By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2006; A08
The National Association of Evangelicals said yesterday that it has been unable to reach a consensus on global climate change and will not take a stand on the issue, disappointing environmentalists who had hoped that evangelical Christians would prod the Bush administration to soften its position on global warming.
Over the past four years a growing number of evangelical groups have embraced environmental causes, urging Christians to engage in "Creation care" and campaigning against gas-guzzling SUVs with advertisements asking, "What would Jesus drive?"
In October 2004 the leadership of the NAE, which says it has 30 million members and is the nation's largest evangelical organization, declared that mankind has "a sacred responsibility to steward the Earth and not a license to abuse the creation of which we are a part." At about the same time, the umbrella group's president, the Rev. Ted Haggard of Colorado Springs, called the environment "a values issue."
But this fledgling movement -- dubbed the "greening of evangelicals" in a front-page Washington Post article a year ago -- has also met internal resistance. In a letter to Haggard last month, more than 20 evangelical leaders urged the NAE not to adopt "any official position" on global climate change because "Bible-believing evangelicals . . . disagree about the cause, severity and solutions to the global warming issue."
The letter's signers amounted to a Who's Who of politically powerful evangelicals, including Charles W. Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family; the Rev. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries; the Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University; Donald E. Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association; and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition.
In a written statement yesterday, Haggard denied reports that the NAE had circulated a draft paper calling for the Bush administration to support mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions.
"Allow me to confirm at the outset that the NAE is not circulating any official document on the environment. We are not considering a position on global warming. We are not advocating for specific legislation or government mandates," Haggard said. His statement added that the NAE's executive committee recently passed a motion "recognizing the ongoing debate" on global warming and "the lack of consensus among the evangelical community on this issue."
Calvin DeWitt, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin who is a leading evangelical supporter of environmental causes, called the statement "a retreat and a defeat."
"A year ago, it looked as though evangelicals would become a strong, collective voice for what we call 'Creation care' and others may call environmentalism," he said. "This will have negative consequences for the ability of evangelicals to influence the White House, unfortunately and sadly."
But E. Calvin Beisner, professor of social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary, a conservative Presbyterian school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., applauded the NAE's non-position.
Beisner, who helped draft the letter to Haggard from evangelical leaders, said they had feared that the NAE was going "to assume as true certain things that we think are still debatable, such as that global warming is not only real but also almost certainly going to be catastrophically harmful; second, that it is being driven to a significant extent by human activity; and third, that some regime, some international treaty for mandatory reductions in CO2emissions, could make a significant enough drop in global emissions to justify the costs to the human economy."