God's Politics

You would think that the people who want creationism or intelligent design taught in the public schools would evince some concern for the handiwork of the intelligent designer.

You might think that the human costs wrought by global warming – crop destruction, famine, displacement – would capture the attention of those who persistently style themselves “pro-life.”

Well, no, not really, not if it detracts from the single-minded agenda of making abortion and same-sex unions illegal. Or if it offends corporate interests. That’s the gist of a letter, which Jim Wallis and others have blogged about recently, sent on March 1 by a coalition of high-powered leaders of the Religious Right.

Writing to L. Roy Taylor, chair of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization that claims to represent 45,000 evangelical congregations, 25 Religious Right stalwarts, including James Dobson, Paul Weyrich and Donald Wildmon, called on the NAE to throttle the efforts of Richard Cizik, the organization’s lobbyist, to call attention to the environmental crisis caused by global warming.

“The existence of global warming and its implications for mankind is a subject of heated controversy throughout the world,” the letter states. “More importantly, we have observed that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.”

This is not the first time that leaders of the Religious Right have tried to derail evangelical interest in environmental matters. In October 1999, meeting (ironically) in the bucolic hills of northwestern Connecticut, several of these same signatories produced a document called the Cornwall Declaration, a putative statement of concern for the environment. The Cornwall Declaration opens with a pious affirmation of “shared reverence for God and His creation,” but a closer reading reveals that the statement is really a brief for corporate interests. Let’s trust market forces to determine our posture toward the environment, the Declaration argues, because public policy “can dangerously delay or reverse” economic development.

If the leaders of the Religious Right are truly concerned about “the great moral issues of our time,” I suggest they look beyond abortion and same-sex unions. They could do far worse than to address the displacement and the human toll caused by global warming.

Once they summon the courage to address that issue, the leaders of the Religious Right might want to look elsewhere. I happen to believe that the defining issues of our day are the morality of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration’s use of torture against those it designates as “enemy combatants.” Regarding the former, there are centuries of thought and writing that go into defining what is or is not a just war: Is it a defensive war? Is the use of military force the last resort? Is there a reasonable chance of success? Is the amount of force used roughly proportional to the provocation? Have provisions been made, as much as possible, to protect civilians?

No one has yet persuaded me that the war in Iraq meets any of these criteria.

Regarding the use of torture, as I was writing Thy Kingdom Come, I contacted eight Religious Right organizations, including many represented as signatories to the NAE letter, with a simple query. Please send me, I asked, a copy of your organization’s position on torture. I heard from only two – both of whom defended the Bush administration’s policies on torture. To my knowledge, no Religious Right organization has yet issued a statement unequivocally denouncing the use of torture, despite the fact that these despicable practices came to light nearly two years ago.

Thankfully, the board of the National Association of Evangelicals stood up to the leaders of the Religious Right at their meeting last week. They refused to censure Cizik for his efforts on global warming, and they also approved a long overdue statement denouncing the use of torture.

The leaders of the Religious Right suffer from a kind of moral myopia. If they are truly concerned about “the great moral issues of our time,” I suggest they look beyond abortion and same-sex unions. Protection of the natural world, God’s creation, from neglect and from the effects of predatory capitalism would be a good place to start.

Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, is professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, a visiting professor at Yale Divinity School, and the author, most recently, of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical’s Lament (Basic Books). He is also a member of the Red Letter Christians.

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