Green evangelicals on page one (surprise)

Evangelicals and Global Warming A Formal Debate largeAt some point, the whole “moderate evangelicals are starting to care about Creation” story is going to get old, but it sure does not seem that this will happen anytime soon.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an important story. However, it is also an example of an old truth: The quickest way for a conservative to get on page one of a major newspaper is by saying something critical of powerful conservative leaders or groups.

The Green evangelicals stories are also linked to coverage of the rising Christian left, and that’s another important story. And there are many, many doctrinally traditionalist Christians (Can I see some hands raised?) who are tired of seeing journalists link conservative moral stands with GOP position papers on every issue under the hot sun.

However, the best mainstream stories on these trends tend to note that these pro-Green evangelicals (What does one need to believe to be an anti-Green evangelical?) rarely forsake their conservative stands on other moral issues. They are broadening their agenda, not editing it.

However, the hook that some evangelicals are embracing a position advocated by the mainstream press is simply catnip for journalists. That story is heading to page one. Pronto.

This brings us to the latest high-profile Washington Post report on this hot story: “Warming Draws Evangelicals Into Environmentalist Fold.” It really helps that reporter Juliet Eilperin has a story hook with a church that is clearly, under anyone’s definition, an “evangelical” stronghold. We are talking about Northland Church in Longwood, Fla.

A key question, however, is this: Where did this trend come from? We are told about an activist named Denise Kirsop:

Her conversion to environmentalism is the result of a years-long international campaign by British bishops and leaders of major U.S. environmental groups to bridge a long-standing divide between global-warming activists and American evangelicals. The emerging rapprochement is regarded by some as a sign of how dramatically U.S. public sentiment has shifted on global warming in recent years. It also has begun, in modest ways, to transform how the two groups define themselves.

And this brings us to the key figure in the story:

“I did sense this is one of these issues where the church could leadership, like with civil rights,” said Northland’s senior pastor, Joel C. Hunter. “It’s a matter of who speaks for evangelicals: Is it a broad range of voices on a broad range of issues, or a narrow range of voices?”

Hunter has emerged among evangelicals as a pivotal advocate for cutting greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are warming Earth’s climate. A self-deprecating 59-year-old minister who can quote the “Baby Jesus” speech that Will Farrell delivered in the 2006 movie “Talladega Nights” as readily as he can the Bible, Hunter regularly preaches about climate change to 7,000 congregants in five Central Florida sites and to 3,000 more worshipers via the Internet. He even has met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to talk about environmental issues.

While he remains in a distinct minority, and a number of others on the Christian right disparage his efforts, Hunter and others like him have begun to reshape the politics around climate change.

bible worldIn other words, this man is smart and hip. He hangs out with people from Great Britain. And media people, too! As you would expect, that leads to trouble.

The “greening” of Hunter and others still elicits scorn from many evangelicals, including Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and Prison Fellowship’s Charles W. “Chuck” Colson. They question whether humankind really deserves the blame for Earth’s recent warming and argue that their battles against abortion and same-sex marriage should take precedence.

And there is the giant hole in the story.

The Post team that produced this story does not tell us how Hunter and the members of his flock who have gone Green link their beliefs on this topic with any other doctrines, including moral teachings that have been central to the Christian faith for 2000 years or so. The implication is that this flock has gone soft on the life issues and on moral theology about sex.

In this day and age, it just isn’t fair — to readers or the people quoted — to leave this hole in the story. If there is a clash there, cover it. If these people are linking their conservative beliefs with this stand on the environment, if they see this new stance as consistent with their faith, then let them say it.

It is one thing to say that Hunter wants to move beyond “below-the-belt issues” such as homosexuality and abortion. It is something else to hint that he has changed his beliefs on basic doctrines. Silence just won’t cut it, in this case.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Chris Bolinger

    I love the phrase “conversion to environmentalism”. Just love it. Absolute bonehead choice for a phrase.

  • Judy Harrow

    tmatt asks

    What does one need to believe to be an anti-Green Evangelical?

    How about the ones who feel that we need to use it all up, kill every tree, by the time of the Rapture — which they think is coming soon — or face judgment for “wasting” it. We had one of those for Secretary of the Interior a few years back, remember?

  • Martha

    Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.

    “where the church could leadership”?

    What the frell?!!?

    Did somebody rip all the pages out of all the world’s dictionaries containing the verb “to lead” and not tell me about it?

    Was Joel C. home sick that day when the teacher said “Now, children, we’re going to learn how to conjugate verbs today! For example, the present tense of the verb “to lead” – I lead, you lead, he, she or it leads…”

    Yes, I know, not pertinent to the topic – unless you consider that glaring examples of blithering incapacity to speaka da native lingo of him mudder country means I am not exactly brimming over with confidence in the Rev. Hunter’s impeccably deep and thorough understanding of the complex science involved…

  • Martha

    Yes, I know it’s the conditional not the present tense, but I was still reeling in shock’n’awe, mmmkay?

    As for going soft on morality by becoming environmentally aware, the Vatican is striving to become the “World’s First Carbon Neutral Sovereign State” (so the papers say), and who is going to argue that Pope Benedict XVI has suddenly gone all fuzzy round the edges on “abortion and same-sex marriage”(which strikes me as perhaps a paraphrase of what the miscellaneous but un-named “many evangelicals, including Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and Prison Fellowship’s Charles W. “Chuck” Colson” actually said).

    See for story:

    and here is what Cardinal Poupard had to say:

    “Pontifical Council of Culture
    Address of his Most Reverend Eminence
    Paul Cardinal Poupard
    to the Leaders of Planktos
    The Vatican
    July 5th 2007

    As President of the Pontifical Council of Culture; I am honored to receive this donation from the leaders of Planktos-KlimaFa. This donation means an entire section of a national park in centralEurope will be reforested. In this way, the Vatican will do its smallpart in contributing to the elimination of polluting emissions from CO2 which is threatening the survival of this planet.

    As the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, had recently stated, the international community needs to respect and encourage a “Green Culture,” characterized by ethical values. The Book of Genesis tells us of a beginning in which God placed man as guardian over the earth to make it fruitful. When man forgets that he is a faithful servant of this earth, it becomes a desert that threatens the survival of all creation. The earth itself turns against man.

    Environmental protection is not, therefore, a political issue—it’s not enough to have a simple commitment from a few people. Instead, it necessary, as it is underlined by His Holiness, to have the dawn of a new culture, of new attitudes and of a new mode of living that makes man aware of his place as a caretaker of the earth.

    The Pontifical Council of Culture pledges its complete collaboration and deeply thanks those responsible at Planktos-KlimaFa for this significant donation.”

  • Martha

    Oddly enough, there is a reference to ‘green’ topics in the 1993 “Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism”:

    “b) Cooperation in the field of development, human need and stewardship of creation

    215. There is an intrinsic connection between development, human need and the stewardship of creation. For experience has taught us that development in response to human needs cannot misuse or overuse natural resources without serious consequences.

    The responsibility for the care of creation, which in itself has a particular dignity, is given by the Creator himself to all people, in so far as they are to be stewards of creation. Catholics are encouraged to enter, at various levels, into joint initiatives aimed at study and action on issues that threaten the dignity of creation and endanger the whole human race. Other topics for such study and action could include, for example, certain forms of uncontrolled rapid industrialization and technology that cause pollution of the natural environment with serious consequences to the ecological balance, such as destruction of forests, nuclear testing and the irrational use or misuse of both renewable and unrenewable natural resources. An important aspect of joint action in this field is in the area of education of people in the use of resources as well as in the planned use of them and in the care of creation.

    The field of development, which is basically a response to human needs, offers a variety of possibilities for collaboration between the Catholic Church and Churches and ecclesial Communities at regional, national and local levels. Such collaboration would include, among other things, working for a more just society, for peace, for promotion of the rights and dignity of women, and for a more equitable distribution of resources. In this sense, it would be possible to provide joint services for the poor, the sick, the handicapped, the aged and all who suffer because of unjust “structures of sin”. Cooperation in this field is encouraged particularly in places where there is high concentration of population with serious consequences for housing, food, water, clothing, sanitation and medical care. An important aspect of collaboration in this field would be in dealing with the problem of migrants, refugees, and victims of natural catastrophes. In the event of world emergencies, the Catholic Church encourages the pooling of resources and services with the international organizations of Churches and ecclesial Communities, for reasons of efficiency and to reduce costs. It likewise encourages ecumenical collaboration with international organizations that specialize in these concerns.”

    which in turn was referenced in the 2006 “Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI to His Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch, on the occasion of the Sixth Symposium on “Religion, Science and the Environment” focusing on the Amazon River”:

    “The joint effort to create awareness on the part of Christians of every denomination, in order to show “the intrinsic connection between development, human need and the stewardship of creation” (Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism, 1993, n. 215), is truly proving more important than ever.

    In this context, I remember Pope John Paul II of venerable memory supporting the Fourth Symposium on the Adriatic Sea, and I also remember the Common Declaration that he signed with you, Venerable Brother.

    The duty to emphasize an appropriate catechesis concerning creation, in order to recall the meaning and religious significance of protecting it, is closely connected with our duty as Pastors and can have an important impact on the perception of the value of life itself as well as on the satisfactory solution of the consequent inevitable social problems.

    … Common points must be found on which converge the commitments of each one to safeguard the habitat that the Creator has made available to the human being, in whom he has impressed his own image.”

    and the greeting sent to the Italian Chamber of Deputies for 2007 World Environment Day presentation:

    “Benedict XVI says that the international community needs to respect creation and promote a green culture characterized by ethical values.

    The Pope said this Tuesday in a greeting sent to a World Environment Day presentation in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies.

    The presentation was organized by a parliamentary committee of the friends of the Italian foundation Sorella Natura (Sister Nature), led by the dean of the lower house of Parliament, Angelo Sanza.

    The event aimed to promote an environmental culture inspired by Christian humanism.

    In his greeting, the Holy Father invited the participants to “always respect creation and promote an environmental culture that is based on respect for ethical values, the protection of life, an economy of solidarity and sustainable development.”

    So maybe it is a new thing for Evangelicals, but it’s certainly not a “conversion to environmentalism” caused by going soft on sin :-)

  • Jeff

    Yo, Tmatt, an off-topic note of interest to you, from Jeff Jarvis at

    Who does she think she is?
    August 10th, 2007
    NY Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse had quite the little diva moment, threatening to walk off a panel at the journalism education convention in Washington if it were broadcast by C-SPAN.

    C-SPAN was shocked by this, as am I. Terence Murphy, VP of programming at C-SPAN, wrote in a letter of protest: “But the larger concern is why AEJMC organizers allowed Ms. Greenhouse’s view to prevail. If professors of journalism and working journalists taking part in a journalism education conference don’t stand up for open media access to public policy discussions, who will?”

    Greenhouse is a journalist who should be open and transparent and, in fact, should be urging the court she covers to be more open. I want C-SPAN in there broadcasting their work on our behalf.

    Besides, it’s foolish to think that anything you do at such events as these can be — let alone should — be private. As the CJR story points out, the room had working reporters in it. It also had bloggers in it. It could have had vloggers in it.

    We in journalism want to throw light on the powerful. We should not shy away from that light ourselves.

  • tmatt

    Hey Judy:

    Be careful. You might want to check out which James Watt quotes are urban legends and which ones are not.

  • MattK

    “…and a number of others on the Christian right disparage his efforts…”

    This phase doesn’t say much. A number of others also believe in UFO abductions. Not many, but a number.

  • Christopher W. Chase

    tmatt wrote:

    Be careful. You might want to check out which James Watt quotes are urban legends and which ones are not.

    While there are a number of apocryphal quotes surrounding Mr. Watt, based on his undisputed statements he would certainly qualify as an anti-Green evangelical. That he is a Christian evangelical cannot be denied–he often made frequent mention of this in his public statements.

    That he departed radically from the vision of environmental stewardship of previous administrations of both parties is also indisputable. He wanted to turn over all undeveloped land in the U.S. over to industry, and advocated the use of gun violence against certain environmental activists.

    Even in a more mundane context he was very active in founding private organizations to fight preservation efforts, including fighting Native American religious claims. This included the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which was active in suing the Lakota Sioux to ensure year-round hiking access to their sacred grounds despite the requests by the National Park Service to allow exclusive religious access to the site for the Lakota during certain times of the year.

    Simply because various quotes directly linking clearcutting timber with the Second Coming are apocryphal does not mean Mr. Watt wasn’t an anti-Green evangelical.

  • Christopher W. Chase

    tmatt wrote:

    And there are many, many doctrinally traditionalist Christians (Can I see some hands raised?) who are tired of seeing journalists link conservative moral stands with GOP position papers on every issue under the hot sun.

    It also makes little sense to do this when clearly some large chunks of even mainline churches are taking moral positions on social issues completely opposed to the GOP, even as journalists continue to claim that churchgoing people (evangelical and otherwise) largely vote Republican. Clearly the matters at hand are more complex than “Morality = Republican.”

  • Jim Jewell

    The Wash Post article titled “Warming Draws Evangelicals Into Environmental Fold” is a welcome look at Rev. Joel Hunter and his role in the growing consensus among evangelicals that Christian faithfulness must include responsible stewardship and protection of God’s creation. But Eilperin’s effort leaves the impression that Rev. Hunter is walking this road alone. In fact, Hunter became involved in climate policy as a signatory of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a group of now 106 senior evangelical leaders who as a result of their commitment to Jesus Christ are calling for sound climate policy that will express a concern for the health and well being of our families today and for many generations. I regret that the article did not mention that the signatories of the ECI included Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and the president of the NAE, Leith Anderson. Also, a national Ellison Research poll of evangelicals to be released next month showed that 70% of evangelicals believe global warming will pose a serious threat to future generations, and 64% believe action should be taken immediately to curb global warming (read more at

  • Chris Bolinger

    The preceding ECI promo was brought to you by Head On. Head On: Apply directly to the forehead.

  • Jim Jewell

    Sorry Chris, I don’t get it.

    Not so much an ECI promo as a correction to bad reporting by The Washington Post. Anyone else had that experience?