June 20, 2005
-- Martin E. Marty
Pro-war, pro-gun, pro-executions, anti-pro-choice, pro-DeLay, pro-public school prayer, pro-Frist, pro-Schindler, pro-apocalypse, pro-Robertson/Falwell/Dobson/LaHaye: you could look it up! -- these are the only things most mass communicators communicate about when they deal with that one-fourth of America whose religious preferences get them named "evangelical." Many evangelicals complain that this is unfair -- and rightfully so, since they don't want to be, and shouldn't be, clumped with the readily noted strident and aggressive sorts. Some critics of evangelicalism would say this is "tit-for-tat," since so many evangelicals clump together Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and others as "godless" if they don't follow militant evangelical party lines.
Day by day, more and more in the media are listening to the quieter voices of evangelicals who resent being cast, or miscast, in the clump mentioned at the top of this column. Thus USA Today (June 14) last week reported on the broadened perspective and widened agenda of many evangelicals who take a different line on foreign affairs and social justice issues than do those clustered above. They are less fascinating, less alluring, less easy to identify and cover than are the media-favored aggressives, but they are making a point and a dent.
I sampled these fronts by visiting an article by Melissa Jones in the National Catholic Reporter (June 17). No one she interviews is deluded enough to think he or she can deliver the votes or attract the favorable Fox coverage that the others can. But Jones reports on five groups (we'll provide three Web sites for reference at the end of this column) who are rallying, using evangelical theological arguments to speak up for "creation care." Jones does a good job of reporting on tensions within evangelicalism and even among those who want to be known as pro-environmental. She singles out Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), a late starter on this social and political front. He stresses creation care so as not to alienate pro-business folks (of the "anti-environmentalist" type).
Cizik, according to Jones, knows that many evangelicals are nervous about "pantheism," or what critic Calvin Beisner calls "biological egalitarianism," which, he argues, slights the humans who should dominate the rest of nature. Cizik says that the NAE also fears "big government regulation," "population control movements," and "kooky religious company." Many other leaders mentioned by Jones say they have no problem distancing themselves from the New Age fronts that trouble them all. Jones also gives a few lines to the many evangelicals in the "Me Worry?" or "Bring It On!" apocalypse camp, who say they don't care about the natural world because the Rapture is at hand, and that will end the game of the "natural world."
Mention these people, and both Beisner and the more enthusiastic evangelical environmentalists like Peter Illyn of the Restoring Eden group unite. "They drive me nuts," says Beisner. If more evangelical environmentalists of many persuasions make clear that they are not to be clumped with the apocalypticists, the latter will drive fewer people -- the godly or the godless -- "nuts." Watch for more of the language of environmental stewardship, now that the evangelical environmentalists are getting noticed.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.