Why Haven't Evangelicals Joined Liberals on Climate Change?

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D.,is the founder and national spokesman for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

Church historian D.G. Hart, a history professor at Hillsdale College, has an interesting piece on the Patheos blog in which he points out that the widespread support for Donald Trump among "evangelicals" is really good evidence that "evangelical" has come to mean little. He's right, of course — sad to say.

The major focus of Hart's piece is on the failure of a multi-million dollar campaign by Left-wing foundations and environmental activist groups to bring evangelicals, as a whole, on board the Green and especially the climate alarmist bandwagon. He quotes at length from a major article in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas about the so far more than 25-year-long campaign by Left/Progressive foundations and environmental advocacy organizations, spending many millions of dollars, to Green American evangelicals, especially on the issue of climate change — and the campaign's general failure. It also makes it clear that the funders and players are determined to continue and improve that campaign in coming decades.

In that article and the extensive study on which it's based, Lydia Bean and Steven Teles of the Progressive "New America Foundation" largely chalk up the failure to the funders' and recipients' failure to build "mobilized power" instead of mere "convening power."

That's a legitimate point, but, quite frankly, as I read (and have played a major role in) the history, I think the larger failure was simply that the campaigners didn't pay enough attention to something most evangelicals value a great deal more than power: truth.

The Cornwall Alliance has never built or wielded much "mobilized power" either (and our funding has been a drop in the bucket compared with the campaigners'), but our major communications have differed in something more than conclusions from those of the evangelical "creation care" and "climate care" advocates' communications.

Theirs have consistently said, essentially, "Here are our conclusions — trust us." They've claimed that climate catastrophe is inevitable if we don't severely reduce CO2 emissions (and therefore hydrocarbon fuel use), but they've offered little to no evidence to back their claims, and they have managed to get big-name pastors and ministry leaders to endorse them, but not many scholars with true expertise in the relevant fields of science, economics, public policy, and ethics.

We've done the opposite: brought together groups of excellent scholars with relevant expertise, and had them produce excellent studies offering well-explained and well-documented evidence that human contributions to climate change, though real, are far smaller than what the alarmists claim, and that the harms from reducing CO2 emissions by reducing hydrocarbon fuel use would outweigh the benefits.

Our major papers in that are from:

Agree with those papers or not, the one thing you can't say is that they don't set forth a case, with documented, evidence-supported premises and reasonable inferences. That, not "mobilized power," is what has enabled the Cornwall Alliance to accomplish so much more than its tiny size and tiny budget would lead people to expect.

As Bean said in the press conference releasing the study (starting at 23:42):

"As things stood, in the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a single guy, named Cal Beisner, was able to pull this coalition together fairly easy, and what's amazing to me is, the Cornwall Alliance, led by Cal Beisner, most of the period in question, when he was leading this anti-climate action movement among evangelical conservatives, he wasn't even doing it full time. So, he was actually teaching a class, he was teaching classes full time at a Christian university [sic; actually, Knox Theological Seminary — ECB] and doing this as a hobby! Right? So, I don't want you to think that evangelical creation care lost out because the Koch brothers poured a bunch of money into it and they were washed out. This effort wasn't well resourced. So the incentives were all about holding together the Republican coalition [sic; that had no part in my incentives; I hated party politics then, as I do now; my interest was in good science and protecting the poor from misguided policies — ECB], and it didn't take very much to do it."

But the Progressives and climate alarmists aren't giving up. Bean and Teles have lots of recommendations for how to improve the campaign. One thing lacking: an appeal to the campaigners to pay a lot more attention to truth and not so much to power.

Real evangelicals, who care about doctrinal and ethical fidelity to Scripture (as well as about sound science and economics), need to be prepared for a contest that's going to last for decades.

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, is former Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Social Ethics at Knox Theological Seminary and of Interdisciplinary Studies at Covenant College.

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