Tip: follow the money

Jesusbus2So evangelical leaders are front and center in a public relations campaign launched this week. Editors and reporters are giving the campaign heavy coverage because the evangelical leaders are surprising them by calling for reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Laurie Goodstein’s New York Times story yesterday hit the major points:

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying “millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.”

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

This is obviously a worthy news story, even if it is an orchestrated PR campaign (more on that later) and Goodstein writes a good account, even if it is lacking in explaining the religious motivations of both the the signers and those who oppose the effort. However, I find it interesting how news coverage of religious adherents is biased in favor of political action. If a religious group does something political — be it protesting cartoons published in Denmark or signing a petition for reduced carbon dioxide emissions — it is ensured heavy coverage. And this makes it seem like the groups have a large relative size and impact. But what about those religious adherents who are more focused on, well, religious notions of salvation, eternal life, doctrine and creeds? They simply aren’t noticed unless they engage in politics. Not that we haven’t discussed this gripe before . . .

In any case, the Chicago Tribune‘s Frank James covers the religious angle a bit more than Goodstein but struggles with accurately conveying evangelical views on the issue. Check this paragraph out, for instance:

But environmental issues have proved divisive within the body of believers who identify themselves as evangelicals. Some who believe the world is in the “end times,” with a return of Jesus imminent, have not seen the necessity of protecting the environment for the long term. Others, meanwhile, have taken the view espoused by the evangelicals who unveiled their campaign Wednesday, that humans were given dominion over the Earth with the responsibility to protect it.

Got that? You either believe Armageddon means environmental issues are meaningless or that God wants humans to protect the earth. Leaving aside the fact that I’m not sure many prominent evangelicals actually hold the first view (and he doesn’t name any who do), James surely doesn’t think he’s accurately conveyed the views of evangelicals.

Both stories quoted the Rev. Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network. I remembered his name from the What Would Jesus Drive? campaign of a few years ago. During research for my book on the interfaith movement, I found that the idea for the evangelical network came from non-evangelical interfaith environmentalist activists who strategically decided to reach out to the politically powerful group. The What Would Jesus Drive? campaign was run by Fenton Communications, which is also responsible for the Alar apple scare of the 1980s and, more recently, MoveOn.org advertisements. The Evangelical Environmental Network itself, which has many evangelical partners, is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which isn’t really known for funding evangelical efforts.

I haven’t done research on the Evangelical Climate Initiative, but it definitely has ties to the What Would Jesus Drive? campaign run by Fenton Communications. Hopefully some reporters covering this story will not just parrot the press releases being issued and will look deeper into the genesis of this campaign. And no matter what they find, following the money is always a good idea.

Update: Through a completely egregious error on my part, for which I have nothing but excuses, I missed the fact that Goodstein does mention the funding:

The Evangelical Climate Initiative, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars, is being supported by individuals and foundations, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Hewlett Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation.

The initiative is one indication of a growing urgency about climate change among religious groups, said Paul Gorman, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, a clearinghouse in Amherst, Mass., for environmental initiatives by religious groups.

Interfaith climate campaigns in 15 states are pressing for regional standards to reduce greenhouse gases, Mr. Gorman said. Jewish, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox leaders also have campaigns under way.

My earlier mention of Pew was with regard to the Evangelical Environmental Network. So it would be interesting to see how, exactly, the two groups are related. It would also be interesting to see what, if any, ties there are to the Tides Foundation and Fenton Communications. Precisely who is orchestrating this interfaith campaign?

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  • http://www.newpantagruel.com dk

    That canard about believers in an imminent “end times” not caring about the natural environment has been around a long time, and I’ve never seen a shred of evidence that it accurately describes a significant number of “end times” believing protestants who are in any case a shrinking minority. I wonder what the source of that idea is. I’ve heard it used with approval most among neoreformed folks who, with the secular press, like to believe “evangelicals” include a lot of apocalyptic fundamentalists whose bad (not neoreformed) theology leads them to all kinds of bad (i.e., right-wing) politics. Whatever the source, it is an ugly little bit of smug scapegoating.

  • Daniel

    It seems another “follow the money” story would be to look at why the NAE and the big-dog Evangelicals opposed taking a stand on global warming did what they did. Is the fact that they are all on Karl Rove’s quickdial and are part of the RNC’s outreach to evangelicals the reason they didn’t back the larger move, especially given the White House’s position on the issue?

    Did the millions of grant dollars rolling in for Colson, et al, shade their desire not to upset the White House?

  • Micah Weedman

    “But what about those religious adherents who are more focused on, well, religious notions of salvation, eternal life, doctrine and creeds? They simply aren’t noticed unless they engage in politics.”

    Is there a difference between “political” notions of salvation and “religious” notions of salvation? Doesn’t salvation necessarily have political implications?

    What is truly lacking from the story is good critical analysis of how evangelicals actually do/don’t put “faith into action.” For example, is Rick Warren going back to Saddleback and telling his parishoners to sell their Denalis and start riding bikes? How much electricity is used in a standard ad campaign such as this?

  • Stephen A.

    Doesn’t salvation necessarily have political implications?”

    Only for those who politicize it.

    By the way, I was so angry about this post’s cartoon depicting Jesus getting on a bus that I burned down my neighbor’s house and issued a Fatwa against the cartoonist.

    Besides, it’s obvious that He would have chosen the SUV, for the most smoothe ride for Him and His “posse.”

  • http://www.culture-makers.com/ Andy Crouch

    Following the money only gets you so far. I was at the original gathering of evangelical leaders at Sandy Cove where momentum began to be built for the statement that was issued Wednesday. Pew money may have helped pull it together, I don’t know, but I certainly know that the questions that were raised, and the consensus that was reached, had nothing to do with funding agencies, PR agencies, or anything like that. Instead it was evangelical leaders hearing from credible evangelicals familiar with the science (Sir John Houghton of the UK, Larry Schweiger of NWF) and evangelical theologians conversant in the ethical and moral issues (preeminently David Gushee, who drafted the statement released on Wednesday). It takes money and skilled people to get a PR message out, but money and PR people won’t give you message in the first place.

    Also, Mollie, the Pew Charitable Trusts is known for their support of evangelical initiatives, though in recent years they have scaled back their religion grantmaking in general. Full disclosure, but also case in point: the project I direct at Christianity Today is funded in part by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

  • http://www.culture-makers.com/ Andy Crouch

    Sorry for the double post, but Mollie, I’m sitting here getting more unhappy about your angle. The headline, “Tip: Follow the Money” implies that the (only) important story about a given phenomenon is the interests represented by its funders.

    This is a fair question in the case of a pure PR campaign like WWJDrive?, whose only really clear purpose is the dissemination of a clever slogan. (Clever though shallow, in the same way the original WWJD was shallow.) In this case it’s legitimate to ask why these few people managed to get their message heard by such a wide audience (though one shouldn’t discount the cleverness of the slogan, independent of the funds applied to the project, as a factor in its success).

    It’s quite a different matter when you’re talking about a statement signed by 86 evangelical leaders, many of whom are hardly the usual progressive evangelical suspects.

    What are you really saying here? That those 86 leaders were influenced by the funders of the initiative to sign something they wouldn’t have otherwise without some economic reward? That’s calumnious and, especially in the case of someone like Rick Warren, implausible in the extreme.

    That the campaign to “orchestrate” the news of their signing this statement requires funding, and that the organizations that funded it are those that have a demonstrated interest in this particular issue? That’s banal and true of any not-for-profit endeavor, including GetReligion.

    The reason this is news is that 86 evangelical leaders, many of whom have no track record of indiscriminately signing politically progressive statements (a group from which, sadly, I must exclude myself), took a stand on climate change based on the science and their understanding of the ethical implications of their faith. In the current climate I think that is newsworthy and explaining it does not require any follow-the-money conspiracy theories.

    Or perhaps I’m misunderstanding your point here?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Thanks for the information in both of your posts. I wanted to clarify a few things. One is that I didn’t say that Pew didn’t fund evangelicals, simply that they’re not known for their funding of evangelicals. When you give out several hundred million dollars in grants each year, you end up funding a wide variety of groups, from Mormon to Sikh. Having said that, Pew has a well-known environmental fund. In 2002, for instance, it gave out $40 million through its environmental program. The question is why they are funding these groups — is it because of support of evangelical causes or support of the environment?

    Further, looking into the history of the evangelical environmental groups will show you that they were started by Paul Gorman, who is not an evangelical. Why were they started? Well, they were started in part because in 1988 Carl Sagan and couple dozen other scientists wrote an open letter that said environmental campaigns needed to get the voice of religious authority behind them. From that statement, various funders got together to figure out how to get religious folks involved. Then-Sen. Al Gore helped get a few liberal religious groups involved. The National Council of Churches jumped on board as did a Roman Catholic group. But Paul Gorman, who was behind the whole thing, knew that evangelicals needed to be involved as well. He started a group called the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (in 1991) as well as a Jewish environmental group and the Evangelical Environmental Network (in 1992, I believe).

    NRPE serves as an interfaith umbrella organization for various religious/environmental groups that helps figure out campaigns for various environmental issues through its partner organizations.

    SO, when What Would Jesus Drive? happened, it was part of a larger environmental campaign against fuel emissions. It was NOT about disseminating a clever slogan. It was part of a political campaign.

    I’m not making any value judgements about this at all. I frankly don’t care. I mean, I do have some personal biases about whether religious folks are best suited to offer policy prescriptions about auto emissions, but that’s not why I pointed this angle out.

    Further, I actually like how this story highlights that there is a fine line of difference between the political activism of mainstream American Protestants and the political activism of Evangelical Protestants. It’s a point I make in my upcoming book.

    But when it seems newsworthy that American Evangelicals might be adopting the same environmental positions as the New York Times editorial board, and it is, I think it’s also interesting to see how it came to happen.

    Who did organize the Sandy Cove conference? Does it matter? I don’t know. Is it coincidence that co-sponsors of the event were both funded by Pew? I don’t know. But it seems like it would be a really fascinating story.

    But you needn’t worry that I thought this was the “only” important point in this story. In fact, I might mention that it was the THIRD point I highlighted (after how politics always gets religious folks media coverage and the unfair swipe against non-environmental activist evangelicals), albeit also highlighted in the title.

    But I do think that its newsworthy how the environmental movement started courting evangelicals almost 20 years ago and how well it has paid off. If you think that’s banal, I’m sorry. But as an amateur student of social change, I think it’s an awesome story and a testament to the long-suffering and hard work of Paul Gorman.

  • Franklin Jennings

    Everyone knows Jesus and His Apostles traveled in one Accord.

  • http://www.culture-makers.com/ Andy Crouch

    Mollie – Fair enough. I agree that the Paul Gorman story could be much more thoroughly told. I just would draw the line at any causal link, which is what “follow the money” usually connotes. The truth is that this statement probably got signed by many folks in spite of whatever connections its organizers may have with the environmental movement, or indeed with the National Religious Partnership for the Envirnoment. And perhaps that is in itself worth a story.


  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    The reason why some US evangelical leaders have decided to make a stand against global warming is not particularly mysterious. The NY Times laid it out a year ago:

    …Mr. Cizik said that Mr. Ball “dragged” him to a conference on climate change in 2002 in Oxford, England. Among the speakers were evangelical scientists, including Sir John Houghton, a retired Oxford professor of atmospheric physics who was on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a committee that issued international reports.

    Sir John said in an interview that he had told the group that science and faith together provided proof that climate change should be a Christian concern.

    Mr. Cizik said he had a “conversion” on climate change so profound in Oxford that he likened it to an “altar call,” when nonbelievers accept Jesus as their savior. Mr. Cizik recently bought a Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle.

    Mr. Cizik and Mr. Ball then asked Sir John to speak at a small meeting of evangelical leaders in June in Maryland called by the Evangelical Environmental Network, the National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today, the magazine. The leaders read Scripture and said they were moved by three watermen who caught crabs in Chesapeake Bay and said their faith had made them into environmentalists…

  • Harris

    In raising the question of bias, may we ask about the bias of our erstwhile correspondent? Does Mollies background in the LCMS influence her viewpoint? The skepticism about political action especially of the politically left is well known, and firmly grounded in Lutheran teaching.

    As to those unnamed folks who might want to focus on , as you say, “religious notions of salvation, eternal life, doctrine and creeds,” what were they thinking about the Rightward positions staked out by Evangelical leaders in documents like that of the Cornwall Declaration?

    And what of those evangelicals who believe that God actually has some concern about these issues? Must they stay in silence because of the political allegiance of their leaders — as has been the case to this point? Or is the environmental concern illegitimate on its face?

    The reality is that environmental issues, contentious as they are, nonetheless have three distinct inputs: the scientific, the political, and the religious/ethical. When we treat them as merely political footballs, we of course trivialize the other contributors to policy — and some would suggest that has been the practice with our present national leadership.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    No need to worry, you can always raise questions about my biases. It does not bother me at all. I think I conceded it in the comments when I said I don’t care about the environmental politics of the evangelicals so much as I wonder whether they’re the right people to pontificate on them.

    So, yes, I like to lay my cards down on the table (which I’ve done repeatedly on this site) and I encourage others, commenters included to feel free to do the same. My doctrinal views on the subject are often referred to as Two Kingdoms theology. I encourage everyone to look into it. It’s the original theology of separation of church and state.

    Try Augustine’s City of God, or, a simple Google search on Luther and Two Kingdoms.

  • Daniel


    If Evangelicals and the NAE were taking the same positions as the Wall Street Journal editorial page, I assume you would raise the same questions? If I understand your position, it’s just as problematic when Evangelicals stake out a position on the estate tax, capital gains, and property rights that coincides with the WSJ.

    To take it a step further, how about when Evangelicals opposed expanding employment discrimination rights to gays and lesbians, even when there is a religious exception?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Yes. Two Kingdoms understanding teaches that there are two spheres in which God operates — the earthly sphere and the heavenly sphere. And Christians exist in both spheres.

    And Christians are free to operate in both spheres. If a Christian wants to be a politician and regulate automakers, more power to him. The Two Kingdoms understanding, however, would say that it is the job of the church to oversee spiritual welfare and the job of the king or government to oversee earthly welfare.

    It’s not a totally cut and dry thing, but yes, two kingdoms adherents would say that the official church should no more argue for a capital gains tax cut than a reduction in auto emissions. Similarly, the government should not administer sacraments or forgive sins or preach the Word.

    But I would like to reiterate that I have no more “problem” per se with evangelicals arguing for a regulation on autos than I do with them arguing for tax cuts.

    Also, about the homosexual hiring thing . . .if they are trying to protect the right of their individual church to hire only people who follow their specific religious beliefs, I think that’s totally different and they obviously have a vested interest in the outcome as it relates to their self-preservation.

    But to bring it back to the point of this site, I think it’s good for reporters to know that there is a huge swath of Christianity that will never make political headlines because of their Two Cities/Two Kingdoms/Two Realms view (different confessions of faith phrase it differently). And reporters should think about whether they are giving the full picture of Christianity when they only cover the politics.

  • http://www.culture-makers.com/ Andy Crouch

    Mollie, I can’t help asking why you are concerned when some evangelical leaders “pontificate” on issues of environmental science and not (in my fallible memory) concerned when other evangelical leaders “pontificate” on, say, evolutionary science or economics.

    Anyway, isn’t pontificating, by etymology, what religious leaders do??

    Seriously, it’s worth noting that these 86 evangelical leaders are not just making this stuff up without the input of scientists. Several years ago (on the ill-PR-fated date of 15 September 2001) about 50 prominent evangelical scientists signed a “statement of concern on climate change.” So often we hear, at convenient moments at least, that religious leaders aren’t qualified to pronounce on matters outside of religion, that they should leave that to practitioners in a given field. Well, in this case well-credentialed scientific practitioners from the evangelical community have spoken. Why shouldn’t religious leaders weigh in based on the scientific expertise of their own fellow believers? As Harris points out, this is a multi-faceted issue that deserves attention and comment from many different sectors (I would add to his list the economic sector).

  • http://www.culture-makers.com/ Andy Crouch

    Cross post, sorry. You partly answered my question with your response to Daniel.

  • Heminator

    Well, I think the problem here about the issue of where the money comes from isn’t about whether evangelicals are being duped for believing in global warming.

    Obviously, the environment shouldn’t be a political football. But the point is that being “for the environment” doesn’t mean that you are for one limited philiosophy or set of policy solutions.

    For me the issue isn’t necessarily whether global warming exists (though somebody should go back and read Carl Sagan’s hysterical warnings about global cooling). The problem is that by signing on with Pew, MoveOn et al., you’re not just signing on to increasing awareness global warming — you’re also signing on to a whole legislative prescription that they’ve formulated to address the problem.

    And as far as I can tell, that legislative prescription amounts to economic suicide in the short term and giving government far more regulatory authority over private enterprise in the long term. To see what a stunning environmental track record this appoach has, see those industrial edens in the Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

    Not to mention, the people most hurt by a self-imposed slow down in economic growth will be the poor, not the industrialists. Poverty is arguably the number one environmental threat in much of the world — it’s not Steve Jobs burning down the rain forests. It’s the dirt poor desperately trying to grow whatever they can with no resources. Last I checked the Bible says a lot about taking care of the poor — it says very little about about the theoretical dangers of sulfur hexafluoride concentrations relative to historical ice core measurements. If the Bible is not clear on how best to take care of the global climate, then it’s best not to put the voice of God where it hasn’t been.

    To the extent that the global warming threat is not hysterically overstated (and it is by environmental groups) I believe it can be adequately addressed by setting reasonable economic incentives and encouraging technological innovations.

    Which makes sense for everyone, since if it isn’t already, China will soon be the worst gobal offender in terms of global warming and pollution. Getting them to adopt better, cost effective and cleaner technology will be easy; getting China to adopt any sort of regulatory framework that would substantially hamper their economic growth in the near term would likely involve a war.

    It seems to me that evangelicals haven’t really thought this one through. They think they’re just making people aware of problem, when they’re being manipulated to a larger end. I applaud the evangelicals as always for their good intentions; unfortunately the road paved with good intentions leads in the opposite direction they want to go.

  • http://www.newpantagruel.com dk

    Maybe I was wrong with my earlier comment on never seeing much support for there being a prevalent pop-protestant belief in the rapture/end times that connects with an anti-environmentalist politics. I came across this today–

    I knew worldview weekend people (dominionists?) are hostile to the church growth movement, but I didn’t know they promote rapture theology and see the CGM as ooposed to it. I am sure they also oppose any support for policy dealing with human-induced climate change. Funny too that while Jeff Sharlet saw the National Prayer Breakffast as the tool of a dominionist cult, the WVWers see it as a liberal tool that’s sucked in “Richard Cizik, VP for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, Rick Warren, mega pastor from Saddleback, Don Argue from Northwestern University in Washington State, Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary and various Jewish rabbis and sundry others.”


  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    Herminator: “I believe it can be adequately addressed by setting reasonable economic incentives and encouraging technological innovations.”

    And of course you believe that based on your deep understanding of the scientific issues, rather than because to believe otherwise would require a critique of global capitalism which would simply be politically unthinkable for a conservative American.

    It seems to me that evangelicals haven’t really thought this one through. They think they’re just making people aware of problem, when they’re being manipulated to a larger end.

    Manipulated by whom? As I noted in my first post, the pro-environmentalist evangelicals are taking their cue from British evangelicals who are also scientists – particularly Sir John Houghton.

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  • http://www.evaneco.com Don Bosch (evaneco.com)

    Great discussion, Mollie. Linked it here.
    Grace and peace,