Air Date: Week of November 1, 1996
Kelly Griffin reports from Colorado on the recent increase in profile and dialogue among evangelical Christian environmentalists. They say the imperative for stewardship of the earth is all laid out in the Holy Scriptures.
NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. Conservative religious groups have gained political prominence in recent years with their support of family values and their opposition to abortion and homosexuality. Their concerns center on what they see as the pollution of our moral environment. But a growing number of evangelical Christians who call themselves conservative on most counts are equally concerned about the pollution of the natural world. They say the Bible directs Christians to take care of God's creation and they say strong environmental laws are the way to do it. Colorado Public Radio's Kelly Griffin prepared our report.
CHISHOLM: As usual, let's begin class with a word of prayer. Our dear heavenly Father, we thank you that you created a wonderful world for us to enjoy, and we pray that we may be good stewards of that Earth, and we pray that we may...
GRIFFIN: In this world history class at Colorado Christian University, Professor Dave Chisholm's prayer sets the tone for his lecture on the environmental movement. Mr. Chisholm, who by most measures is a conservative Republican, launches the discussion with this pronouncement.
CHISHOLM: Now, you know from past classes that I unhesitatingly call myself a Christian environmentalist. And I don't consider that an oxymoron. But many of our fellow believers imagine that the environmental movement poses some sort of threat to our faith. That's a very common idea. As a matter of fact...
GRIFFIN: It has never seemed like a threat to Mr. Chisholm. The son of a Methodist minister raised on a farm, the lanky 52-year old says he grew up with the notion that Christians should be stewards of the land. He believes God made humans superior to other forms of life.
CHISHOLM: But at the same time we are a part of the Creation. We are not separate from the Creation and therefore we have to live in harmony with the Creation or else we live in disharmony with Creation at our own peril.
GRIFFIN: Mr. Chisholm likes to point out the work begins at home. On his 5-acre property south of Denver he lets native prairie grasses and virgin timber grow instead of landscaping. But Mr. Chisholm hasn't found a lot of company among his Christian friends. Even at his own church, where Bible classes include topics like marriage and finances, they have never addressed environmental concerns. That's why he recently became part of a national evangelical group that says Christianity and environmentalism go hand in hand. The Evangelical Environmental Network was formed 4 years ago by Christian leaders who follow conservative orthodoxy on topics such as abortion and family issues. But they also believe churches shouldn't be silent on the Bible's call to preserve God's creation. The network has been quietly building support in churches nationwide. Now it is seeking a more public profile, getting involved in a political issue for the first time.
(Advertisement: man's voice-over above inspirational music: "In the book of Genesis, Noah builds an ark and saves all living species from destruction. It was God's command. Well, today, God's creatures are threatened by our own great flood: of pollution, of habitat destruction. And that's why America...")
GRIFFIN: The network this year launched a campaign including radio spots like this one to highlight Christian support for the Endangered Species Act. The network calls the act the modern-day Noah's ark for saving threatened species.
(Commercial continued: "But now the ark itself is threatened. Powerful special interests are pressing Congress to weaken and undermine the Endangered Species Act...")
GRIFFIN: Network director Stan Laquire says the group wants to help Christians understand the Biblical imperative for getting involved in environmental issues.
LAQUIRE: Although the Bible doesn't say thou shalt support the Endangered Species Act, it does say that God made all of these creatures and pronounced them good in Genesis 1. So if therefore the Creator's opinion of these is good, then that's an opinion that needs to be considered before we make them bad or even nonexistent.
GRIFFIN: The network is circulating petitions in support of the act in churches around the country. So far about 1500 churches have signed on. Mr. Laquire says the network has developed a video and other materials for churches that draw on Biblical references to protecting the planet. One source is a book called The Garden of God: Selections from the Bible's Teaching About the Creation. It's published by the International Bible Society in Colorado Springs. Glen Powell, who edited the scripture-laden book, says it often is an eye-opener for Christians.
POWELL: I think I've seen people grow in their understanding of the Bible and what it really teaches about the world and God's concern for it and what his ultimate plan for it is. And that's been encouraging.
GRIFFIN: But the network has a long way to go. Many evangelicals still don't see the environment as a Christian issue. In fact, some of Professor Chisholm's students are leery of environmentalists, who they say tend to worship the Earth, not God.
WOMAN: I don't really believe in all that New Age movement. So in a way what they say can hurt a Christian perspective.
MAN: If we get tied in with a group that we see as being heretical, if you get lumped in with that then they think you're just the same.
GRIFFIN: Ralph Reed, national director of the Christian Coalition, doesn't want to get lumped in with most environmentalists, either. Yet Mr. Reed insists the Christian Coalition is committed to conservation.
REED: It would be a mistake to equate liberal environmental policy with Christian environmental policy. I think Christians want to preserve the environment and want to preserve natural resources. But they also believe that God has given Earth to man so that he can use it to meet his needs as long as he doesn't abuse it.
GRIFFIN: But it's hard to find a commitment to conservation in the records of the Coalition's Congressional allies. Most of the members of Congress who get a top rating from the Christian Coalition score lowest on the environmental scorecard prepared by the League of Conservation Voters. That record doesn't surprise the Evangelical Environmental Network's Stan Laquire. What he's trying to do with the network is bring out other evangelical Christian viewpoints.
LAQUIRE: In a nation that has some 30 to 50 million evangelicals, I think this is just showing that evangelicals are a diverse group. Our research shows that over 50% of evangelicals do support strong environmental laws. Unfortunately, the media drifts to those evangelicals which are more controversial or extreme, and -- and they're leaving out the mainstream here. And I think what you're seeing is more evangelicals speaking up.
GRIFFIN: Mr. Laquire says if the network is successful, in years to come environmentalism will become common ground for Christians and non-Christians alike. For Living on Earth, I'm Kelly Griffin in Denver.
CHISHOLM:... Be good stewards of that Earth and we pray these things in the name of Jesus, our Savior, and the one who created all things. Amen.
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