AP Gets It Wrong on Evangelicals and Global Warming

Are evangelical Christians really ignorant of global warming?

In her March 19 story, “Christian Right at Crossroads,” AP religion writer Rachel Zoll writes that 25 conservative evangelical leaders “… pressured the National Association of Evangelicals to silence its Washington director, the Rev. Richard Cizik.  The reason: Cizik tried to convince evangelicals that global warming is real.”

Zoll crams three big errors into those two little sentences.  First, in an uncomfortable echo of the infamous Washington Post slur against evangelicals (“poor, uneducated and easy to command”), Zoll implies that evangelicals are unaware of one of the major issues of the day.  In fact, the letter from the two dozen leaders to the NAE observes that a wide range of opinion about global warming exists within the evangelical community.  The letter even cites a report by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance: “A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming.”

Second, Zoll asserts that evangelical leaders are trying to “silence” Cizik.  In fact, they are trying to redirect him.  Their letter questions Cizik's and NAE's “expertise to take a position on global warming,” and points out that climate concerns are “beyond the NAE's mandate and its own statement of purpose.”  Their stated motive is to persuade NAE to stop shifting its “emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life” and sexual morality.

Third, Zoll writes that Cizik has been called on the carpet for trying “to convince evangelicals” about global warming.  In fact, the 25 leaders are concerned about what Cizik is saying to non-evangelicals.  They question whether Cizik is representing evangelical public policy positions accurately to politicians in Washington D.C., and they object to interviews and speeches Cizik has given to secular audiences, in which he has disparaged evangelicals who focus on traditional moral issues.

The main subject of Zoll's article is a supposed political split among evangelicals. Zoll paints a portrait of an “evangelical Christian power struggle” pitting old-fashioned septuagenarians like Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Pat Robertson and Dr. James Dobson, defenders of the traditional moral order, against a new generation of leaders who want to broaden evangelical political involvement by addressing the environment and social concerns like AIDS and malaria. 

Zoll gets the story wrong: if a split exists, it's about theological and political differences, not generational preferences.  Zoll fails to note that many of the evangelical leaders criticizing the NAE are nowhere near 70, such as former Presidential candidate Gary Bauer and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. 

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute (www.cultureandmediainstitute.org), a division of the Media Research Center.