I’ve been as eager as a panting Labrador to say this: Kudos to the National Association of Evangelicals, an alliance representing 45,000 local churches, 40 denominations, and ka-zillion individuals. Take a bow, NAE President Leith Anderson. You too, Galen Carey, VP of government relations. I hear executive board members Jo Anne Lyon and Joel Hunter deserve applause.
The NAE Board displayed moral courage in their recent resolution, “Caring for God’s Creation: A Call To Action.” Its key sentence: “A changing climate threatens the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest citizens.”
That’s huge. It seals a gnawing gap in an otherwise intellectually vigorous organization and belies the myth that all evangelicals tithe to the Flat Earth Society.
The NAE was established in 1942 on the premise that we needn’t toss our brains when we open our Bibles. Founding President Harold Ockenga helped haul traditional Protestants from the mire of fundamentalism, which began in the early 20th century as a noble call back to the “fundamentals” but quickly sank into anti-intellectual quicksand. Ockenga, Carl Henry, Harold Lindsell and others christened themselves “neo-evangelicals” or “new evangelicals,” but the adjectives eventually fell. They would simply be known as theologically sophisticated, culturally engaged, and less reactionary “evangelicals.”
Their alliance has largely fulfilled that billing. Its 2004 framework for social engagement delineated seven vital arenas: religious freedom, family life and children, the sanctity of life, caring for the poverty-stricken and the helpless, human rights, peacemaking, and creation care. Dorothy Boorse’s 2011 pamphlet, “Loving The Least of These: Addressing A Changing Environment,” stressed that “environmental change” strikes the poor.
But it needed to clear one more hurdle: Whisper those verboten words, “climate change.” After all, Anderson, Lyon, and Hunter had signed petitions calling for government action; Carey attended conferences (I know: I met him at one of them; he’s a nice guy); and it was an open secret that many leaders – including Anderson – were pressing to mention the unmentionable.
Alas, a minority balked, which drives consensus-driven decision-making to a snail’s pace. Some exasperated evangelicals urged the NAE to transform into a tortoise, at least. I was among them.
I need whine no more.
The resolution echoes papal statements linking a warming earth with care for the poor: “A changing climate threatens the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest citizens.” It tips its hat to “evangelical leaders from around the world” who’ve run ahead of the curve and endorses the principles of the 2010 Lausanne Cape Town Commitment, which cites the need for human stewardship “of the rich abundance of God’s good creation.” Such stewardship mandates “care for the earth and all its creatures, because the earth belongs to God, not to us. We do this for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the creator, owner, sustainer, and redeemer, and heir of all creation.”
The board harmonized with Pope Francis: “We lament over the widespread abuse and destruction of the earth’s resources, including its bio-diversity. Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change. This will disproportionately affect those in poorer countries, for it is there that climate extremes will be most severe and where there is little capability to adapt to them. World poverty and climate change need to be addressed together and with equal urgency.”
There was even a call to “adopt lifestyles that renounce habits of consumption that are destructive or polluting” along with a summons to lobby governments to address “environmental destruction and potential climate change (hear that, GOP?).” Finally, the faithful should “recognize and encourage the missional calling” of those cultivating the earth’s resources and restoring the environment.
I suppose quibblers will always quibble. Throw in a few what-took-you-so-long complaints; stir in some you-didn’t-say-this or you-didn’t-say-that statements and … voila: We can still pout. Lucky us.
That’s not for me – especially since I anticipate backlash from deniers in churches who still rank the affirmation of scientific evidence as Heresy Number One. No doubt some will clench fists around their funds and cry for flight. It’s time to rally to the defense of our brothers and sisters.
The NAE took a risk and I commend it. Its leaders should bow once more, just for the fun of it.