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For Evangelicals, Global Warming is a Pro-Life Cause

By Coral Davenport (Congressional Quarterly) - April 18, 2007

Top Catholic and evangelical leaders on Monday called on Congress to pass climate change legislation, framing their pleas in the same kind of passionate biblical rhetoric they have used to push for action on social issues such as abortion and poverty.

“We need to do a much better job for the poorest people, for the wretched of the Earth,” said John Carr, a director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, at a conference on climate change hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

After speakers from environmental groups characterized global warming as a problem that will most severely affect the word’s poorest populations, Carr said, “There is no issue that will touch the poorest among us more. Some of us have been doing the sinning, but others will pay the penance.”

“This is a pro-life issue. It simply addresses life outside the womb,” added Joel Hunter, a Florida pastor who is a director of the World Evangelical Alliance and National Association of Evangelicals. He also is the author of several books on evangelical Christianity.

The support of conservative Christians brings a powerful political boost to any campaign, but the issue of climate change has divided the evangelical community. While some congregations have supported tackling global warming as an issue of morality and environmental stewardship, many conservative Christians have said in polls that they are skeptical about the science of global warming.

But lobbyists and analysts say that if evangelical leaders couch their message in the moral terms that have fired up grassroots campaigns on traditional evangelical issues, it might boost support for climate change action in the 30-million strong evangelical community — and on Capitol Hill.

“We’re adopting our own language. We need to reframe this as a spiritual, pro-life cause. It’s a pro-life concern if I’ve ever heard one. We intend to talk in moral terms,” said Richard Cizik, chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals.

“We are not the environmental movement at prayer. We are not the shock troops of the green movement at all. This is a grassroots dynamic, fresh religious reflection on creation care straight out of the holy Word of God. And will we be more influential in persuading Republicans than any other group in American life? You better believe it,” said Cizik, who said he has talked about evangelicals’ interest tackling climate change with every major presidential candidate.

Many Republicans have opened up to tackling global warming as it has become linked to issues of national security and energy independence. Adding a dimension of traditional Christian morality could further soften Republicans, say analysts.

“If conservatives and Republicans buy into the link of global warming and national security and pro-life, it could make real inroads,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

“Politics is all about coalitions, the better your chance of prevailing on any issue. These groups might be very influential with social conservative Republicans. The Sierra Club is not going to be able to convert Republicans. But evangelicals will.”