As America's love affair with SUVs intensifies, embracing ever
less fuel-efficient models, a broad coalition of religious leaders
is trying to bring the lovestruck to their senses. Or at least to a
clear sense of what it sees as the full implications of their
Prominent Christian and Jewish leaders called this week on the
auto industry and their own congregations "to recognize that
transportation choices are moral choices" because of "the
extraordinary impact they have on God's creation and God's
In an open letter to auto executives, and in meetings Wednesday
at Ford, General Motors, and the United Auto Workers union, the
coalition launched what it hopes will be an ongoing conversation on
building cleaner cars. It sought specific pledges from the
But the toughest sell could be the people in the pews, some of
whom question such activism.
While polls in recent years consistently show that Americans want
moral values to find greater expression in public life, they are
split about the role of religious leaders. One survey found that 51
percent believe churches should express their views, while 45
percent said they should stay out of political matters.
"The purpose of religion is the salvation of one's soul," says
Phillip De Vous, of the conservative Acton Institute for the Study
of Religion and Liberty. "Given all the problems in the world
related to the protection and dignity of the human person,
campaigning to raise fuel efficiency is foolish."
The National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE)
sees it as anything but. In their letter to the industry, they based
their concerns on teachings of their traditions, including the
biblical call to be stewards of creation and, in the words of
Genesis, to keep "the covenant I make between Me and you and every
living creature ... for perpetual generations."
In the light of global warming, "we're not doing well by this
covenant," says Rabbi David Saperstein, head of Religious Action
Center of Reform Judaism.
"Specific religious concerns should be based on tradition, and
that's not inappropriately mixing religion and politics," comments
Jean Bethke Elshtain, professor of political ethics at University of
Chicago Divinity School. "Historically that's a central feature of
American politics." But the danger comes, she explains, "when you
start to get too detailed or finely tuned a policy position ...
[when] it turns into a set of claims that any believer has to agree
that this is the way to go."
Mr. Du Vous questions the evidence behind the insistence that
this is a serious moral issue affecting the planet's future. "That
is not scientifically verifiable by any objective standard," he
John Firor, senior scientist and director emeritus of the
National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. …