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God's planet 

Christian evangelicals issue a salvo against global warming

The influential president of the National Association of Evangelicals is drawing unlikely praise from environmentalists because of his recent stance against global warming.

But just don't call Colorado Springs-based Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life Church one of them.

"We don't use the word 'environmentalist,'" explained the Rev. Rich Cizik, vice president of national affairs for the association. The evangelical Christian group prefers to place the focus on caring for the planet that God's created. "We are here to say we worship the creator, not creation," Cizik said.

Whatever the semantics, last week Haggard, joined by roughly 100 evangelical leaders from around the country, issued a statement expressing concern that government policies are exacerbating the degradation of air, earth and water.

"There is a feeling that global warming, or climate change, is real and the result of human impacts that impact other humans," Cizik said.

The joy of nature

The message is the latest in stepped-up efforts to draw attention to global degradation. Last October, dozens of Christian leaders, including Haggard, issued a document titled "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility."

It included a brief section on caring for the planet: "We urge Christians to shape their lives in creation-friendly ways: practicing effective recycling, conserving resources, and experiencing the joy of contact with nature. We urge government to encourage fuel efficiency, reduce pollution, encourage sustainable use of natural resources, and provide for proper care of wildlife and their natural habitats."

The stance is a new, and potentially controversial, one for a conservative evangelical group better known for lobbying against gay marriage and abortion than for supporting environmental issues.

The world's scientific community has largely accepted global warming as reality; however, many conservatives have rejected global warming as "unproven."

After the leaders issued their statement last week, Focus on the Family, a national Christian nonprofit ministry based in Colorado Springs, issued a terse opposition statement by Tom Minnery, Focus' director of government affairs.

"Our friends at the National Association of Evangelicals, with whom we agree on these and so many other issues, have now staked out a position in the very controversial area of global warming," Minnery said. "Our concern with global warming's more radical proponents is the way in which they manipulate this issue."

'Their influence is large'

Still, the evangelical leaders' message was enough to get some left-wing groups excited at the prospect of embracing evangelical Christians as potential allies.

"Their influence is large," said Melanie Griffin, the national director of environmental partnerships at the Sierra Club. "They have access to legislators that environmental groups traditionally do not."

Cizik took steps to distance the association from environmentalists, who may be considered more liberal.

Environmentalists, Cizik said, believe in big government whereas evangelicals do not. They are associated with "population control, aka abortion." They are pantheistic and apocalyptic; "In other words, doom and gloom," he said.

Griffin took exception with all of Cizik's sweeping characterizations. In fact, they made her laugh.

"No, we're not that at all," she said. "What's interesting is both groups -- evangelicals and environmentalists -- are coming from a place of values and looking for solutions."

Future unclear

Yet the actual influence of the evangelical's call for "creation care" remains to be seen. Last week, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., urged the association to support the climate stewardship act designed to cut the gasses that contribute to global warming. As of press time, the association has declined Lieberman's invitation.

"I don't anticipate the NAE will take a position," Cizik said. "It's not in our area of expertise."

He said the same goes for proposed oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is anticipated to come to a vote in the Senate this week.

Griffin didn't expect the association to take stands -- yet. "Evangelicals are more cautious about the details," she said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., who opposes oil drilling in the refuge, is interested to see how the association will flex its influential muscle, said spokesman Cody Wertz.

"Ken's always looking for ways to find common ground, to create consensus on the issues," Wertz said.

-- Michael de Yoanna

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