At 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.
In 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.