A new holy war is growing within the conservative evangelical community, with implications for both the global environment and American politics. For years liberal Christians and others have made protection of the environment a moral commitment. Now a number of conservative evangelicals are joining the fight, arguing that man’s stewardship of the planet is a biblical imperative and calling for action to stop global warming.
But they are being met head-on by opposition from their traditional evangelical brethren who adamantly support the Bush administration in downplaying the threat of global warming and other environmental perils. The political stakes are high: three out of every four white evangelical voters chose George W. Bush in 2004. Is God Green? explores how a serious split among conservative evangelicals over the environment and global warming could reshape American politics.
WATCH A CLIP
BILL MOYERS: Almost heaven is what they used to call West Virginia but mountain top mining is causing some evangelical Christians here to think twice
JUDY BONDS: There’s a lot of times that I have lost some of my faith and I start saying, “God where are you?”
JUDY BONDS: This is a battle between good and evil and now is a time to stand up and be counted for. The earth is God’s body!
BILL MOYERS: And in Boise Idaho these born-again followers of Jesus have experienced another conversion.
SCOTT BARRETT: I care about the creator; therefore, I care about the creation.
BILL MOYERS: Their god-fearing Bible preaching pastor led the way.
ROCKY BARKER: He’s a traditional Republican evangelical except now he’s uh- Green
BILL MOYERS: While across the country, conservative evangelicals are choosing sides over global warming.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: This is not an issue where evangelicals are morally obligated to take a position on it.
BILL MOYERS: The debate is spilling from the pews to politics.
RICHARD CIZIK: I happen to think that to be biblically consistent means you have to, at times, be politically inconsistent.
BILL MOYERS: Christians wrestle with the question: Is God green?
BILL MOYERS: Welcome. I’m Bill Moyers. Global warming has become so pervasive that even a conservative Christian columnist recently asked his fellow believers, “Have you noticed that, um, it’s getting really warm in here?” I say even a conservative Christian because these are people long skeptical of the scientific consensus that the earth is heating up. They have doubted that human activity contributes substantially to climate change and that we need to act to reverse it.
To them, environmentalists are tree-huggers and Earth Day is “a high holy day for hippies.” But their skepticism is melting as temperatures rise, and from deep within President Bush’s Christian base, conservative evangelicals are speaking out for the earth. These are people who take their faith seriously. Their opinions and beliefs matter. So do their votes — they are one-fourth of the electorate and white evangelicals voted for the president in 2004 by a four to one margin. So it’s big news, for the environment and politics, when caring for the earth becomes the gospel truth.
Tom Casciato and Betsy Rate produced our report.
NPR CLIP: The book of Genesis says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” and today some prominent evangelical Christians are issuing a call for greater protection of God’s earthly creation…
BILL MOYERS: Earth Day in the mountains of southwestern Idaho. But these aren’t your typical environmentalists out planting trees. They are conservative, evangelical Christians.
DENNIS MANSFIELD: I think, for many years, I was like the hidden conservative conservationalist and so I’d hear my friends mocking, you know, really the whole environmental movement. And quite frankly, it has- hasn’t been ’til our pastor said, “You have the right to do it,” that I was empowered to speak out as an evangelical and say, “You know it’s ok to do this.”
CONGREGATION: Holy Spirit, come.
BILL MOYERS: They got the message that it was “OK” at the Vineyard Boise Church. The church started out in 1989 in a small house where about a dozen families came to worship. Today it’s housed in a renovated former supermarket, with a membership of twenty-five hundred.
TRI ROBINSON: To me, being an Evangelical Christian is a Bible believing Christian. Somebody who believes that the Bible’s it. And it’s the way to life. It’s the truth. It’s absolute truth.
BILL MOYERS: Tri Robinson is the pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church. He also owns a small ranch outside of town.
TRI ROBINSON: Our truth is that God created this world. He commissioned us to take care of it. And that’s that.
BILL MOYERS: He’s a horseman, hunter, rancher and Christian — in these and many other ways, Robinson fits the image of the western Conservative.
ROCKY BARKER: Tri Robinson has been involved in many of the issues on the right. He’s a clear Bush supporter, strong Bush supporter. He’s a avowed creationist. He’s very pro-life. He’s against gay marriage. He’s a traditional Republican evangelical. Except now he’s- Green.
BILL MOYERS: It’s not easy being green for a conservative evangelical preacher. In fact, it took 15 years of pastoring before Tri Robinson dared to preach his first sermon on the environment. Part of the reason was political.
ROCKY BARKER: Idaho is the most Republican state in the union and very conservative, very independent.
BILL MOYERS: Rocky Barker has been covering the environment for 30 years, 10 of them while living in Boise, where he writes for the Idaho Statesman.
ROCKY BARKER: And this is the land of the people who were a few years ago strongly talking about turning all federal land back to the states and to ranchers.
BILL MOYERS: Barker says out here there’s a history of hostility toward environmentalism. In the late 80s and early 90s, those who favored the region’s mining and logging industries went on the attack against those who wanted to protect endangered species.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It is time we worried not only about endangered species, but about endangered jobs.
ROCKY BARKER: Now- Republican Party was able to take people — workers, who used to be union workers, and pull them over to their side by demonizing environmentalists. They would say, “These people are taking your jobs.”
PROTESTERS: People count too! People count too!
ROCKY BARKER: I mean there are bars, you walk into in Idaho, and you’ll see a bumper sticker that says, “Support Environmentalists With A Rope”. And they’re only mildly joking.
CONGREGATION: The earth is filled with your glory.
BILL MOYERS: If you listen to people in Tri Robinson’s congregation, the polarization wasn’t only political. It was also religious.
GRETCHEN BERNARD: I came from a church that- I don’t want to be ashamed to say, but honestly, they didn’t care about the environment. They didn’t. The earth was just going to burn up in a ball or wasn’t going to be there or who cares? It was just this thing. We didn’t need to worry about that.
CONGREGATION: You placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name.
SCOTT BARRETT: I didn’t associate the environment with God, because so many people were against Christianity, against God. That was my perspective and most people’s perspectives.
CONGREGATION: You are amazing, God.
GRETCHEN BERNARD: And almost you’d think it was political. They take care of that. We don’t because we’re Christians. The they would probably be the tree hugger. The Liberal.
BILL MOYERS: That’s partly why it took Tri Robinson so long to preach on the environment.
TRI ROBINSON: I was pretty fearful about it, very fearful about it. I didn’t want to be perceived as a liberal. I was sitting here one morning, looking across at that butte and thinking about it, and seeing it very clearly in the Bible. Which of course, is really the foundation of everything for me. And putting all that together, I said I’ve got to do something about this.
TRI ROBINSON PREACHING: There’s points in time we have to say, you know, I need to refocus and remember that pure and simple devotion to Christ…
JESSIE NILO: Well, when he first approached me with his idea, it was still a couple of months away I thought, wow, that’s pretty brave. To even talk about the environment from the pulpit.
TRI ROBINSON: I prepared for about six months, meditating, praying, studying. I wanted to present this to them straight from the Bible, because I knew that if they could see it in the Bible, being primarily a solid evangelical church, that they would recognize the credibility at that point. This is Genesis, Chapter 9, “When I see the rainbow in the clouds I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth. This is the covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” I think that’s significant.
BILL MOYERS: Finally, the day arrived when Tri Robinson was ready to preach.
TRI ROBINSON PREACHING: We are called to environmental stewardship not because of Mother Earth, but because it belongs to Father God.
NANCY ROBINSON: You could hear a pin drop when Tri was teaching, you really could. He had gotten people’s attention.
TRI ROBINSON PREACHING: Look at the story for example of Noah’s ark. What was that about? God got mad at the world and wiped it out. Or was there more to it than that?
SCOTT BARRETT: I almost felt like I was somehow blinded to that connection. I just didn’t see it before. Between the creation and the creator. I just couldn’t put the two together before.
DOMINIC NILO: When he spoke, I said, well, right on. You know, here’s someone speaking from the heart.
TRI ROBINSON PREACHING: God has revealed himself through his creation. He has revealed himself in anyone who would just open their eyes and take a time and the moment to look and see the majesty of the creation…
JOSHUA HOPPING: It was like, yeah, come on. It’s about time I hear a church leader stand up and say, “Let’s do something.”
TRI ROBINSON PREACHING: We have got absolute truth. There is something that we can agree on and the rest of the body of Christ can agree on is that God, Father God and the Godhead was the Creator.
GRETCHEN BERNARD: And then when he started to say so we need to take care of this, we need to tend this garden. The whole church just stood up and started clapping. It was just exciting. And it was exciting because finally we got to play. We got to take care of something.
TRI ROBINSON: So we got them recycling immediately. We started collecting their used cell phones. We immediately changed our paper. Even our bulletin was printed on, and all of our printed material, on to recycled paper.
ANDY KIRSCH: Our campaign was kind of, “Tithe your trash.” So people would come in and instead- sometimes tithing their money to help some of these ministries continue- we wanted them to start tithing their trash. Bring in your garbage that we can recycle for you.
BILL MOYERS: In a small, conservative community, word got around quickly, something out of the ordinary was going on at the Vineyard Boise Church.
ROCKY BARKER: It was a surprise. You know, it’s that kind of man bites dog story. The Boise Weekly, which is the, you know, the kind of Liberal, alternative weekly, did the first story on it in town. And everybody was like, “Oh my gosh, who are these people?”
CONGREGATION: Isn’t He beautiful?
ROCKY BARKER: Tri Robison has tried to keep this as non-partisan as he can. However, if this becomes partisan, and make no mistake, evangelicals have been very active in Idaho on a wide range of issues. If they decide to become active on environmental issues, or if they begin voting their issues, the same way they vote abortion, pro-life and other issues, I think it could have a dramatic effect.
CONGREGATION: Isn’t He?
RICHARD CIZIK: We have to become the change agents within the Republican Party. And I believe we can, and will.
BILL MOYERS: The Reverend Richard Cizik is a national leader in the evangelical environmental movement. Based in Washington, D.C., he’s the Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals. It’s America’s most influential Christian lobbying group representing 59 denominations, 45,000 churches, and 30 million believers.
BILL MOYERS: But, you know, don’t you think people take a look at the cherry-blossoms and say it’s the beauty of God’s earth- it’s eternal.
RICHARD CIZIK: God is eternal. But not the air we breathe. Not the water we drink. You can’t drink the water in the Potomac. You can’t even swim in the Potomac!
BILL MOYERS: Like Tri Robinson, Richard Cizik comes to his environmental convictions through reading the scripture.
BILL MOYERS: What’s the best text for you on the environment —
RICHARD CIZIK: Genesis 2:15.
BILL MOYERS: Which says?
RICHARD CIZIK: You are to watch over and care for it. As a steward of the earth. Now let me say this. When asked about hell, Jesus used the word “Gahanna.” And he referred to a place outside Jerusalem that was a garbage heap. This is Jesus’ description of hell. A garbage heap. And one of the reasons I’m an advocate of creation care is that if you besmirch that creation, if you destroy it, bespoil it, turn it into a garbage heap, then how can it reveal the glory of God?
BILL MOYERS: Creation care is their preferred term, and it’s gaining momentum in the evangelical community.
COMMERCIAL CLIP: God saw that it was good.
BILL MOYERS: Television spots produced by evangelicals have asked what once would have been considered irreverent questions…
COMMERCIAL CLIP: What Would Jesus Drive?
BILL MOYERS: …and tackled controversial subjects…
ECI COMMERCIAL: Global warming must be stopped.
BILL MOYERS: …making news in the process. But when it comes to the earth, these evangelicals are quick to distinguish themselves from secular environmentalists.
RICHARD CIZIK: Environmentalists say the Earth is in jeopardy. The Earth will go on. I believe human beings are in jeopardy. Those who say, “Well, you’re caring about plants and animals more than people.” Au contraire, this is about people.
SINGING: In Southern West Virginia,
They’re taking away our hills.
They’re tearing up our mountains
And making valley fill…
BILL MOYERS: The Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. They were made in a day by the lord if you’re a strict creationist. They’re among the earliest formed in the world if you set your watch by geologic time. Either way, they are under assault. Coal companies are blowing the tops off mountains to extract the rich seams of black gold within.
JUDY BONDS: There are three million pounds of explosives used a day just in West Virginia to blow the tops off these mountains. Three million pounds a day. To knock fly rock everywhere, to send silica and coal dust and rock dust and fly rock in our homes. I’m kind of thinking, I wonder, now which one of these mountains do you think God will come down here and blow up? Which one of these hollers do you think Jesus would store waste in? That’s a simple question. That’s all you have to ask.
BILL MOYERS: Judy Bonds’ family has been in these mountains for ten generations. She’s a winner of one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards: the Goldman Prize.
JUDY BONDS: As of last year, there was 400,000 acres of the world’s most diverse forest completely destroyed forever. Then there’s 1200 miles of stream have been affected. Seven hundred miles have been buried by mountaintop removal, which has selenium discharges in it. There’s brackish water coming out of it. Nothing can live in this type of water.
PREACHER: Do you remember the first time you fell in love with Jesus?
BILL MOYERS: Bonds was raised a Christian, then strayed from the church. This fight, she says, has brought her back to God.
PREACHER: What sacrifice —
JUDY BONDS: It was the unjustness that I saw that was being heaped upon the people that- the blasting and children suffering from the coal dust. And the elderly suffering from the coal dust. And the flooding. And I began to pray for help. For guidance.
PREACHER: I’ll do whatever it takes to fight for my country. To protect the ocean, to protect our environment. I’ll do whatever it takes —
BILL MOYERS: Now Bonds is bringing her faith to her fight for the mountains, part of a growing movement in West Virginia in which concern for the earth is guided by the Bible.
JUDY BONDS: Never doubt that this is a battle between good and evil! And now is not a time to be silent. Now is a time to stand up and be counted for. The earth is God’s body!
ALLEN JOHNSON: I first want to apologize as a Christian for the unfaithfulness of the churches and Christians who have oftentimes- too often- been complicit in the destruction that we see upon the land!
BILL MOYERS: Allen Johnson is part of the same campaign. He co-founded an advocacy group Christians for the Mountains.
ALLEN JOHNSON: In the Book of Revelation, there’s a scripture that says that God will destroy those who destroy the Earth. We’re breaking a covenant with God. We’re breaking a covenant with Creation and with other people and with future generations. It is a sin. Sin’s not a word that is popular today, but that’s what it is. S-I-N.
THE JOHNSONS: Give us, Lord, our daily bread.
BILL MOYERS: Johnson is a librarian. He and his wife have home-schooled their four children. They live off their land, growing their own vegetables, raising animals for food. On Sundays, he sings and plays in the church band. In a region where many depend on coal for their livelihoods, Allen Johnson and Judy Bonds are speaking out, against mountaintop removal and for the people who consider themselves its collateral damage.
ALLEN JOHNSON: We are basically told this is your economy. Take it or leave it. If you don’t have coal, you’ll have nothing. You’ll be even more impoverished than you are now. And, so people are in a sense held hostage by the coal industry.
BILL MOYERS: Here’s what Allen Johnson is talking about. Coal processing produces toxic residue called sludge and slurry. It’s estimated there’s over one-hundred and ten billion gallons amassed in active West Virginia impoundments.
ALLEN JOHNSON: And there it sets- black, gooey, tarry, toxic sludge or slurry — is there.
BILL MOYERS: It’s stored in open pools atop the flattened mountains, or, in some cases, pumped into abandoned underground mines.
ALLEN JOHNSON: But what is happening in those cases is it’s getting into the groundwater in some places.
BILL MOYERS: Carmelita Brown and her husband Ernie live in the town of Rawl, in Mingo County, downhill from a mountaintop coal mine. Because of mining activities, they say, they can no longer rely on clean well water.
CARMELITA BROWN: I never know when it’s going to come. You know, just like one day it’ll be clear. And, the next day it’ll come out black. Or half a day it’ll be clear and the rest of the half of the day it’ll be black. And, it is so embarrassing to me when people come into my home, and they’ll look at you and say, “What’s that smell?” You know, and I know they don’t mean anything by it. And, I have to say, “That’s my water.”
BILL MOYERS: Carmelita Brown’s husband, Ernie, was a coalminer like his grandfathers before him until on-the-job injuries forced him to retire.
ERNIE BROWN: Poor, old, sore knees —
ERNIE BROWN: What I’m going to do, I’m going to take a water sample of my water with Pepto Bismol. This is Pepto Bismol. This is potable water, this is jug water. I’m going to try to use the same amount of water.
BETSY RATE: How did you discover?
ERNIE BROWN: Accident. My daughter-in-law had an upset stomach and my wife told her said, “I’ve got some Pepto Bismol so take you some Pepto Bismol and it’ll help you.” So she come in and got her some Pepto Bismol and took it. She took the little cup over into my sink and rinsed it out. And it turned black. And I said, “Give me that Pepto Bismol.” And I put a little bit in a glass and it turned black. And I said, “Oh my goodness. I’m guessing chemical reaction.”
BILL MOYERS: The Browns aren’t alone. Some of their neighbors are having water trouble too.
CARMELITA BROWN: You’ve got 750 some that live in these four communities. And our challenge is to fight for good water.
LARRY BROWN: Just simply to have the right to walk over to our spigot and turn it on and have decent water.
BILL MOYERS: Independent scientists tested the water about two years ago. What they found shocked the community, says Ernie Brown’s brother, Pastor Larry Brown.
LARRY BROWN: They was testing all the water. And the more they tested it the more they was finding.
BILLY SAMMONS: Arsenic, manganese, lead, barium, selenium, aluminum and stuff like that.
BILL MOYERS: Billy Irwin Sammons is a retired deputy sheriff.
BILLY SAMMONS: My left kidney is plumb full of kidney stones now. And the scientists tell us this- the ones we’ve dealt with. This is caused by the chemicals gathering inside of your body.
CARMELITA BROWN: So for my own purpose, I started taking a log.
BILL MOYERS: In her journal, Carmelita Brown has kept track of what’s been happening to her water and to her body.
CARMELITA BROWN: “I’m sick. I have kidney stones. My doctor tells me to drink plenty of water but that is hard to do when I don’t have drinkable water. I have dealt with this problem for far too long. All I have asked for-” Sorry. “All I’ve asked for is water that I could drink and take a bath in, or cook with. But that seems to be far out of reach.”
MASSEY WEB/TV AD: At Massey Energy we respect the beauty of our mountains, rivers and streams. We also know that improving our total environment includes making people’s lives better. The needs of people — that’s what the protesters against coal forget.”
BILL MOYERS: Massey Energy is the region’s largest coal company. The Browns and their neighbors claim that a Massey Energy subsidiary called Rawl Sales and Processing has contaminated their water. They have joined scores of Mingo county residents to sue both the subsidiary and Massey charging them with negligence — allowing toxic slurry to leach into groundwater. Over the years, Massey and its subsidiaries have paid out millions of dollars in environmental judgments and settlements.
MAN: It’s like very stiff grease.
BILL MOYERS: Like the settlements resulting from this disaster — when some 300-million gallons of coal slurry buried creeks and streams, killing over a million fish. One coal official called it an “Act of God.”
ALLEN JOHNSON: It’s a legal term, the “act of God,” when there’s a flood, or- a major catastrophe. “Well, it was God’s fault.” And it’s not God’s fault.
CARMELITA BROWN: God didn’t destroy the earth. And, he doesn’t destroy the earth. The companies, the coal companies is the ones that’s destroying the earth. So, that’s my opinion on that.
BILL MOYERS: In taking on Massey the Browns and their neighbors are taking on Massey’s President and C.E.O., Don Blankenship. A local boy turned big time powerbroker, he laid out his philosophy early in his career.
DON BLANKENSHIP:Unions, communities, people, everybody’s going to have to learn to accept that in the United States you have a capitalist society, and that capitalism, from a business viewpoint is survival of the most productive.
BILL MOYERS: Blankenship’s supporters here say amen to that.
PROTESTERS: We are Massey! Here to stay!
BILL MOYERS: Not Carmelita Brown.
CARMELITA BROWN: I can see his house from my kitchen window. And it’s ironic that I can stand and do my dishes in black water and then, look out my window and see his house up on a hill that everyone can see. To me, it’s like he made a statement. You know? He’s God. God on the mountain. But, he’s as close to God as he’s going to get up on that mountain.
BILL MOYERS: Blankenship has made news spending millions of his own dollars to finance campaigns and causes in state elections. The people here don’t have that kind of clout. They’ve been trying for twelve years to get the government to provide them with the regular supply of clean water other citizens enjoy. Finally, new pipes are being laid that will eventually bring city water to the affected communities. In the meantime, church volunteers deliver water to the sick and elderly.
BILLY SAMMONS: I didn’t get to bring you water last week. And we’re about to run out of money on the water problem. So, I’m going to give you additional water this week, OK?
RUTH SAUL: Well, God love you!
BILL MOYERS: Churches stand at the center of nearly every community in West Virginia. What Christian activists here want is to enlist them on the side of the environment.
ALLEN JOHNSON: What we want to do, in Christians for the Mountains, is to try to get these churches- ask these churches — invite them to explore this as a theological and Biblical issue.
JUDY BONDS: The problem is, is those that work for these coal companies, the locals that work for these coal companies also go to church sometimes and it creates conflict.
ALLEN JOHNSON: Some people say that churches are in the pockets of the coal company and maybe they want to build a picnic shelter, so the coal company helped give a nice donation. I think there are some- some pointed questions we can ask these churches. And we can ask them, now “Are you going to say nothing because you’re getting some money?” Or, are you going to say, “We don’t want to say anything because somebody in our church is getting a- their job is connected with the polluters.” And so, you don’t- going to say anything. What does that say? Now, justify that scripturally.
CARMELITA BROWN: There’s a lot times, you know, that I have lost some of my faith. And I start saying, “God? Where are you?”
ERNIE BROWN: Brother Thomas, remember me and Carm tonight, and my family. Let’s remember the ones in the hospitals and nursing homes. Let’s remember the ones that’s not here tonight. Let’s just pray that the Lord will strengthen us and lead us and guide us…
BILL MOYERS: Evangelicals- whether in the hollows of West Virginia, the towns of Idaho or suburban mega churches- share some common tenets: that Jesus Christ is their lord and savior, that salvation entails a personal conversion- being born again — and that the Bible is God’s word.
RONALD REAGAN: All the complex and horrendous questions confronting us at home and world wide have their answer in that single book.
BILL MOYERS: Back in 1980, millions of evangelicals underwent a political conversion and gave their hearts to Ronald Reagan. Reagan never called himself an evangelical, but he understood the Bible’s role in their faith and the role they could play in his political future.
RONALD REAGAN: Now, I know this is a non-partisan gathering and so I know that you can’t endorse me, but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you and what you are doing.
BILL MOYERS: What they were doing was setting out to take over the Republican Party.
REV. JAMES ROBISON: We must begin to literally penetrate every area of our society! Yes, even the political area!
REV. JERRY FALWELL: We have three priorities in the 1980s: Number one, get people converted to Christ; number two, get them baptized; number three, get them registered to vote.
RALPH REED: I believe that if we carry this five-fold strategy out, with diligence and with effectiveness, I think that we will be the most powerful political force in the nation by the end of this decade.
BILL MOYERS: By the year 2000, their legwork put George W. Bush in the White House.
GEORGE W. BUSH: God bless you and may God bless America!
BILL MOYERS: And in 2004, Bush was re-elected when three out of four white evangelicals voted for him. The big money for Bush came from corporations and corporate America and the Christian Right would prove to be a powerful coalition supporting the president as he set about to dismantle environmental protection laws, including those that govern the emissions that contribute to global warming.
GEORGE W. BUSH: The idea of placing caps on CO2 does not make economic sense for America. When we make decisions we want to make sure we do so on sound science. Not what sounds good, but what is real.
BILL MOYERS: But with the earth heating up, enthusiasm for the president’s position began to cool among some conservative evangelical leaders. Imagine the shock at the White House when the solid rock of evangelical support started to crack over global warming.
RICHARD CIZIK: The manner in which we have willingly pumped into the atmosphere seven billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually is to me a testimony to human sin. Now, does God desire this? I don’t think so. Can we do something about it? Has he given us human intelligence? Of course.
BILL MOYERS: With his wife and two children Richard Cizik worships in his hometown of Fredericksburg, VA.
CIZIK’S PASTOR: You may be seated —
BILL MOYERS: Although he’s now an influential evangelical advocate in the nation’s capitol, he was raised far from the seat of power, in rural Washington state.
RICHARD CIZIK: I grew up on the farm. I understood what the ground is. I understood its importance to my own family. We raised crops. So I grew up with a healthy appreciation, as a farmer’s kid about what the land is, and what it means.
CIZIK’S SON: Uh, oh. Dad is in love with the bushes.
RICHARD CIZIK: I happen to think that working for preservation of the environment is my gift to John, my son, his friends and my grandkids.
BILL MOYERS: Cizik says he’s experienced two conversions. He credits the first to Jesus, the second to a British scientist, Sir John Houghton.
SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: We had a heat wave in Europe in 2003. Twenty-thousand people died because of that. By the middle of the century the average summer will be rather like this.
BILL MOYERS: Houghton is one of the world’s leading climatologists. He’s also a lifelong Christian.
SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: The science we do is God’s science. The laws of science we use and we study and we discover, they are God’s laws, because they’re the way he runs the universe.
BILL MOYERS: It was in Oxford, England, in 2002, that Cizik heard the evidence on global warming at a conference Sir John Houghton had helped convene. It brought top scientists and religious leaders together for the first time. It was there, on a walk in the woods with Houghton, that the scales fell from Richard Cizik’s eyes.
RICHARD CIZIK: For me, to hear from this scientist whom I trusted, and I have to admit —
BILL MOYERS: You trusted him because?
RICHARD CIZIK: He was an evangelical. And what he said to me was, “Richard….As a fellow follower of Jesus, I’m not spinning you. I’m telling you what is happening. And I trust that God will speak to your heart. The fate of the earth may well depend on how Christians, especially evangelical Christians who take the Bible seriously, respond to the issues of climate change.”
BILL MOYERS: Did you realize that Richard Cizik represented a substantial number of Americans who, if they came around, could change government policy on global warming?
SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: Yeah. I did recognize that he was a very important person. Perhaps I didn’t recognize how important and how influential he was. But I realized that he belonged to these organizations, you know? The National Association of Evangelicals with- what? Thirty, 40 million Americans within their constituency? Then- and if he, with the influential position he had, could do something about it, I was just hoping he would.
BILL MOYERS: And he did. Richard Cizik came home from that conference determined to mobilize evangelicals to act on global warming.
RICHARD CIZIK: Climate change is real and human induced.
BILL MOYERS: He became the most visible figure in the growing debate over global warming within the conservative evangelical community. But to his partisan brethren on the Christian Right, he was suddenly a threat.
BILL MOYERS: Here’s a column saying people like you have joined an unholy alliance.
RICHARD CIZIK: Unholy alliance with the environmentalists. God forbid.
BILL MOYERS: And the whackos of Hollywood.
RICHARD CIZIK: And the whackos of Hollywood.
BILL MOYERS: Anti-Christian, anti —
RICHARD CIZIK: I’ve been called anti-American!
PAT ROBERTSON: With us now for more on the subject is Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, he has been a strong critic of the excesses of the environmentalist movement. Senator, it’s a great pleasure to have you with us on The 700 Club.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE: Hey, Pat, it’s always good to be with you, brother.
PAT ROBERTSON: Yes, sir.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE: When I read in the Washington Post about two months ago, that the National Association of Evangelicals was embracing some of these far-Left environmentalists, I called up Reverend Haggard, and I called up the guy that’s responsible for it, his name is Rich Cizik, and I think it’s a stroke of genius for the environmentalists to come in and try to capture the Christians or the fundamental Christians.
BILL MOYERS: Senator James Inhofe is a prominent evangelical Christian and one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. He heads the Senate Committee with Jurisdiction over the Environment. Back home in the oil-producing state of Oklahoma, his supporters cheer him for ferociously taking on environmentalists. Man-made global warming? Don’t you believe it.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE: Could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? I believe it is.
RICHARD CIZIK: The conscience of man doesn’t always speak clearly. And I would ask the Senator does the $400,000 plus he gets from the oil and gas industry, about that. I’m not sure of the exact figures. Impact his ability to make decisions on the environment. And I don’t really blame Senator Inhofe. I believe he’s a fine man, a fellow Christian, whom I will not attack. I say, I love you. He’s my brother in Christ. I have to love him. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with him.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE: Pat, I don’t have to tell you about reading the Scriptures, but one of mine that I’ve always enjoyed is toward Romans 1, 22 and 23 I think it is. They talk about you quit worshipping God and start worshipping the creation- the creeping things, the four-legged beasts, the birds and all that. That’s their god. That’s what they worship.
RICHARD CIZIK: If you are the senator of the committee in charge of the environment, of the most powerful nation in the history of the universe, in charge of the environment, and you maintain against all the science, that this climate change is surely a hoax, then I think you have to be the biggest riverboat gambler in all of history. Gambling you see, not just your own life, but the lives of millions of people. Not just Americans but others in low-lying countries around the world, that will be impacted by climate change, now, and not in generations to come. And do we have the right to say there’s no consensus? To allow politicians off the hook? To permit years to go by, as it has occurred in this Administration? That is dangerous. That is almost, you see, spiritually dangerous.
BILL MOYERS: I don’t think the general public has heard much of that kind of talk, at least on television. Coming from a self-identified born again evangelical Christian.
RICHARD CIZIK: Well, because we’ve been co-opted politically. We’ve adopted the agenda of the Republican Party which is largely serving the interests of the oil and gas and utility industries who pay large donations to Republican politicians. And thus can we expect that party to speak out on behalf of creation care without our political advocacy? Of course not.
BILL MOYERS: You know, I have to ask you. Are you conservative?
RICHARD CIZIK: Yes. Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: What’s your position on abortion?
RICHARD CIZIK: I’m pro-life. Abortion is wrong.
BILL MOYERS: Homosexuality?
RICHARD CIZIK: I’m conservative on this issue. I oppose same sex marriage.
BILL MOYERS: And yet on the environment you sound like a —
RICHARD CIZIK: Well, I happen to think that, you see, to be biblically consistent means you have to, at times, be politically inconsistent.
BILL MOYERS: And that’s what has the White House worried. Politically consistent voters win elections. When the Washington Post reported that the National Association of Evangelicals planned to develop a position on global warming at odds with the policies of the Bush administration, the president’s supporters protested. A who’s who of rightwing Christians fired off a letter to the NAE. They said:
BILL MOYERS: “Global warming is not a consensus issue, and our love for the Creator and respect for His creation does not require us to take a position.”
RICHARD CIZIK: Well, I disagree, respectfully. Those leaders who signed the statement are not persuaded that climate science is real.
BILL MOYERS: That puts them at odds with the —
RICHARD CIZIK: With the best scientists in the world.
BILL MOYERS: But that letter worked. There would be no official statement on global warming by the NAE.
BILL MOYERS: These are some very big names in the evangelical community.
RICHARD CIZIK: Yeah. And men I respect.
BILL MOYERS: Charles W. Colson. Dr. James Dobson. Many of these are very close political allies of President Bush. Do you think there was any connection between their political affiliation and their protest to your organization against taking a stand that calls on the White House and the government to take action on global warming?
RICHARD CIZIK: It’s hard to say. There were a lot of names there. And I can’t begin to speak for each individual. They’ll have to speak for themselves.
BILL MOYERS: That’s actually what we asked them to do — to speak for themselves. But they declined. We were referred instead to this man. E. Calvin Beisner, PhD. He teaches historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
BILL MOYERS: In practical terms, what has it meant to your life to be an evangelical?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Certainly one of the most important things would be the knowledge for certain that if I were to die today, I would go to heaven, not to hell. The Bible tells us these things have been written to you who believe in the name of the son of God so that you can know that you have eternal life.
BILL MOYERS: In the meantime, Calvin Beisner is busy with the here and now. That letter to the National Association of Evangelicals saying you don’t speak for us, he drafted it. His footprints lead you to the core of the theological arguments used by the Christian and corporate right to defend their environmental and economic agenda.
BILL MOYERS: You are a free marketer as they say —
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Right.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. Free marketer, by which I mean, responsible freedom within the limits of God’s moral law.
BILL MOYERS: The essence of Beisner’s thinking went into this document — The Cornwall Declaration on environmental stewardship, which he helped draft in 1999 for a coalition of religious and economic conservatives. They called fears of manmade global warming “unfounded.” The private market, they said, offers the best way to care for the earth.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Pollution i a natural part of lifecycles, alright? The question is: how much pollution? How thoroughly can we minimize pollution? I think that’s a very important thing for us to be pursuing- that we do. What are the costs and benefits of the polluting activity, versus the pollution itself? Those are all questions that we have to approach.
BILL MOYERS: Beisner is affiliated with the Acton Institute, a religious think tank and key promoter of The Cornwall Declaration. It’s a major player among conservative organizations that have long opposed the government’s role in environmental protection. Many of them, including Acton, have received funding from Exxon-Mobil, which has spent millions trying to discredit the science of global warming.
BILL MOYERS: Are you aware that the Acton Institute for years has received steady support from Exxon-Mobil?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I became aware of that about oh, three or four weeks ago, I think, but frankly, I don’t find that troubling if Exxon-Mobil is putting money into these people, why? Is the causal connection Exxon-Mobil pays them the money, and then they begin saying the skeptical things? Or is it they’re saying the skeptical things and Exxon-Mobil says, “We want that voice heard.” But, frankly, it doesn’t have anything to do with the truth of the premises, or the validity of the inferences in the arguments. And that’s where we have to focus — is on the arguments.
BILL MOYERS: Does the Bible say anything about global warming?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: No, it certainly doesn’t in any direct way. And that’s part of why I insist this is not an issue where evangelicals are morally obligated to take a position on it.
BILL MOYERS: What the Bible does say, says Beisner, is that God gave a mandate to humans to exercise dominion over creation. It’s right there in the book of Genesis, chapter one, verse 28. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” For Beisner, that verse implies that humans should govern the earth using what he calls “forceful rule…”
BILL MOYERS: Help me understand what you mean by, forceful rule?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, quite frankly, if you are going to mine for precious metals, for fossil fuels, for anything else, you don’t to do that with a feather brush, you know. You don’t do it by quietly blowing a breath on something as you would to blow out a candle.
BILL MOYERS: Do we have a moral obligation to clean up the consequences of that force?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: As far as we are able to and, always, we also have a moral obligation to do rational, cost benefit analysis.
BILL MOYERS: Now, here’s a question that weighs heavily on a lot of people with whom I’ve been talking and on me, too, I have to say. There is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that the world is getting warmer —
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: -and that we human beings are the cause. In 2004 —
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Not absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: Okay. In 2004 the Journal of Science surveyed 928 papers on climate change that were published in peer-reviewed scientific publications and found that quote — “none of the papers disagreed with the consensus.” That’s pretty convincing, don’t you think?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I don’t find it convincing.
BILL MOYERS: Calvin Beisner casts his lot with the small but vocal scientific minority that challenges the dire warnings about global warming. Furthermore, Beisner notes, Genesis says that after Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, God put a curse on the earth. Accordingly, Beisner has written, “This means that sometimes environmental devastation is God’s judgment on human sins that have nothing to do with poor resource management.”
BILL MOYERS: I want to make sure I understand something that I think you are saying in this long article. You seem to be saying that God, not man, devastates the earth in response to human sin.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes, God has a hand in bringing about both improvements and harm to our environment, yes I think so. Anyone who believes, with the Bible, that God is in control of what happens on this earth believes that a volcanic eruption is under God’s control. Mt. St. Helens flattened millions of acres of forests in seconds unlike anything that we’ve ever done.
BILL MOYERS: So you’re saying it was God’s will?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Absolutely. I have no question that that is God’s will. Because as a reformed Presbyterian theologian, I believe that God controls all things.
BILL MOYERS: Are you saying, then, that global warming could be the result of God’s will?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I am saying that global warming and global cooling, as they appear- as they occur, cyclically throughout geologic history, are indeed the expression of God’s will.
BILL MOYERS: Hurricane Katrina.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: God’s will?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes. Yeah, and I’m shocked at those Christians who would say otherwise.
BILL MOYERS: Well, I’m one of them. I mean I just find it hard to believe.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Was it God’s will or was God, you know, up there going, “Oh, gee, I wish I could stop Katrina, but I just can’t do it?”
BILL MOYERS: But he could have if he were omnipotent —
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Is he the Go-That’s right. He is omnipotent. Either he intended to stop it, or he didn’t. If he didn’t, then it was his will.
BILL MOYERS: Even —
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: If he intended to stop it, than either he was able or he was not. If he was not, he’s not the God of the Bible.
BILL MOYERS: Dr. Beisner says it is imperative that the Christian community make sure of its Biblical moorings before venturing too far in the endorsement of specific policies. Stay true to the Bible he’s saying —
RICHARD CIZIK: Right, right.
BILL MOYERS: — he’s saying. You think you’re staying true to the Bible?
RICHARD CIZIK: Well, I believe so. Look, there were people who said, “Stay true to the Bible,” in the battle over abolition and slavery in America. And both sides said I appeal to the Bible. Was one side right and one side wrong? Of course. Why? Because at times we allow our political judgments to get ahead of our Biblical value systems. We do that. It happened in the civil rights movement of the 1960s in which evangelical Christians sat on their hands. And I’ve had to apologize, you see, for you see those evangelicals who sat on their hands then. And today, Mr. Moyers, I am not willing to make that same mistake.
LEITH ANDERSON: St. Peter wrote to the Christians and said do what is right and don’t be afraid. And that is what we as evangelicals are stepping up to do.
BILL MOYERS: On February 8 of this year, eighty-six influential evangelical leaders broke ranks with their brethren and called for action on global warming. Being a good Christian, they said, means tackling climate change. Among the signers was one of the country’s most popular preachers, and the pastor of the largest church in America, Rick Warren.
RICK WARREN: We cannot be all God wants us to be without caring about the earth. I think that’s kind of a no-brainer.
BILL MOYERS: They took to the airwaves to spread their gospel.
ECI COMMERCIAL: The good news is that with God’s help we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world and for our Lord.
BILL MOYERS: Richard Cizik recruited many of the signers of the call to action. His own name appeared in the first version, but in the final version — it was gone.
BILL MOYERS: That was a very strong statement that —
RICHARD CIZIK: Very strong.
BILL MOYERS: -made a lot of news. But I was surprised that your name wasn’t on it.
RICHARD CIZIK: Well, there are those who said, “Look, how can you,” me, referring to me, “speak for all evangelicals when it’s clearly you don’t?” And so, in the words of some, I got whacked by Tony Soprano.
BILL MOYERS: But although he took his name off the statement, Cizik remains publicly adamant about the Christian duty to fight global warming. And that’s brought on more attacks…
JAMES DOBSON: We believe that Richard Cizik and his colleagues are dividing evangelicals.
BILL MOYERS: The right-wing Christian broadcaster James Dobson founded Focus on the Family and is a pillar of the Republican coalition. He claims to have over 200 million radio listeners every day.
JAMES DOBSON: The net effect is anti-capitalistic and an underlying hatred for America.
RICHARD CIZIK: The machine goes to work overtime to attack you, to undermine your reputation, to marginalize your political influence. Oh, it goes into gear. It works overtime.
WEBB: Pat, what do you make of this?
PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I make of the fact that some of the evangelicals are being used by the radical left to further their agenda. And if you look further in the agenda of some of the radical environmentalists, they want to shut America down. They just want to shut our industries down and put people out of work. And if need be, we’ll have a long, cold winter where we’ll all be freezing.
BILL MOYERS: Are you going to be able to keep this job, where you have taken such a public —
RICHARD CIZIK: Well —
BILL MOYERS: — position?
RICHARD CIZIK: -there was a time when my friends said, “Richard, you know, watch your back.” But now, I’ve got a lot of people behind me. Millions upon millions of Evangelicals, 63 percent in fact, already say that climate change is real and we’ve got to do something about it now.
BILL MOYERS: But not Calvin Beisner. He and his allies held a recent press conference of their own, refuting that environmental call to action by the 86 evangelical leaders.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Hell is paved with good intentions. You know we can often mean well and yet do something quite destructive.
BILL MOYERS: What if you’re wrong on global warming?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: If I’m wrong and the world takes my advice, which I don’t expect it to do, then we’re going to have troubles. And I will be very sad about that. But I’ve been wrong about other things in my life. And it’s not a great surprise to me.
BILL MOYERS: But as you said in the beginning of this interview, you’re a saved man. Your heaven awaits you. Whatever happens here on earth.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, yes.
BILL MOYERS: I don’t mean to make light of that. That’s a deep belief.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: No, and I don’t think we should make light of that. Nothing else begins to compare with the importance of Jesus Christ and him crucified. And so, yes, I would say, on this issue of- what’s more important? Eternity or three score years and 10? It’s clear to me.
BILL MOYERS: Well, for those who live the three score years and ten, they’re very important.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: And all of them are going to live eternity as well.
GRETCHEN BERNARD: We do it all in thanks of what you’ve given us. Honor what we are doing today, Lord. And keep us safe, keep our feet sure and um just bless this day. We thank you for the opportunities to serve you. In Jesus’ mighty name. Amen.
BILL MOYERS: Remember those volunteers from the Vineyard Boise Church? The Bible assures them of life hereafter, but in the meantime they are treating the earth as hallowed ground.
HANA WEST: We never expected to have a group of evangelical Christians as a part of this planting effort…
JOSHUA HOPPING: So how many plants we got?
HANA WEST: We’ve got two-hundred dogwoods and 100 cottonwoods. You didn’t realize that there was some evangelical group out there that was really focused on the environment.
JESSE NILO: So we are going to need how many people with buckets and water then?
BILL MOYERS: They are helping to restore a part of Idaho once devastated by gold mining.
JESSIE NILO: Now this is serving creation.
BILL MOYERS: After all, this is their home. For now.
JOSHUA HOPPING: Hey, Dennis?
JOSHUA HOPPING: In my own work place I have several coworkers who, when they find out that, you know, I’m going into the mountains and doing hiking and GPS’ing for this forest service to map their trails, trail maintenance, they’re like, “Wow, that’s really cool. What kind of church do you go to? You know, I gotta go check this out.”
BILL MOYERS: And so this evangelical church has been born again — again — still conservative, but now green.
BAND: Sunbirds ride on the wind. They fly so high.
GRETCHEN BERNARD: I would hope that if more people, especially conservatives, especially Christians are speaking out and saying the environment matters to us and we’re getting out there and we’re doing stuff and the message gets out there that we’re active then maybe some of the conservative leaders would start to take notice and it would change.
CONGREGATION: -makes me wonder why you love me like you do —
JOSHUA HOPPING: Normally in the past I’ve voted one party. I’ve actually taken a step back and looking at the new elections coming up. I have to stop and say well, I can’t just vote straight party. I’ve got to actually — there’s a broader issue at stake.
CONGREGATION: Your love is so amazing!
TRI ROBINSON: I think Christians all around the — the country are just waiting for their pastors and leaders to stand up and say, “It’s okay” and give them license to be environmentally friendly and conscious and love the creation and participate with it.
BILL MOYERS: Since we finished this report the Reverend Pat Robertson confessed that the blazing heat of the summer was — and I quote — “making a convert out of me.” Said this pillar of the religious right, “The icebergs are melting and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide. We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels.” Miracles still happen. I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on May 18, 2015.