church calls its members to creation care; and the National Association of Evangelicals has written a long paper on “Loving The Least of These,” which discusses how climate change strikes the poor. Concern over a changing climate has spilled over onto other environmental issues. More and more denominations and movements are convinced – officially.
But there’s a challenge: Few know anything about the papers and resolutions and declarations and formal proclamations filed in denominational headquarters. Fewer still feel bound to them. They’re far more influenced by Christian radio and television, some of which advocates socially-approved heresy (think Kenneth Copeland and the Health and Wealth Gospel). What’s more, denominational authorities are often consensus builders and conflict-avoiders. They fly from “political” issues like bats at dawn.
It all adds up to a welcome-to-our-weird-world moment: Independent, unaccountable mega-church pastors like John Hagee are seen as evangelical spokesmen when they deny climate change and advocate conspiracy theories on the Kyoto Protocol; Hescox and others are portrayed as sell-outs. Fact: Hescox is backed-up by precedent and the official consensus. Hagee’s overall theology is viewed dubiously.
Perhaps this statement will help bring others to the microphone.
Early signatories include author Shane Claiborne, Wheaton Professor Jeffrey Greenburg, and Southern Baptist author and spokesman Jonathan Merritt. Go here for the full statement and for the means to sign: