What does the Bible say about global warming?
Some evangelical Christian leaders hope to answer that question next year with a
statement on climate change that could lend moral authority and political power
to a smaller number of environmentalists pushing the issue.
It's a sign that U.S. evangelicals are flexing political muscles strengthened in
battles over domestic issues such as abortion, gay rights and school prayer on a
broader array of topics, from human rights and religious freedom to global
poverty and AIDS — issues on which they've already scored legislative victories
The climate change statement, being crafted by several evangelical leaders
nationwide, could call for curbs on emissions of greenhouse gases. It also could
put evangelicals — who make up 1 in 4 voters and are a key support base for
President Bush, with 78 percent of white evangelicals voting for him last year —
at odds with the White House and business interests that form another key
The emerging debate among evangelicals on "creation care" — as they dub
environmental stewardship — may also sharpen differences within a group
sometimes perceived as monolithic.
About 70 percent of white evangelicals favor Republicans, while 83 percent of
black evangelicals lean Democratic, according to a poll done last year by
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Washington consulting firm.
Yet opinions vary on a number of issues.
The National Association of Evangelicals, which says it represents 30 million
people in 45,000 churches, has recently accused the president of doing too
little to stop mass killings in Sudan's Darfur region. It backs the
International Criminal Court, which Bush opposes.
The movement's grass-roots strength enhances its lobbying efforts in Washington
despite smaller budgets and staffs than other lobbyists, said the Rev. Richard
Cizik, the association's vice president of governmental affairs.
"We go to members of Congress and say, 'You want to be on the right side of
history? Then join us. You want to do something to save people's lives, such as
in Darfur? Then join with us,' " he said. "We're not buying support with favors.
We're saying 'Do what's right.'"
He said he recently discussed a "conservative environmental" idea with Sen.
Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).
Two prominent evangelicals — former President Jimmy Carter and Jim Wallis,
founder of a Christian magazine — landed on bestseller lists this year with
critiques of the Iraq war and other Bush initiatives.
Evangelicals do not always speak with one voice, of course. Richard Land, head
of Southern Baptist Convention's public-policy arm, warned that the emphasis on
climate change and the International Criminal Court puts the National
Association of Evangelicals "in danger of being out of touch with ... large
segments of their constituency."
The White House has gone to great lengths to court evangelicals. Shortly after
Bush took office, he initiated weekly conference calls for a handful of
evangelical leaders to talk politics with White House aides.
It's a change of pace for Land, who participates in the calls. He said President
Ronald Reagan's advisers usually returned his calls and he often got through to
the first President Bush's aides, but the Clinton White House "wouldn't even
take our calls" after relations deteriorated.
"In this administration," he said, "they call us."
Land said recent topics of the calls included the Iraq war, AIDS in Africa and
killings in Sudan.
The Bush presidency has given evangelicals access to power in an era of
heightened awareness of world affairs among all Americans, an interest triggered
by globalization and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said John Green,
senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. He described an
"unusual moment when just about all religious communities in the United States
are interested in foreign policy."
For much of the last century, a strain of isolationism permeated the evangelical
world view, particularly in rural churches, said Allen Hertzke, a University of
Oklahoma professor of religion and politics. He sees the evangelical engagement
as a natural progression by some elements of the movement that advocated for
abolition of slavery, for women's suffrage and for Prohibition.
During the Cold War, evangelicals supported Israel and opposed communism,
lobbying Congress to admit Soviet Jews as refugees. In the early '90s, around
the time of the Soviet Union's fall, the evangelical focus on domestic
priorities like abortion began to change with a realization that domestic
battles had yielded few substantive victories, Cizik said.
The shift also came amid growing awareness of what Hertzke calls a "tectonic
shift," with 60 percent of the world's 2 billion Christians living in Africa,
Asia or Latin America, compared with 20 percent in 1900. One reason for the
awareness: A boom in short-term mission trips that put U.S. churchgoers in
contact with counterparts in poorer nations.
That rings true with Dr. Walter McBride of Marietta's Eastside Baptist Church,
who said he senses increased global awareness in his church.
"There are so many people who are hurting and being abused all over the world,"
said McBride, a 68-year-old retired physician who has gone on mission trips to
Nigeria, the Philippines and Russia.
In the mid-1990s, evangelicals focused on persecuted Christians in places such
as Algeria, Iran, Pakistan and Sudan at the urging of Michael Horowitz, a former
Reagan administration official who became so influential in evangelical circles
that a Baptist magazine named him one of its 10 prominent Christians in 1997,
though he's Jewish.
Evangelicals helped pressure Congress to pass the International Religious
Freedom Act of 1998, which led the State Department to monitor religious freedom
Then, evangelicals joined feminists to support the Trafficking Victims
Protection Act of 2000. It seeks to help girls and women smuggled into the
country and forced into prostitution.
Meanwhile, evangelicals in Bush's Texas hometown worked for peace in Sudan with
human rights advocates, civil rights and Jewish leaders. The work led to the
Sudan Peace Act of 2002, which pressured Sudan's Muslim regime to negotiate with
a non-Muslim rebel group. They signed a peace deal this year, though the regime
is now blamed for killings of Muslims in Darfur.
Last year, evangelicals helped secure passage of the North Korea Human Rights
Act, which pressured the Communist regime for reforms and set aside millions of
dollars to aid North Korean refugees.
Definitions of "evangelical" can be fluid, with some mainline Protestants
holding evangelical beliefs. Scholars say evangelicals emphasize a personal
conversion experience, share their faith and see the Bible as the authoritative
word of God.
Their growing chorus has made them a lobby group with real clout even among
politicians used to dealing only with the power-brokers and elites of the
"What's in a church bulletin has become more important than what's in the New
York Times in terms of getting some members of Congress' attention," Hertzke