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Are Evangelicals Really Becoming Environmentalists?

The August 8 Washington Post headline “Warming Draws Evangelicals Into Environmental Fold” suggests that substantial numbers of religious believers are enlisting in the fight against global warming.  However, the article itself presents a different picture.   


Reporter Juliet Eilperin focuses largely on Joel C. Hunter, the evangelical pastor of Northland Church in Florida, who preaches frequently on environmentalism.  The more useful information appears toward the end of the lengthy article.  Eilperin acknowledges that Hunter “remains in a distinct minority,” and “still elicits scorn from many evangelicals,” including prominent leaders Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship.  Hunter himself admits “that a handful of his congregants have left his church in response to his environmental activism.”  


Eilperin also exaggerates Hunter's importance by reporting that he was offered the presidency of the Christian Coalition, which he rejected “after deciding that the group was not fully committed to fighting climate change and world poverty.”  The Christian Coalition has not been a significant voice within evangelicalism for years. 


Eilperin downplays the reality that most evangelicals disagree with Hunter about environmentalism.  She does mention that Dobson and Colson “argue that their battles against abortion and same-sex marriage should take precedence.”  However, she directs her spotlight to conservationists, scientists and British clerics who are trying to advance environmentalism by reaching out to politically potent evangelicals. 


According to the Post, Peter A. Seligmann, chief executive of Conservation International, a nonprofit group, asked himself, “What bloc of people has enormous influence, especially on the Republican party?  That group of people is right-wing Christian evangelicals.”  Eilperin praised Seligmann's “savvy” decision to hire Ben Campbell, an evangelical, to help him “woo church leaders.”   


In an interesting revelation of pro-environmental media bias, Eilperin discloses that former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw's wife, Meredith, sits on the board of Conservation International.  The Brokaws suggested that Seligmann meet with Ted Haggard, the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals.  “Haggard proved to be a willing partner until a scandal involving drugs and homosexual activity ended his public career. 'I bet on the wrong horse,' Seligmann observed wryly.”     


A richer story would have included more information on genuine evangelicals who have joined the “environmental fold” and less on people who are pushing their own environmentalist agenda. But that's not the story the Post wanted to tell. 


Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.