Sunday, February 11, 2007

Blurring the lines...

Back in the day, you knew who was on what side. Conservatives - especially evangelicals - were over here, and Birkenstock-wearing eco-loonies were over there. Not any more.
DALLAS — Texas' largest Baptist group is taking a rare step into environmental advocacy, working to block Gov. Rick Perry's plan to speed the approval process for 18 new coal-fired power plants.
The Christian Life Commission, the public policy arm of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, is mobilizing Baptists against the coal-fired plants and urging the convention's 2.3 million members to voice their opposition to state lawmakers.
"A lot of people felt like our industries, our policy leaders, are going to take care of these big issues like air quality, (and) it's not going to be something our local people are going to have to get up every day and worry about," said Suzii Paynter, director of the commission. "It can't be left to big interests to make these decisions in our behalf."
The Baptists stress that they are not jumping into full-blown activism, but even a small move toward environmentalism is significant. [More]

Nor is this an isolated example. Neither should we find it particularly surprising.
Indeed, the surprise isn’t that environmentalists and evangelicals might find common ground. It’s that we haven’t noticed how much common ground they’ve long shared. Evangelicalism and environmentalism are global movements of activists concerned about the salvation of the world through both social action and individual conversion. They also share that peculiar mix of cynicism about current social practices and optimism about transforming those practices through faith, reason and hard work that is found in all idealists.

The question both groups must take up is whether idealism is adequate to the task of addressing the problems of global warming, environmental degradation and species extinction. After all, whether any of us would use either label to describe ourselves, the vast majority of us think recycling is generally a good idea—though we’re still likely to throw that empty soda can into the trash. Our problem isn’t that we disagree with the goals of environmental health; it’s that our actions don’t necessarily lead toward achieving them. So if environmentalists and evangelicals really want to do something together, they might think less about convincing us about what we ought to do and more about motivating us to do it. [More]

Voting groups rarely stay put for any length of time. The collective action of millions of people is observed like poeple watching water vapor molecules in the sky. Look, we say, it's a pony. But minutes later it's a map of Florida.

Many who were firmly on the right are re-examining their beliefs. And many of us are shifting our vote on what is really, really important. This fluidity is what excites the media because if few ever changed their minds, what would be the point in persuasive prose?

The success of evangelical churches leads them to similar but not identical paths as older faith bodies. The issues of the world eventually have to be addressed - even those fraught with controversy. When pastors like Rick Warren lead believers to discuss our response as Christians to creation, he fulfilling the duties of all leaders: to confront the challenges they feel are most important to their followers.

This will not occur without cost. Already the evangelical movement is struggling with the politics of environmentalism. My guess is several leaders like James Dobson would just as soon take pass on global warming and concentrate on issues like gay marriage.

It will be interesting to watch which shepherds the flock follows.


Anonymous said...

more lemmings over the cliff.

John Phipps said...

If I interpret your sarcasm correctly, your comment is itself can be seen as ironic.

Clinging to the fallacious belief in lemming suicide ( is similar to the denial of new evidence of anthropogenic climate change.

The fact that much of the US would be less affected than other parts of the world perhaps offers many of us an easier basis for jeering at those who believe their homes and countries will be destroyed.

brian said...


Evangelicals are very discouraged over Iraq. I think they believed that a Christian President was going to lead an army of redemption into hell and save the world. Well, that didn't work out, the pendulum is swinging left, and evangelical leaders are looking for something they can be liberal about. Global warming fills the bill for now, but I do not think it will last. Yes there is a convenient attraction between a movement that acts like a religion (environmentalism) and a religion in search of a movement. But pretty soon the God thing will get in the way.


Anonymous said...

Define "evangelical" according to American culture. I'm just curious who they are.

John Phipps said...

brian: I am less dismissive of evangelicals even though I do not count myself among them. (I am a non-literalist for one thing). You may be right about swaying in the wind of popular opinion, but it may also be that some are finding their faith walk takes them now beyond legalism to a point of tackling honestly the doubts that seem to be ever-present in my faith at least.

Not do I think they are attracted to environmentalism because for some - such as Gaia enthusiasts...

Wait - this should be a post, instead of a long comment.

stephen - I'll address your question as well in a later post.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to your future post. I've always wondered where you stand on this whole God thing. You make abiguous references to various activities and viewpoints of yours, but in general you avoid religion and the affect that it has on everyone's life. So share a little bit of that part of your life with us if you can. Your cynical commenters have made a solemn vow to allow you a little extra margin of error on this subject.