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Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News – February 21, 2008
Calling climate change “the civil rights movement of the 21st century,” evangelical Christian leaders gathered at a daylong environmental conference in Longwood, Fla., Thursday.
Global warming is “an offense against God,” added the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president of the 30-million member National Association of Evangelicals, at Northland, a Church Distributed. “America needs our biblical outrage. We as a nation will face a judgment from God if we don’t do this.”
Evangelicals are latecomers to the environmental movement, but are determined to make up for lost time and rally around the green flag, said the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland, which served as the host congregation for the daylong event.
“We are the ones who are late to the table,” said Hunter.
An emerging national evangelical leader on environmental issues, Hunter said the goal of the conference was to “get mutually stirred up” and to “assume stewardship of this issue.”
Although the gathering was organized by evangelicals, it included speakers and participants from mainline Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim traditions.
The program featured speeches, workshops, skits and even slick videos, including one with Keanu Reeves and Alanis Morissette. About 125 participants attended, most from Central Florida, but about 35 were from half a dozen states and the District of Columbia.
“I believe that my church needs to get more involved with lending a hand to the environment,” said Eleazar Marquez, 22, a Valencia Community College student representing Restoration Christian Center in Orlando.
“I’ve learned some ways we can integrate methods this church works with to help the environment in our church,” he said.
Religious activism on the environment should be directed at both the grass roots and the national political arena, speakers said, urging everything from congregational recycling to lobbying for new legislation.
“Evangelicals have become the go-to religious community on climate change,” said Cizik. “The political center of gravity has unmistakably shifted on this issue.”
That’s a total reversal of “a mere six years ago,” he said. “It’s gone from being irrelevant to being at the center of the action.”
Cizik is often credited with popularizing the term “Creation Care,” a more politically palatable term among evangelicals than environmentalism. Action on the issue, they say, is a moral imperative.
However, Cizik acknowledged that this view is not shared by all evangelicals.
“Many within our own community are not yet persuaded,” he said, and as a result “we have gotten push-back.”
Most of the speakers, like Cizik, linked global climate change to economic inequality.
“We have to care about the poor,” said the Rev. Tri Robinson of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Boise, Idaho.
Robinson said that even in a red state like his the entire congregation has become mobilized in the creation care movement. Participants should be “living a life of radical faith,” he said.
Bishop Thomas Wenski, of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, agreed.
“Those of us in wealthier countries consume more – much more – of the world’s resources, but poor often suffer the worst consequences,” he said in his keynote address.
“The poor have contributed the least to climate change,” Wenski said, but “the poor will suffer its worst consequences…Climate change is about being in solidarity with the poorest of the poor….They have no other advocate but us.”
(c) 2008, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.). Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.

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