WASHINGTON – Evangelical, mainline and the Catholic traditions were all citing scriptures from the same Bible as support for their stance on global warming, yet they still remained intensely divided over the issue as they shared their views before a U.S. senate committee on Thursday.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works first heard from the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who strongly supports the belief that global warming is real and mainly human induced.
"As one who has been formed both through a deep Christian faith and as a scientist, I believe that science has revealed to us without equivocation that climate change and global warming are real and caused in significant part by human activities," said the Episcopal Church head.
Jefferts Schori, formerly an oceanographer, was backed by John Carr of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Rev. Jim Ball of the Evangelical Climate Initiative composed of over 100 prominent evangelical leaders. Signers of the ECI include Rick Warren, author of the Purpose Driven Life; Leith Anderson, senior pastor of Wooddale Church in St. Paul, Minn., and president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE); and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.
However, down the table were conservative evangelical leaders who oppose laying most blame for global warming on humans and reject proposals to significantly cut carbon emission – the main contributor of greenhouse gases – which they say will have a devastating effect on the world's poor.
Evangelical ethicist E. Calvin Beisner of Interfaith Stewardship Alliance was quoted in one of the panelist's statement that reducing energy and increasing its cost will be harmful to the world's poor communities because it will slow economic development, reduce overall productivity and increase cost of all goods for the poor.
The panel's divided views on global warming are reminiscent of a recent high-profile controversy in the evangelical community over the global warming activism of the NAE's vice president, the Rev. Richard Cizik. Dozens of prominent evangelical leaders including Dr. James C. Dobson and Gary L. Bauer had called for either the end of Cizik's evangelical climate change campaign or for his forced resignation if he resisted.
Letter signers had accused Cizik of misrepresenting evangelicals when he spoke on global warming as if they were united on the issue and that his advocacy was detracting attention from more important issues such as abortion and same-sex unions.
During an NAE board meeting, however, members affirmed creation care as an important evangelical agenda and commended Cizik for his overall work representing evangelicals.
The Senate-assembled panel on Thursday was once again a strong reminder of the disparity on global warming within, not only evangelicals, but the entire Christian body.
Given the contentious nature of the issue, a Southern Baptist representative warned Christian leaders to resist from using the Bible carelessly to support their views.
"To tie the authority of the Bible to the shifting and revisable scientific and public policy proposals of one's global warming agenda is unhelpful to the debate at best and trivializing of Christian faith at worst," advised Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The SBC is the nation's largest protestant denomination with 16 million members and 42,000 churches.
"The SBC and other like-minded evangelical groups are not opposed to environmental protection," explained Moore, who is the dean of SBTS's school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration. "We are, however, concerned about the ways in which religious arguments are used in this debate, possibly with harmful consequences both for public policy and for the mission of the church."
Moore affirmed that Southern Baptists do care about global warming "because the creation reveals the glory of God," but that science does not absolutely support humans being the main cause for global warming and that cutting carbon emissions will be in the best interest for the majority of the world's population.
Other religious leaders who spoke included the Rev. Dr. Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director and council of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism.