Between God and Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change

Between God and Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change

Between God and Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change

Between God and Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change

Synopsis

Despite three decades of scientists' warnings and environmentalists' best efforts, the political will and public engagement necessary to fuel robust action on global climate change remain in short supply. Katharine K. Wilkinson shows that, contrary to popular expectations, faith-based efforts are emerging and strengthening to address this problem. In the US, perhaps none is more significant than evangelical climate care.

Drawing on extensive focus group and textual research and interviews,Between God & Greenexplores the phenomenon of climate care, from its historical roots and theological grounding to its visionary leaders and advocacy initiatives. Wilkinson examines the movement's reception within the broader evangelical community, from pew to pulpit. She shows that by engaging with climate change as a matter of private faith and public life, leaders of the movement challenge traditional boundaries of the evangelical agenda, partisan politics, and established alliances and hostilities. These leaders view sea-level rise as a moral calamity, lobby for legislation written on both sides of the aisle, and partner with atheist scientists.

Wilkinson reveals how evangelical environmentalists are reshaping not only the landscape of American climate action, but the contours of their own religious community. Though the movement faces complex challenges, climate care leaders continue to leverage evangelicalism's size, dominance, cultural position, ethical resources, and mechanisms of communication to further their cause to bridge God and green.

Excerpt

On February 8, 2006, New York Times readers opened the newspaper to find a full-page advertisement announcing “Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to solve the global warming crisis.” Readers of Christianity Today (CT) were similarly presented with this coming-out notice for the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI). Both audiences were likely surprised, though perhaps from different perspectives. At the time, many assumed all evangelicals marched in lockstep with the Republican Party, and President George W. Bush staunchly opposed action to ameliorate climate change. It seemed implausible for a group of senior evangelical leaders, including such high-profile individuals as megachurch pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren, to launch a national effort advocating mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change impacts. But at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, they did just that.

As I illustrate in the text that follows, this emergence was anything but sudden, yet for me, too, it was unexpected, despite working at the time for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental nongovernmental organization (NGO). The ECI clearly aimed to broaden the traditional evangelical Right agenda of personal morality issues—abortion, homosexuality, and pornography—to include environmental or “creation care” concerns, specifically climate change. For these leaders, the vantage point of religion seemed to endow the issue with particular significance, suggest particular courses of action in response, and animate their voices in the cacophonous, evolving chorus concerning it.

Though I had studied both religion and environmental studies and was aware of their intersections, I was struck by the particular use of language in this ad—a very different message from that of the conventional, secular environmental movement. Our communication about climate change, like any issue, mediates our understanding of it, the meaning it holds for us, and our reaction or inaction to it. How we speak about climate thus has a great deal . . .

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