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Don't expect much from evangelical environmentalists

Despite an evangelical grassroots movement for "creation protection," leaders of the Christian right refuse to fight for environmental protections
 
 
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A rash of headlines over the past weeks and months have told us that evangelicals—many of the same anti-abortion, gay-bashing, fundamentalist evangelicals—are switching their energies to protecting the environment. But that's really only a part of the story. The Revealer this week told the other half:

A short year and a half after the first hopeful buzz surrounded the National Association of Evangelical's "revolutionary" new manifesto, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," which promised a shift in evangelical priorities from gay marriage and abortion to the environment and the poor, the revolution has petered out. The 30-million member NAE, citing an inability to reach consensus on global warming, has announced that it will take no stand on the issue.

The NAE's waffle comes a month after its president, Ted Haggard, received a letter from the bright stars of evangelicaldom -- 20 evangelical leaders, including Chuck Colson, James Dobson and Richard Land -- warning Haggard not to take any official position that would pit equally-Bible-believing evangelicals against one another over the "still debatable" existence and seriousness of global warming.

So, the real story is that evangelicals are split on environmental issues. Yesterday, NPR outlined the split:

"Some of the signatories [on the "Evangelical Call to Action" that challenges the Bush administration's stance on global warming] have star power, at least in evangelical circles. Among them are Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church and author of the blockbuster book, The Purpose Driven Life; Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College' David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; and Todd Bassett, national commander of the Salvation Army.

But the names of other evangelical heavyweights are conspicuously absent.

"I don't see James Dobson. Is there a more influential evangelican than James Dobson?" observes Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "I don't see Chuck Coleson. I don't see Franklin Graham. So these are obviously prominent evangelicans and I -- please don't in any way think that I am denigrating anyone who's on this list -- but it is not an exhaustive list of evangelical leaders, let's put it that way."

Land, along with Colson and Dobson, wrote a letter opposing the Evangelical Call to Action because, he says, there is not consensus about climate change among evangelicals. Land says the Bible makes clear that God expects human beings to take care of the earth. But "human beings come first in God's created order," he adds. "And that primacy must be given to human beings and for human betterment. If that means that other parts of nature take a back seat, well, then they take a back seat." Land argues that slowing economic growth and development by overly strict environmental controls will harm human beings."

Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.