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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Refocusing the Evangelical Family

Air Date: Week of

Calvin B. DeWitt (Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals have come under fire from conservative evangelicals for adding climate change to their political agenda. Scientist and evangelical Calvin DeWitt talks with host Steve Curwood about the implications of this schism among evangelicals.


CURWOOD: Here in the U.S., the call for action on global warming by the National Association of Evangelicals has come under fire from Christian conservatives. The conservatives, including James Dobson, Gary Bauer and Paul Weyrich fired off a letter to the 30 million-member association demanding that it dismiss its lead spokesman on climate change, the Reverand Richard Cizik.

James Dobson (Courtesy of Focus on the Family)

The letter also declared that campaigning against global warming falls outside the traditional values that Christian evangelicals should embrace. Authors of the letter have declined requests for interviews from Living on Earth, so to discuss this controversy, we turned to Calvin DeWitt. Professor DeWitt was one of the earliest and most audible evangelical voices of concern about the environment and climate change, or in his words, “creation care.”

He’s President of the Academy of Evangelical Scientists and Ethicists, as well as a professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. And Hello Sir.

DEWITT: Hello, good to be with you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Now explain to us what’s going on in the nation’s evangelical movement around this question of climate change. To what extent does this represent some sort of schism now in the evangelical movement?

DEWITT: Well, I’ve been watching this of course for a long time, and actually what’s happening is, whatever schism there was, is being lessened and lessened, and the way I see this myself, personally, is I kind of pass gasp by those who are really trying to hold on to the claim that global warming is not real. If it is there at all we’re not responsible for it. And this is flying of course right in the face of our knowledge of things.

And the young people I deal with amongst them there are none that are thinking along these lines. And I think what we’re doing is we’re seeing the exit of the old guard who are certainly very dedicated to their purposes but I think they, they rather consciously have disassociated themselves from the actual scientific and the experiential conclusions that are very easy for most everyone in the world to draw today.

CURWOOD: So what are the hidden differences behind the feud? I mean the letter says that evangelicals should focus their political energy on moral issues like the integrity of marriage, read homosexuality, the teaching of sexual abstinence and the sanctity of human life, that is the abortion question. Why does climate change bother theses guys so much?

DEWITT: Uh, that’s a good question. I puzzle over it, especially I know they may not realize that areas like Bangladesh are so subject to flooding. If that’s not a moral issue is because that involves just millions and millions of people. To neglect the people who are being displaced, because you’re saying we only must focus on issues that we define, is rather surprising.

CURWOOD: Evangelicalism became synonymous with conservative and Republican values based around the questions of abortion and family, very vigorous political participation. Now, with this widening to include things like climate change how much will that political activism continue and how much of it will be particularly aligned with one party?

Calvin B. DeWitt (Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison)

DEWITT: Well, the action is already underway. In fact I think we saw reflections of that action in the November elections already. And this issue of creation care is now a major item on the agenda and it’s going to increase I’m sure. And the reason it’s going to increase is that it’s going to affirm our faith. And it will give us something more to live for than simply taking care of my own individual self.

CURWOOD: How influential do you think the evangelical movement is going to be in the political change around climate change in this country, if the evangelicals, which represent what, 100 million Americans? If this is opening up has America changed its mind now about climate change?

DEWITT: Well, I think we’re in a transition and its major root is in 60 or so evangelical colleges and universities where we have, not only the religious teaching, but we also have scientists in each of these 60 colleges, and, um, that’s providing a very solid scientific, biblical, theological root that’s not easily disturbed any more. So the evangelical world in a very real way is maturing in terms of its knowledge and understanding of the world. And ah, that’s one thing that you do as an evangelical is you do seek the truth and when you understand the way the world works you move on and say, “ok, now what must we do?” And what we must do now is care for creation and I suppose it means we start at our very local place and build out from there.

CURWOOD: Calvin DeWitt is President of the Academy of Evangelical Scientists and Ethicists. Thank you so much sir.

DEWITT: You’re welcome.

CURWOOD: You can hear more of this interview at loe.org.

[MUSIC: Slowblow “Frank’s Theme” from ‘Kitchen Motors Family Album’ (Kitchen Motors - 2007)]



The Letter to the National Evangelical Association

National Association of Evangelical's board meeting following the letter

Creation Care

To listen to a longer version of the interview with Calvin DeWitt click here


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