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Climate debate rocks US evangelicals

A firestorm has broken out in US evangelical circles after prominent Focus on the Family leader James Dobson and other leaders of the religious right wrote to the National Association of Evangelicals claiming attention to climate change was a distraction from "the great moral issues of our time".

The letter specifically singled out the “relentless campaign orchestrated by a single individual” naming National Association of Evangelicals vice president of government relations Richard Cizik.

While acknowledging the existence of global warming the letter the writers were not convinced that there is conclusive evidence about why it is happening and what should be done about it.

The letter says the signatories have observed Cizik and others “using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children”.

Sojourners leader and social activist Jim Wallis hit back at the letter claiming this particular statement was the foundation for a real debate.

“Is the fact that 30,000 children will die globally today, and everyday, from needless hunger and disease a great moral issue for evangelical Christians?” asked Wallis

“How about the reality of three billion of God’s children living on less than $2 per day?

“I happen to believe that the sanctity of life, the health of marriages, and teaching sexual morality to our children are, indeed, among the great moral issues of our time. But I believe they are not the only great moral issues, and Dobson says they are.”

Wallis challenged Dobson and fellow letter writers to a “real debate on whether climate change is, indeed, one of the great moral issues of our time”.

Particular criticism in the letter was directed to Cizik’s pronouncements on population control.

“We ask, how is population control going to be achieved if not by promoting abortion, the distribution of condoms to the young, and, even by infanticide in China and elsewhere? Is this where Richard Cizik would lead us?” the letter asked.

Popular author and speaker Brian McLaren praised “the courageous and important work of Christian leaders like Richard Cizik” and was hit out at Dobson’s claim that nothing good can be done about overpopulation.

“Fortunately, their unanswered question can draw attention to some very good answers, including improving education and employment opportunities for poor women, improving health care for poor children [and] helping poor families earn a livable wage so they can provide for their own retirement expenses.”

Cizik says the climate change crisis is not something humankind can wait to address.

“Climate change is real and human induced. It calls for action soon. And we are saying action based upon a biblical view of the world as God’s world,” he said.

Cizik said his commitment to environmental issues came after he met influential, evangelical Christian scientist Sir John Houghton, one of the drafters of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change document.

“I couldn’t shirk, shrug, rationalize or escape my Biblical responsibility to care for the environment. It changed me.

“I had, as John Wesley would say, a ‘warming of my heart’… a conversion to a cause which I believe every Christian should be committed to.”

Cizik then talked to his wife Virginia and said “Ginny, we’re gonna have to change some things”.

“The first thing we did was sell our recreational vehicle. I decided it just wasn’t a good use of resources. And it was a gas guzzler, besides. So we bought a Prius, a hybrid.”

“God doesn’t intend to ask me ‘Rich, how did I create the Earth?’ He won’t ask me that. He’ll say ‘Rich, what did you do to protect that which I created?'”