en asked by The Climate Project to be among the first 150 “faith community” presenters of Al Gore’s famous global warming slideshow, I accepted but with strong reservations.
They certainly do not hype the former VP’s involvement to attract Republicans, but some issues are bigger than politics. Surprisingly, I was then invited to interview the Nobel Peace Prize winner himself. After I asked Gore about the links between his “life” rhetoric and abortion, the post interview fireworks proved as interesting as the Q&A.
Gore’s branding of the climate debate is both a blessing and a curse. While undoubtedly raising the world’s consciousness, his polarizing personality has moved thousands of my fellow conservatives from mere apathy to active antipathy. Understanding scientists is complicated, but we are all skilled at dismissing politicians.
Hoping shock therapy might cure my chronic Al-Goraphobia, I eventually booked a flight to Nashville. If Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton can sit on a couch together for the “We Can Solve It“ campaign, surely I could share a room with the Goracle.
Trainees hailed from 37 states and several Christian traditions. A Baptist Texan was drawn to environmental issues after seeing scores at church camp with asthma inhalers. A semi-retired Catholic physics teacher came from the Midwest out of concern for future generations, and a 14-year-old Californian, already a veteran of the cause, came very much concerned about his own.
Gore personally led us all through 200+ slides—a handful with King James verses. He also enjoyed spontaneously flexing his spiritual muscles, sometimes with embarrassing results. Discussing hostile skeptics, Gore advised against returning anger with anger. Good advice, but then he tangentially noted an instance of biblical rage when “Jesus takes the jawbone of an ass to clear out the temple.”
While shaky on biblical history, Gore is better with science. Nobody doubts CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and after 650,000 years at or below 300 parts per million, we are currently off the historical chart at 350 and headed like a rocket for 500. It too is worth considering whether we have a full grasp of Scripture ourselves.
Discussing creation care is a pulpit taboo despite a wealth of untapped biblical material. Adam is instructed to “take care of it,” and the Sabbath and Jubilee foster rest and sustainability, concepts alien in our 24/7 consumer society. The New Testament tells of a God who so loved that world (the Greek is kosmos) that He gave His only Son; a Savior who noted the Father’s care for even the smallest birds and flowers. Further, in Romans 8, Paul describes a “groaning” creation that “waits in eager expectation” for liberation not annihilation. As Professor Steven Bouma-Prediger argues in For the Beauty of the Earth, the purifying fire of II Peter 3:10 reveals the earth’s true nature and does not justify a cavalier it’s-all-gonna-burn attitude. Instead, as C.S. Lewis notes in Mere Christianity, “[T]here are strange, exciting hints in the Bible that when we are drawn in [to Christ], a great many things in Nature will begin to come right.”
Despite amalgamating Jesus and Sampson, Gore, who once considered career ministry, otherwise accurately quoted Scripture. The most repeated verse from his lips was Deuteronomy 30:19: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”
Face to face with Al Gore, the meaning of life was on my mind as well. I raised the credibility gap created by invoking the plight of future generations to advocate global warming legislation while elsewhere lauding Roe v. Wade which blocks protections for the unborn of today.
Gore stated that abortion “is best dealt with in a way that leaves the principle responsibility to those most affected by it.” (The developing child was notably absent from his “most affected” list.) Stressing that disagreement “doesn’t keep [him] from seeking common ground,” Gore closed by expressing hope that many would be willing to “join together to address global warming, a common threat to born and unborn.”
Gore’s batting one for two. The life issue extends beyond the womb, but it certainly extends to it as well. After being told that “most readers” would object to including abortion in a Citizenship Papers essay critiquing violence, writer and Christian Wendell Berry responded,
What is killed is usually described by apologists for abortion as “a fetus,” as if that term names a distinct kind or species of being. … The attempt to make a categorical distinction between a baby living in the womb and a baby living in the world is as tenuous as would be an attempt to make such a distinction between a living child and a living adult. No living creature is “viable” independently of an enveloping life-support system.
Just as abortion abuses bodily independence and ignores the responsibility to care for one’s offspring, global warming is symptomatic of a corporate failure to temper short-term desires and recognize the long-term viability needs of others. Rising seas and climate disruptions will disproportionately impact the 2 billion living on less than $2 a day. Renowned atmospheric physicist Sir John Houghton, an evangelical Christian, warns that we may see 150 million climate refugees by 2050. Global warming is indeed a life issue, and leaders from Newt Gingrich to Desmond Tutu have called for action.
Though Gore repeatedly exhorted us to “choose life,” any connection to my Roe question initially seemed lost. Roy Neel, Gore’s chief of staff, was not present at the interview, but an hour later he fervently expressed his “disappointment” with my question. The head of the National Wildlife Federation had earlier noted the need for “more hunters and conservatives,” but I certainly did not feel welcome as Neel grilled me. Later that evening, however, Neel approached again. This time he was conciliatory and assured me that the question was helpful. The turnabout was a positive sign. Gore highlighted with pride that he, like Mother Teresa, had spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast—perhaps one day he will take her famous speech defending unborn life to heart.
Conversely, many Christians have the womb part down but have been slow to expand the pro-life ethic to other stages and species of life. Beyond slowing America’s response to climate change, the Church’s failure to fully engage creation stewardship also has eternal consequences for environmentalists.
A One Climate Project veteran joked that her children thought she had joined a cult, and the group’s Executive Director reminded us that only 2,500 people had “been anointed” by Gore. Such religious mumbo jumbo drew eye-rolls from liberal and conservative alike, and a nun worried that some were channeling their search for the divine into this cause. I think the sister is on to something. Drawn by the noble desire to unite with a just cause, many greens think in profoundly spiritual ways but are drifting on a fuzzy theological sea while we send out few lifeboats.
Some, like the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, openly worry that following the “green light” will lead to the dark side of liberalism, but Jesus calls us to actively engage occupied territory. Matthew 16 reminds us the enemy’s gates are defenses that shall not prevail, and a Christian beachhead should not be difficult to establish.
Hostility to religion is fading fast in the environmental community, and this awakening is just a new shoot emerging from an old stump. Pioneers like Aldo Leopold and Sierra Club founder John Muir were significantly influenced by the Bible. As Professor Lisa Sideris concluded of Silent Spring author Rachel Carson, “She may have slipped a bit from her religious roots, but all in all, I don’t believe she fell very far.” That’s a fitting summary for environmentalism as a whole.
Christian ethics is the silent heart pumping life into this movement. Listen as Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest describes what drives the activists of today: “[A]t the core of all organizations are two principles, albeit unstated: first is the Golden Rule; second is the sacredness of all life, whether it be a creature, child, or culture.” Even the public interest group concept has Christian ties, owing much to the 18th century evangelical reform societies that William Wilberforce and others used to bring down slavery, regulate child labor and improve animal welfare.
As an earnest young Greenpeace canvasser would say to me weeks later, “The world needs help, man!” She, standing in a spot that years earlier might have hosted a street preacher, was right of course. The solution she offers may be incomplete, but it is not completely wrong.
Christians today have the opportunity to help save the planet, or at least save some of those already busy doing the job. I for one will spread the creation care message because of my devotion to Almighty God, not Al Gore. It is not just his issue. All believers will answer for how we steward His world.