Warming Climate - and warming up to 'creation care'

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Rev. Richard Cizik will present “For God’s Sake,” the fifth scheduled lecture in this year’s E. N. Thompson Forum on World Issues. The opinions in this essay are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Thompson Forum or the sponsoring organizations. By Rev. Richard Cizik The world is getting warmer. This past summer, I visited our “early warming system” for North America, an island village named Shishmaref located off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea. The native tribe of Inupiks is already experiencing a devastating climate blow: the rise in sea level has forced them from their home of 400 years. For them, and for some coastal megacities in the developing world, the debate on climate change is already too late. They are learning to move and adapt. But the debate is only about to show its force in American politics and religion. Many fundamentalist religious leaders have denounced this concern over the climate as the “devil’s diversion.” Those of us who promote “creation care” as a new evangelical agenda are tarred just as easily. I have been accused of being “anticapitalist and having an underlying hatred for America.” Nevertheless, creation care has the momentum. Projects such as the “Scientist-Evangelical” retreats and expeditions cosponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals and the Harvard Center on Health and the Global Environment are creating common ground for stewardship of the earth. In this election year, the climate debate is likely to open political and religious division even wider. In Britain, both political parties vie to become the “greenest.” That remains to be seen here, but religious conservatives who go to the ballot box are no longer listening to the voices of antiscientific philosophy. Surveys by the Ellison Research Group, Inc., show that 75 percent of evangelicals believe that climate change is real and will impact their lives. Eighty-four percent believe that the Congress should pass a mandatory limit on greenhouse gas emissions. Senate Republicans recently rejected a “Climate Security Act,” only one indication that they might be moving to the wrong side of their natural allies: evangelical voters. Evangelicals are becoming the go-to religious community on the environment. While the fundamentalist wing still denies care of nature, the broader movement is rapidly shedding old attitudes and speaking out for creation stewardship. Evangelicals have backed reforms from the end of slavery to human rights, and the environment is a logical extension of that ethic: rising sea levels and pollution often affect the poor first; biodiversity is lost for everyone; and disease and drought can displace entire societies. Many of the largest ministries in America have taken notice. More than a hundred of them, from World Vision and The Salvation Army to mega-church pastors such Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, have signed the “Evangelical Climate Initiative.” The document states that care for our environment is a biblical duty and government has a role to play in addressing climate change - starting now. Evangelicals make up a hundred million Americans. They are from 40 to 50 percent of the conservative base of the GOP, and have thus far given President Bush a “pass” on global warming. The result is “business as usual,” securing the reputation that the GOP, and many evangelicals, toe the line of big business and powerful industries. But a new generation of evangelicals may desert the Grand Old Party for its lack of facing up to the environmental future. A sociologist once said, “As evangelicalism goes, so goes the West.” And so may go one election or another - since evangelicals are one-quarter of the voting public, and even a small percent shift can cause political earthquakes. What some call the “unholy” alliance between conscience-driven evangelicals and the wealth of corporate elites is one unseemly reason for conservatives to reject creation care. Another is an unfortunate logic about religion and science. That relationship in the United States has been distorted by disputes over evolution and creation. Progress in science literacy and the environment has been made a victim of the origins debate. It goes something like this: Scientists believe in evolution, evangelicals reject evolution; therefore, evangelicals reject the scientific consensus on global warming. The only way to bridge this gap is to bring scientists and evangelicals together - and that’s what we’re trying to do. We are on the verge of an evangelical awakening to the global environmental crisis. But an even more significant accomplishment will occur when the worlds of religion and science come together in a spirit of reconciliation. We still disagree, many of us, about how the world came into existence. But there’s no disagreement about whether that world deserves protection. Cizik’s lecture will take place on Monday, February 25 at 7 p.m. at the Lied Center for Performing Arts, 12th & R Streets, Lincoln, Neb. The lecture is free and open to the public but tickets are required. Contact the Lied Center Ticket Office, 402-472-4747 or 800-432-3231 for tickets. The lecture is also streamed live on the UNL Web site, www.unl.edu. For more information on this year’s Thompson Forum, go to enthompson.unl.edu.

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