February 13, 2006
-- Martin E. Marty
Two cheers for the evangelicals who disturbed the peace and drew headlines this week with the "Evangelical Climate Initiative." Why two and not three? I've often been told that if people outside the evangelical camp favor a faction inside it, this can hurt the cause. If a "secular humanist," a "mainline Protestant," or a fanatic Lutheran like M.E.M. praises certain evangelicals, there must be something wrong with them. So I'll think three cheers and utter two.
The Initiative drafters, who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, received a page in Newsweek and hundreds of column inches in newspapers for their message of commitment to stewardship of the environment. The signers, half of whom I know, are evangelical Evangelicals, not people on the fringes. To find that speaking up for care by God's people for God's created order is treated as "man bites dog"—exceptional news—is a comment on evangelicals. Line one of the Bible and line one of the creeds affirm Creator and creation, and are not licenses for despoiling the environment and helping make the globe uninhabitable -- as we are on course to doing.
Few believers have a good record. Mainline Protestants have probably written most and spoken out most, but two-score years ago most of them stopped knowing how to mobilize citizens. Jeffrey J. Guhin, in the Catholic weekly America, asks, "Where Are the Catholic Environmentalists?" (February 13). They have been slow comers, but are documentably doing better now. I have no space here to deal with the substance of the call to commitment; it is easy to track down. What interests me first is the evident passion of big-name popular and scholarly evangelicals (from Rick Warren to Wheaton College president Duane Litfin, from journalist David Neff and veteran activist Ron Sider to National Association of Evangelicals biggies and professors of note) who are now on the line.
Equally interesting are the attacks by other evangelical parties, some of whom, bizarrely, still cite as relevant the Genesis mandate to "subdue" or "dominate" the created order. Well, consider it subdued into a coma and dominated so much that it needs life-support. Why have evangelicals been so late in acting that their rallying cry is so newsworthy? Many reasons. They have had other priorities that crowded this one out. They've gotten two or three cheers in recent years for taking up the cause of religious liberty and human freedom in many neglected corners of the world. Yet most of their energies have gone elsewhere.
What else? Well, you can always find a Danish scientist or two and a dozen right-wing talk show hosts who tell us not to worry about global warming, the mercury in the fish we eat, or de-treeing the landscapes, and it is to the advantage of some political interests to take as a motto, "What, me worry?" Some evangelicals stood back because they thought that caring for the environment was a New Age monopoly, a fashionable preoccupation with the secular order. We are told that some apocalypticists say, "Don't think about this world; Jesus is second-coming to end it all!" I think that voice is being muffled a bit now.
So on second thought, in these times, "Three cheers!" for the ecologically-minded evangelicals. Perhaps others of us will follow.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.