Wait? Who is calling who an ‘evangelical’ or ‘conservative’?

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Bravo and a big amen to Religion News Service editor Kevin Eckstrom for a crisp bit of religion-label dissection work about a New York Times report that’s been creating buzz among GetReligionistas past and present (and future) the past 24 hours or so.

Eckstrom, who last time I checked does not carry an official right-wing identification card, noted in one of those essential RNS morning listserv notes:

Where on God’s green earth …

Religious advocates were out in full force here in DC the past two days, testifying in support of proposed EPA rules to cut down on carbon pollution. The NYT describes them as “conservative.” Looking at the list of speakers, I’m not totally sure I’d agree.

Right, right! I mean, left.

What’s he talking about? Here’s a crucial chunk of that Times report:

The E.P.A. on Wednesday ended two days of public hearings on its proposed regulation to cut carbon pollution from power plants, and mixed in with the coal lobbyists and business executives were conservative religious leaders reasserting their support for President Obama’s environmental policies — at a time when Republican Party orthodoxy continues to question the science of climate change.

More than two dozen faith leaders, including evangelicals and conservative Christians, spoke at the E.P.A. headquarters in Washington by the time the hearings ended.

“The science is clear,” said Lisa Sharon Harper, the senior director of mobilizing for Sojourners, an evangelical organization with a social justice focus. “The calls of city governments — who are trying to create sustainable environments for 25, 50 years — that’s clear.”

OK, there is a very real sense in which many would call Sojourners an “evangelical” group, in large part because — as GetReligion has been saying for a decade-plus — the word “evangelical” has almost no (preach it, Billy Graham) specific doctrinal content in this day and age.

But would anyone, anywhere, call Sojourners or Sojourners — the magazine or the activist group — “conservative”? On what planet?

Reading on for more tone-deaf labeling:

Although many of the faith leaders came from traditionally progressive congregations, like black churches, synagogues and mainstream Protestant denominations, others were more conservative Christians who reflect a growing embrace of environmentalism by parts of the religious right. This week’s hearings on the new E.P.A. rule gave them an opportunity to make their argument that climate change hurts the world’s poor through natural disasters, droughts and rising sea levels, and that it is part of their faith to protect the planet.

“I have been called by God to speak out on these issues and believe it is my conviction as an evangelical Christian that we must be stewards of God’s creation,” the Rev. Richard Cizik, a former top lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals and now president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, said in prepared remarks on Wednesday.

OK, so Cizik is — or was — a major figure in mainstream evangelicalism. But what is his current status, which is what matters in a daily news report of this kind?

In particular, what would conservatives — political or doctrinal — note about the financial and intellectual roots of his current activist work? Suffice it to say, two words would come up in all of the arguments — “George” and “Soros.” Conservative?

You get the picture. In case after case, the people cited in this story are all strong progressive evangelicals who differ with mainstream or conservative evangelicals on a host of cultural, moral and, in some cases, doctrinal issues.

There is no way that you list these names and then say that it represents an unusual show of environmental force for “conservatives” in a religious context. If you have some mainstream names with Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, Missouri Synod Lutheran, Presbyterian Church in America or whatever ties, bring ‘em on. That would be a strong story.

By the way, those interested in a more neutral, calm story, please click here for the Religion News Service offering about this event.

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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.

  • Darkward

    Given the visceral hatred Eckstrom apparently harbors for Abp. Nienstet, I’m dubious that RNS is a source for “neutral, calm” stories about much of anything.

    • fredx2

      What’s with the fake names that these liberal religious papers use? The Religion News Service is all about the latest progressive stances on religion – and it touts atheism constantly. So it is not a Religion News service. And the National Catholic Reporter is really the National Progressive Catholic reporter.

      • tmatt

        And your comment on the actual point of my post?

    • tmatt

      Please deal with stories one at a time.

  • fredx2

    Cizik is very old news. I remember – I think it was in 2005 that NYT kept hyping him as if he was the new leader that all Evangelicals were listening to. But he wasn’t, and isn’t.


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