Green days

"Green days" Continued...

Issue: "Demsnami," Nov. 4, 2006

Jonathan Collegio, an evangelical who is a spokesman for the Republican National Congressional Committee, considers such party defection farfetched. "The issues that most move evangelical voters are those that the Scripture speaks to specifically. Trying to move Christian votes on abstract secular topics is not going to be a successful endeavor. . . . The number of Christian voters who will abandon issues like gay marriage and abortion in favor of so-called 'green' issues will be marginal at best."

Collegio compares contemporary efforts to broaden the evangelical agenda to the progressive era of the 1890s, when Methodists and Presbyterians took up the suffrage movement, then moved beyond that to taxation, labor issues, and general social policy. Their activism moved the church away from issues of God and salvation toward resolving the human condition through human institutions. The result was a steady decline in membership among churches that preached what became known as the "social gospel."

Modern-day descendants of that movement include the National Council of Churches and those who style themselves as "progressive" evangelicals, Collegio said: "When the church starts focusing on creating heaven on earth instead of getting to heaven from earth, on social policy instead of salvation, it ends up over time losing credibility and numbers in the pews."

But evangelical advocates for environmentalism attempt to distinguish their agenda from that of secular environmentalists. In a letter of support for The Great Warming featured on the film's website, Cizik, the NAE's vice president of governmental affairs, writes, "Our effort has an evangelistic result. By working and caring for the earth, we testify to God's love and ultimate sacrifice of his son for our redemption."

Cizik and other leaders point to biblical texts that support stewardship and argue that evangelicals should not reduce the gospel from its full scriptural expression. Hunter cites Genesis 2:15 where Adam is commanded by God to care for the garden. Most evangelicals concur that Scripture requires such measures as conservation and cleanliness. Disagreement arises when general calls for stewardship are used to support particular policies on the basis of disputed science.

Democratic strategist Flavia Colgan doubts that significant numbers of evangelicals will alter their thinking before Nov. 7. But Colgan, a practicing Catholic who holds a degree in religion from Harvard, believes Democratic efforts to reach conservative evangelicals will pay dividends down the road. "I wish we were at a point where the environment and global warming would drive someone's vote on a single issue. To me, being a Christian means being an environmentalist. We are stewards of God's creation. We don't have the right to destroy it."

Colgan believes that a political union between Democratic environmentalists and evangelical creation-care advocates should have developed long ago: "What this partnership tells me is that special interests are finally fed up with looking at which party someone's in before they forge an alliance with them. We need to work with and support whoever will help us move this country forward. If that means working with someone who is on the opposite side from us on gay marriage, so be it."

-with reporting from Lynn Vincent


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