Evangelicals Go Green

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A group of 86 evangelical Christian leaders launched a campaign today to educate Christians about climate change and urged the U.S. Congress to enact legislation to curb global warming. The initiative marks the first time that influential evangelicals have defied the White House on an environmental issue, going so far as to equate stopping global warming to their commitment to "protect unborn life."

The group includes mega-church pastors such as Rick Warren, author of the best-selling "The Purpose-Driven Life," along with the presidents of 39 Christian colleges and heads of such missionary organizations as the Salvation Army and World Vision. It plans to launch a television ad campaign on Fox, CNN and local channels in nine states, along with church and college programs. The initiative stops short of endorsing stricter fuel-efficiency standards for motor vehicles, which are strongly opposed by the auto industry. But it calls for market-based legislation such as a "cap-and-trade" bill to curb overall emissions similar to the measures in the controversial Kyoto treaty. Federal cap-and-trade legislation is now being drafted by New Mexico senators Pete Domenici (R) and Jeff Bingaman (D).

The group's manifesto, "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call for Action," exhorts Christians to battle global warming, "which will hit the poor the hardest because those areas likely to be significantly affected first are the poorest regions of the world." And it draws a parallel with ongoing Evangelical concerns: "With the same love of God and neighbor that compels us to preach salvation through Jesus Christ, protect unborn life, preserve the family and the sanctity of marriage, defend religious freedom and human dignity, and take the whole gospel to a hurting world, we the undersigned evangelical leaders resolve to come together with others of like mind to pray and to work to stop global warming."

The bold move has prompted a backlash from conservative Christians who support the administration's opposition to the Kyoto accords. Last week, 22 evangelicals, including James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship ministries, wrote the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group that represents 30 million Christians, demanding that it back off from supporting measures to curb global warming.

Despite the dissent, the campaign is likely to have an impact on Republican legislators who are increasingly dissatisfied with what they see as White House stalling on climate change issues. The group released a poll showing that 70 percent of evangelicals believe global warming will pose a serious threat to future generations, and that "63 percent of evangelicals believe that while global warming may be a long-term issue, the problem is being caused today, so we must start addressing it immediately."