Evangelical Declarations and Climate Initiatives

By: Jim Virkler; ©2012

If matters of a secular nature such as service to our fellow man, scientific discoveries, or politics were not sufficiently important to command our attention at coffee table discussions, theology always adds an extra dimension. This may be especially true if we deal with controversial matters such as climate change and global warming. How could our responsibility to exercise Christian stewardship and prudent care for God’s creation enter the discussion? Could theological questions make the climate change discussion more relevant and interesting? Would the discussion assume more importance?

From a theological perspective, climate questions leave us with important and difficult challenges. If the discoveries of science are cited as important in our climate change and global warming decision making, we must be sure decisions are based on correct scriptural principles as well as good science. Does our worldview help us regard nature as a self contained and self sustaining entity? Do we believe that “nature knows best?” or that the earth and its atmosphere, untouched by human hands, is the ideal? Such extreme positions must be balanced by conscientious biblical stewardship. How may we use earth’s plentiful fossil fuel resources and sound economics according to God’s plan for human prospering? These questions are at the heart of the evolving modern climate change dialogue.

Of many Christian groups who have claimed a share of influence in the theological dimensions of climate and global warming, I have selected two divergent movements emerging from the past decade within the evangelical community. Both groups emphasize creation care and stewardship issues with respect to climate, human flourishing, and food resources. Both groups care deeply about the welfare of the human population, particularly for the poorest among us. Scripture teaches us to care about each of these dimensions.

The Evangelical Climate Initiative began in 2006 with 86 evangelical leaders. By 2011 the number had risen to 220 leaders who subscribed to the call to action. Their initial statement, reported in Christianity Today claimed “Human induced climate change is real.” It calls on the government to pass legislation establishing limits on carbon dioxide emissions—widely believed to be the primary cause of human induced global warming. Further, one spokesman declared “Global warming is going to affect millions in this century…We feel we have to do something about it.” The original statement’s signatories included Rick Warren, Christianity Today editor David Neff, executive editor Timothy George, and editorial director Andy Crouch, Wheaton College president Duane Litfin, former NAE president Leith Anderson, and a wide spectrum of other evangelical leaders.

On the opposite side of the evangelical climate continuum is the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. It descended from the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance in order to better reflect “its purpose and principles.” The Cornwall Alliance believes “Earth and its ecosystems…are robust, resilient, self-regulating and self-correcting” and display God’s glory. The Alliance denies “that carbon dioxide—essential to plant growth—is a pollutant.” They believe that “Reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures. Cornwall spokesmen declare that “Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.” Their concern is that “while passion may energize environmental activism, it is reason, including sound theology and sound science—that must guide the decision-making process.”

The Evangelical Climate Initiative signatories seem to be comprised of a wide range of members of the clergy and many Christian ministry leaders. The Cornwall Alliance endorsers are a diverse group of ministry leaders, theologians, philosophers, ethicists, pastors, scientists, economists, and Christian educators.

How is this scenario a challenge to thinkers in the evangelical community? One sector of this wide ranging group believes the scientific evidence on climate change leads to one set of conclusions and calls to action while the other sanctions conflicting evidence and advocates completely different responses. Resolving manifestly different interpretations of climate scientists is a monumentally significant task for the Christian. Beyond this, agreement on a unified action plan could be a recipe for disharmony.

The Christian response to climate issues involves a difficult entanglement of science, theology, economics, and politics. Our idealistic desire to “do something about it,” may lead us to impossible terrain if the science is wrong or if our theology is errant. In addition, political motivation or personal desire to benefit economically from agreed upon climate solutions, may consign the entire project to failure or catastrophe.

A focused study of these interwoven issues becomes essential for those in leadership in the evangelical community. We cannot afford to err scientifically, theologically, or economically. The science is definitely not settled on the maze of issues surrounding climate change, and in particular, anthropogenic global warming. Draconian solutions proposed to remedy temperature change caused by man instead of recognition of natural cycles of warming and cooling occurring throughout earth history seem not to be grounded in wisdom and reason. Economic measures costing trillions of dollars may compound our errors and be counterproductive in our desire to help the world’s poor.

For the last several years the evangelical movement toward an activist role on climate change solutions has been waning. The secular campaign is also retreating gradually. Never has there been a greater need for the application of the verse in the epistle of James: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” James 1:5 (NIV). Old Testament wisdom books are filled with appropriate instruction such as that of Proverbs 2:1-6. In Psalm 90:12 we are instructed, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Biblical exhortations on wisdom apply across a broad range of human experience.


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