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I have always hated the WWJD craze. It's not that the abbreviated question--What Would Jesus Do?--is an unreasonable one for Christians to ask themselves. (Presumptuous, maybe, but not unreasonable.) And I certainly appreciate believers' desire to express their faith in the language of the times. Still, I can't help but find something depressing about the reduction of a 2000-year-old, comprehensive moral philosophy to a 4-letter slogan stamped onto everything from sports bottles to key chains. On the kitsch meter, WWJD hackey sacks aren't quite on par with Pope-on-a-Rope--but they ain't far off. Just recently, however, I have been forced to reevaluate this catch-phrase, thanks to a new campaign by a group of religious leaders who appropriated WWJD for the purposes of asking a slightly cheekier, infinitely less ponderous question: What Would Jesus Drive? Stop laughing. And don't roll your eyes until you hear the details. It seems that a religious activist group called the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) is up in arms about Chevrolet's decision to sponsor a Christian rock tour wending its way across the country this month. In a twist on the typical religious protest, in which the objection is to a corporation's support of morally offensive entertainment, EEN is crusading against morally upright entertainers for associating themselves with a godless corporation--in this case General Motors. "Through this gospel tour," explained the Reverend Jim Ball, executive director of EEN, "Chevrolet is promoting certain vehicles that get very low gas mileage and produce significant pollution, harming human health and the rest of God's creation." In protest, EEN has written letters to the tour's performers, asking them to consider whether Jesus really wants their fans to drive, say, a tank-sized Suburban, with its twelve miles to the gallon in gas mileage. Better still, Ball's group has crafted a campaign statement explaining why "[t]ransportation choices are one of the great Christian obligations and opportunities in the 21st century," to be released in Detroit on November 20, three days before the concert tour is scheduled to end there. The group has also prepared an open letter to auto executives, as well as a nationwide ad campaign with the theme "What Would Jesus Drive?"
All I can say is, good for the EEN. Will this campaign strike many non-Christians as the very definition of batty? Most likely. But it may also prompt people (especially young people) who do ask themselves these sorts of Jesus-related questions to start thinking about environmentalism as something other than a nutty left-wing cause. Religious guilt is a powerful motivating force for all sorts of behavioral modifications--with a particular emphasis on curbing excess--and it's high time someone started pointing out the basic immorality of trashing the planet. Now, no one is suggesting that all Christians should turn in their car keys and start hoofing it. This is not a nation of extremists--religious or otherwise. But there are undeniable costs to the consumer choices we make every day, and spiritual leaders should absolutely remind their flock that treating Earth as your own personal garbage dump isn't exactly being a good steward of the land over which God has ostensibly given us dominion. When we make bad choices, we deserve to feel guilty. And God-fearing, church-going suburbanites could stand to hear a few guilt-inducing lectures about precisely how bad their nasty little SUV habit is for all God's creatures. You--yeah, Mrs. Sunday School Teacher ferrying your two kids to choir practice in the Ford Expedition (lest Chevy feel unfairly targeted)--you are gratuitously destroying the miracle of nature for the sake of a little extra space, comfort, and status. (You are also lining the pockets of corrupt, oppressive, petrodollar-dependent regimes throughout the Middle East, but that's a sermon for another day.) With every mile you drive that monstrosity, you are thumbing your nose at God's glorious world. Appalling really.

Whatever the specific impact of EEN's quirky "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign, I'm hopeful this is representative of a broader trend. According to a recent AP story, a number of Christian and Jewish groups are setting up offices and appointing directors to address the issue of environmental stewardship. The National Religious Partnership for the Environment notes that at least 21 states have interfaith campaigns to address global warming. Some religious organizations are apparently still suspicious of environmentalism as some newfangled form of pagan nature worship, but others have tentatively begun lobbying Washington on the issue. Which is especially good news since, with Republicans now in charge of both the White House and Congress, our only hope for protecting the environment may be if thinking-green becomes a cause for the Christian right. Ralph Reed: Environmental Holy Warrior. Has a nice ring to it, no?

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