Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Sociomaterial Movement Learning in Evangelical Student Activism: A Case Study in Environmental Education

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Sociomaterial Movement Learning in Evangelical Student Activism: A Case Study in Environmental Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

From Lynn White's identification of a linkage between the Judeo-Christian tradition and domination over nature (1) to more specific critiques of evangelicalism's 1) anthropology as anthropocentric, 2) ethics as exploitative, 3) cosmology as escapist and 4) eschatology as ecologically apathetic, (2) the Christian tradition has been consistently critiqued for being anti-environmental. To the degree that these charges validly describe the evangelical tradition, then "it would seem", says J.A. Simmons, "that 'evangelical environmentalism' is an idea that is akin to a white supremacist group hosting a luncheon to promote racial diversity." (3) Although Christian activism on energy policy can be traced back to the early 70s when the National Council of

Churches prepared a report on the use of plutonium as a commercial fuel (4) and the National Association of Evangelicals released a short Resolution on Environment and Ecology, (5) evangelical attention to environmental issues from leaders, congregations, and institutions is a more recent phenomenon. (6) For the most part, evangelicals have been popularly portrayed as taking conservative positions on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. (7)

Danielsen identifies two issue attention cycles for environmental concern in evangelical culture in recent years: the first is from 1988 to 1995 and the second is from 2004 to 2010. (8) Several key organizational developments occurred during this time period. In 1992, the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship met for the Au Sable Forum on Evangelical Christianity and the Environment and the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) was established. (9) The National Religious Partnership for the Environment was formed the following year. By 2002, the Director of the Evangelical Environmental Network was driving a Toyota Prius across the American South in a grassroots activism What Would Jesus Drive Campaign. (10) Within two more years, the Evangelical Environmental Network garnered support from some of the highest levels of evangelical leadership; they co-sponsored a conference with Christianity Today magazine and the National Association of Evangelicals in support of creation care. (11) By 2006, eighty-six prominent evangelical leaders signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative to advocate for legislation to combat climate change; 45 percent of the signatories were presidents of either universities, seminaries or colleges in Christian higher education. The President and Board Chair of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities also signed the document. (12) By 2008, a "Green Bible" highlighting scripture related to environmental stewardship and creation care was being promoted in environmental circles. (13)

Despite these developments, evangelical elites, in particular, have been consistently characterized as oppositional to liberal concerns and culturally divisive. (14) This 'culture wars' myth has contributed to an illusion of monolithic evangelical culture that masks evangelical diversity. (15) But evangelicalism's counter-socialization tendencies have contributed to internal polarization, as well, particularly between younger and older evangelicals on a number of social issues. (16) Attitudes toward environmental issues have been identified as more divisive among evangelicals than nonevangelicals, and the evangelical age-based difference is more prominent on environmental concerns than on attitudes toward abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research, marijuana use, governmental spending, or the Iraq War. (17) So, although attention to environmental issues among evangelical elites has steadily increased over time, the internal discussion has grown increasingly polarized and politicized over time with partisan lines on environmental debates solidifying by 2004. (18) Environmentalism has been identified as the prime issue where evangelical elites are "not in sync with the Christian Right and the national Republican Party. …

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