Spotlight to fall on Evangelical divisions over climate change

By staff writers
October 9, 2006

Stop Climate Chaos logoA new documentary is to examine the divisions amongst US Christians over climate change.

In evangelical churches across America, a debate raging over how to handle the environment. For more than a decade, progressive Christians have made it their duty to take care of the earth. Now they are being joined by many of their conservative brothers and sisters in faith, but are being met head-on with opposition from some powerful pillars of the religious right.

"Is God Green?‚", to be broadcast next week, will look at what this means for American politics and the future health of the planet. Bill Moyers and award-winning producer Tom Casciato will take viewers inside the heated conversation taking place in the conservative evangelical community over the environment.

The documentary explores the political stakes‚"three out of every four self-identified white evangelical voters cast their ballots for George W. Bush in 2004‚" and the implications for public policy on environmental issues such as global warming.

"The religious right has guided policy in Washington on every major social issue," says Moyers. "This debate could be signalling an important change in the way the U.S. will address the environmental crises facing the globe."

The one-hour documentary introduces viewers to Tri Robinson, a pastor at a dynamic conservative church in Boise, Idaho, who began preaching the Biblical imperative of environmental stewardship to his congregation.

"I wanted to present this to them straight from the Bible, because I knew that if they could see it in the Bible, being primarily a solid evangelical church, that they would recognize the credibility at that point," says Robinson.

Word about Robinson's preaching got around quickly, and he knew that he could face opposition in Idaho, where there is a history of hostility toward environmentalism.

"If this becomes partisan," says reporter Rocky Barker, who has followed the story of green evangelicals for the Idaho Statesman. "[and] if they decide to become active on environmental issues, or if they begin voting their issues, the same way they vote abortion, pro-life and other issues, I think it could have a dramatic effect."

"Is God Green?‚" also goes on the ground in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, where mountaintop coal mining has local residents bringing their faith to bear in their effort to stop widespread pollution and environmental damage. In a state where three million pounds of explosives are used a day to strip the mountains of their coal, some evangelicals are relying on scripture to battle big coal.

"I first want to apologize as a Christian for the unfaithfulness of the churches and Christians who have oftentimes - too often - been complicit in the destruction that we see upon the land," says Allen Johnson, who co-founded the advocacy group Christians for the Mountains. "In the Book of Revelation, there's a scripture that says that God will destroy those who destroy the Earth. We're breaking a covenant with God."

The program explores the real-world consequences of mountaintop mining and its toxic by-products on the local water supply, profiling residents forced to live with drinking water allegedly contaminated by harmful chemicals and their fight against a subsidiary of the region’s largest coal company, Massey Energy. Allen’s group is working to recruit local churches to explore the pollution problem as a theological and Biblical issue, and to join their fight. Today, after 12 years, the local government is building the infrastructure that eventually will bring clean water to the effected communities.

The broadcast looks at the rise of conservative evangelicals as political power players in national politics and policy, and at how the Bush administration’s industry-friendly stance on global warming has been supported by conservative evangelicals. One of them is Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, who believes that evangelicals are not morally obligated to take a position on global warming. He is affiliated with the Acton Institute, an organization funded in part by the oil giant ExxonMobil, which has spent millions trying to discredit the science of global warming.

"What are the costs and benefits of the polluting activity, versus the pollution itself?" asks Beisner, who teaches historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary. "God has a hand in bringing about both improvements and harm to our environment."

Global warming has also been the catalyst for some conservative evangelicals to break with the President, and for many it has come to the centre of the debate over how Bible-believing Christians are to treat the earth.

"The manner in which we have willingly pumped into the atmosphere seven billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually is to me a testimony to human sin," says Reverend Richard Cizik, a national leader in the evangelical environmental movement and a self-described conservative Republican. "We've adopted the agenda of the Republican Party, which is largely serving the interests of the oil and gas and utility industries." He continues, "We have to become the change agents within the Republican Party. And I believe we can, and will."

Moyers on America is supported by an extensive companion web site where visitors can interact, give feedback, and participate in an online workshop designed to inform, engage, and spark public discourse on the issues presented in the documentaries. After the broadcast, each episode will be available in its entirety for viewing online.

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