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Evangelicals could be good eco-allies

By David Wilson

I was introduced to a famous author at a recent social gathering. She leaned close and over the din of the party declared, "The United Church needs to get green." I sputtered something about the United Church being on the forefront among Canadian and global churches in its environmental advocacy, especially on climate change. She shook her head. "The United Church needs to get green," she repeated impatiently. "Look at the American evangelicals."

And so we should. Millions of evangelicals in the U.S. are moving beyond their traditional comfort zones and are coalescing into a formidable force for creation. The transformation of conservative Christians into conservative green Christians dramatically underscores how mounting concern for the environment cuts across old party lines, perhaps blurring them beyond recognition. Rev. Richard Cizik, public policy director for the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals and a leading crusader for what he calls "creation care," put it this way in a recent Time magazine interview: "[This] is not a Red or Blue issue, but a moral one."

Stirring to life about five years ago, the evangelical greens now support mainstream initiatives such as mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. They also wholeheartedly embrace the scientific community's warnings on climate change and are running out of patience for hold-outs from President George W. Bush on down. "We will not allow the Creation to be degraded, destroyed by human folly," Cizik told reporters as evangelical leaders and prominent U.S. scientists sealed a covenant last winter.

Not all evangelicals agree with the greening of conservative Christianity; the hardened edge of the evangelical movement accuses the green wing of turning its back on traditional "family-values" issues. But the divisions themselves suggest that greening has already begun to transform American politics: the Republican Party, which has owned the evangelical vote for years, may find a big chunk of support breaking away if it doesn't green up its act.

At the moment, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is deafeningly silent on environmental issues, but I have a hunch that it is only a matter of time before the green tide spills north of the border. And here is where I think there could be a huge opportunity for the United Church to step outside the box and show leadership on the emerging major issue of our era. Why not invite Canadian evangelicals into a conversation on co-operating on climate-change advocacy? Yes, the United Church and EFC are poles apart on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But if the thrust of the green movement among U.S. evangelicals is any hint of what evangelicals here might eventually embrace, liberal Christians in the United Church and conservative Christians in Canada's evangelical churches may be pleasantly surprised by how much they have in common: it all gets back to believing in a duty to care for God's creation.

I think a bold step like this is what the famous author had in mind with her insistence on the United Church needing to get green. "Green" is starting to mean something more than concern for the environment. Getting green means recognizing that our problems are bigger than our differences and focusing our collective energies on creative solutions for the common good. The survival of the planet is a problem of unprecedented scope. It demands a response of unprecedented goodwill. If that means agreeing to disagree on other things, so be it.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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