Evangelicals and Climate Change: Global Warming Activists (Pt. 2)

Editor's note: In part two of our series on global warming, CP reports on the internal process of a prominent evangelical organization, the National Association of Evangelicals, to reach a climate change position at the urging of evangelical activists.

For evangelicals who are global warming activists, convincing the Christian community to get engaged has been a process.

For example, Richard Cizik, though he was cited in 2008 by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world for his work as a 'green evangelical,' had a very tough time convincing his organization to back him at the time.

Cizik was formerly vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). While there, he helped craft the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), which was discussed in part one of this series.

Though Cizik helped initiate and advance the ECI, he was asked not to sign the statement at the time it was first published. Several evangelical leaders, including the late Chuck Colson, convinced NAE that the statement did not represent the views of evangelicals well, due to the significant divisions among evangelicals on the topic. Since NAE represents a broad spectrum of evangelicals in the United States, they reasoned, it should not take a position on the controversy. (NAE's current president, Leith Anderson, signed the document, but he was not president at that time.)

Cizik criticized the NAE for not taking a strong enough stance on climate change.

"The [NAE] should come out and forcefully indicate that evangelical leaders ... because we do know what the effects of global climate change are, ... assume our rightful role in guiding the movement," he said.

The NAE has taken more steps on climate change since Cizik left. Last December, NAE published a document, "Loving the Least of These," that seeks to help Christians understand how to address the issue of climate change. It focuses particular attention on how climate change might harm the poor and vulnerable.

In a May 24 interview with The Christian Post, Galen Carey, vice president of governmental relations for NAE, described the document as a discussion paper.

"We need to give people information and perspective, but we don't tell them what to think. That's not really an effective strategy for engagement. Rather, one needs to help people think biblically about the issues as well as engaging with the science. They can come to their conclusions," Carey said.

In an email to The Christian Post, Cizik said he applauds "Loving the Least of These," but hopes that NAE will take it a step further and come out with an official document or position statement on climate change.

"Thus, I will gently prod and hold Evangelical leaders to a higher standard. Are we as a movement unwilling to pass judgment on issues such as religious freedom which come before the legislative or executive branches? Of course not. Nor should we punt on climate action," Cizik wrote.

Cizik, now president of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, holds master's degrees in both divinity and public affairs.  He believes that if evangelicals do not take action to reduce global warming, the public image of the movement will suffer, much in the same way it suffered for not getting involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

"The moral principles that [evangelical] organizations live by will shape the movement as a whole and shape this country. It's really important," Cizik said.

He believes that global warming skeptics do not accept the realities of climate change because it threatens their worldview and they have an "illusion of the mind."

"They're reluctant to change due to the accompanying fear, or their current comfort level with their status quo position. And, it's either an active choice or its a passive choice. Either way it's a choice," Cizik claimed.

The good news, he said, is that energy consumption can be quickly reduced without diminishing quality of life through energy efficiency.

"The Lawrence Livermore Labs found that 58 percent of all energy produced in the U.S. is wasted, including over 65 percent of the energy produced for electricity, and over 75 percent of the energy produced for transportation. ... What various analysts ... have found is that energy consumption in the United States could be reduced from seven to 28 percent by 2030 through changes in behavior and the use of existing and emerging technology with no real change in lifestyle. Isn't that amazing?"

"We can do this," Cizik said,"and we have a moral duty."

To better understand the global warming skeptics position, The Christian Post spoke with Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesperson for Cornwall Alliance, for the third installment of this series on evangelicals and climate change.

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