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Environmental degradation and evangelicals

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted November 21, 2005

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is no longer the organization it was only a few years ago. Its Washington office has been trending green. Risk Policy Report wrote on October 25 that NAE had been planning soon to release a policy statement on global warming that would call for mandatory greenhouse gas controls. There is now more reason to hope that reason and NAE traditional values – rather than unproven science -- will win the day.

NAE President, the Reverend Ted Haggard, commented in March 2005 to Laurie Goodstein, a reporter for The New York Times: "The question is, ‘Will evangelicals make a difference, and the answer is, ‘The Senate thinks so.' We do represent 30 million people, and we can mobilize them if we have to." Months earlier, NAE had issued "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," which included a plank on "creation care." It emphasized that government must fight "environmental degradation" and it drew the signatures from many evangelical leaders.

Richard Cizik, NAE Vice President for Government Affairs, cited a Biblical Passage, Genesis 2:15, which states "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." He has been active in promoting a greener NAE stance on global warming and other environmental issues.

According to a recent article by New York Times reporter Michael Janofsky, the draft of the policy statement in support of a global warming policy favored by greens was supposed to be reviewed by NAE leadership. The NAE leadership vote had it been unanimous in support of the draft was to have been issued as a policy statement. If only a majority voted in support it would have been released but only as "an evangelical statement on climate change."

NAE will be out of step with many leaders in the religious community if it supports mandatory reductions in greenhouse emissions.

A new coalition called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) has a membership that includes prominent leaders and thinkers in the Evangelical, Catholic and Jewish Faiths. The Reverend Dr. D. James Kennedy, President of Coral Ridge Ministries, is a member of the Advisory Council. Others include Rabbi Daniel Lapin, President of Toward Tradition; Father Richard John Neuhaus, President of the Institute on Religion & Public Life; Father Robert A. Sirico, President of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty; and Dr. Marvin Olasky, Professor of Journalism and History at the University of Texas/Austin.

ISA maintains too many religious leaders in recent years have let their desire to do good trample over a clear-headed understanding of how, through the Judeo-Christian tradition, we are to relate to nature. ISA advisors were among those who issued the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship in April 2000 to clarify the relationship between man and his environment. Here are excerpts that distinguish between legitimate and false concerns regarding the environment:

While some environmental concerns are well founded and serious, others are without foundation or greatly exaggerated. Some well-founded concerns focus on human health problems in the developing world arising from inadequate sanitation, widespread use of primitive biomass fuels like wood and dung, and primitive agricultural, industrial, and commercial practices; distorted resource consumption patterns driven by perverse economic incentives; and improper disposal of nuclear and other hazardous wastes in nations lacking adequate regulatory and legal safeguards.

The problems cited above are not global in scope but can be dealt with through practical policies, including the use of market incentives to upgrade facilities and technologies. The fact is that global warming is a highly speculative theory and the draconian solutions advocated by environmentalists stand to have an adverse impact on the economies of the developed world. In short, the alarmism by the greens is an even greater threat to the economic security of the world than global warming. The Cornwall Declaration reminds us:

"Public policies to combat exaggerated risks can dangerously delay or reverse the economic development necessary to improve not only human life but also human stewardship of the environment. The poor, who are most often citizens of developing nations, are often forced to suffer in poverty with its attendant high rates of malnutrition, disease, and mortality; as a consequence, they are often the most injured by such misguided, though well-intended, policies.

The Cornwall Declaration concludes by saying its signers aspire to a world in which "widespread economic freedom" makes available more environmentally sound technologies, products and practices. Were that to occur, the world's population and its environment would be mutual beneficiaries.

The intent of the supporters of the Kyoto Treaty on global warming which mandates emissions controls is absolutely contrary to the intent of the Cornwall Declaration. Margot Wallstrom, European Union (EU) Commissioner for the Environment, has said "[Global warming] is not a simple environmental issue where you can say it is an issue where scientists are not unanimous. This is about international relations, this is about economy, about trying to create a level playing field for big business throughout the world. You have to understand what is at stake and that is why it is serious."

Indeed our country's adherence to the Kyoto Treaty would choke our economic engine, according to a study by Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates, which is cited by Senator James M. Inhofe in a booklet, "The Facts and Science of Climate Change," issued by the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates, a private consulting firm the founders of which were professors at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, estimates that implementation of the Kyoto Treaty would cost 2.4 million jobs; our country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be reduced by 3.2%; prices would rise for food, housing, heating.

A letter signed by prominent evangelical leaders will soon be sent urging NAE to refrain from taking any position on global warming. Many evangelicals believe there is no consensus on the climate issues and that NAE should instead focus on major issues upon which there is widespread Christian agreement -- such as abortion, abstinence and AIDS prevention. At the same time ISA will work to galvanize prominent Jewish, Protestant and Catholic leaders to advocate the sound environmental principles of the Cornwall Declaration.

I am pleased to say that Kyle Fisk, NAE Executive Administrator, called me recently and indicated his organization's willingness to cause NAE to refrain from issuing the global warming statement. However, there is a vociferous and unrelenting faction within the evangelical community more concerned with global warming than upholding the sanctity of life and traditional marriage and addressing other truly important moral issues. They will not relent in their efforts, particularly if Reverend Haggard tries to reinstate NAE on a proper course in which it refrains from endorsing speculative science in regard to global warming and concentrates its efforts on the moral issues that most of its leading members view to be most important from Biblical and moral perspectives.

Liberal foundations have been spending millions of dollars to cause people of deep faith – Jews and Christians – to become sidetracked from addressing important moral issues, diverting resources toward addressing a problem of science that is highly speculative and has divided the scientific community. Their effort had started to permeate the Washington leadership of a prominent evangelical organization. Responsible leaders and the grassroots must start campaigning to assure that the leftward drift is completely halted and that its Washington leadership respects the wishes and values of the churches and congregations outside the Beltway. Let's hope the grassroots becomes motivated to halt this leftward drift on global warming and other issues. Otherwise we will be a much poorer nation both spiritually and materially.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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