STEVE INSKEEP, host:
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; specifically, they're issuing a warning about global warming.
NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY reporting:
Leith Anderson remembers well his aha moment on global warming. It was three years ago, when the Pastor of Wooddale Church, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, treated his wife to a long vacation.
Pastor LEITH ANDERSON (Minnesota): My wife and I took an excursion to Antarctica, and for a period of a few weeks, we heard some of the things that were related to global warming as we visited sites in Antarctica. And it just impressed me once more that God's gift of our earth is something that we need to be effective stewards of.
HAGERTY: And, as an evangelical Christian, Anderson says he believes global warming is also a social justice issue.
Pastor ANDERSON: We are committed to the poor, and justice for the poor, and I think that global warming is often an injustice to the poor.
HAGERTY: Because, he says, it is the poor who feel the brunt of famine or flooding that may come from climate changes.
Anderson, who leads a mega-church of 5,000 worshippers, is one of 86 evangelical leaders who are challenging the Bush Administration on global warming. They're calling on the government to act urgently, by, among other things, passing a federal law to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Among the signers, Rick Warren, a southern Baptist Pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life; Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today.
But the names of other evangelical heavyweights are conspicuously absent.
Dr. RICHARD LAND (President, Southern Baptist Convention): I don't see James Dobson. Is there a more influential evangelical than James Dobson? I don't see Chuck Colson, I don't see Franklin Graham.
HAGERTY: That's Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention. He says this group, while influential, does not represent a wide swath of conservative Christianity. Land says the Bible makes clear that God expects human beings to take care of the earth, but, he says:
Dr. LAND: Human beings come first in God's created order. Primacy must be given to human beings and to human betterment. If that means that other parts of nature take a backseat, well, then they take a backseat.
HAGERTY: Slowing economic growth and development by overly strict environmental controls, he says, will harm human beings.
What this call to action shows, says Richard Cizik, a vice president at the National Association of Evangelicals, is that Christian conservatives are anything but a monolith. While issues like abortion and gay marriage may be central for some, other leaders are homing in on AIDS in Africa, and poverty. And, Cizik says, these 86 evangelical leaders are breaking another stereotype; that evangelicals are lockstep supporters of the Bush Administration.
Mr. RICHARD CIZIK (Vice President, National Association of Evangelicals): That's not true. We support the Administration on some issues and not on others. On this issue I think you're beginning to see a variance with what we call business as usual at the White House.
HAGERTY: Cizik, whose organization did not sign the letter, says the Bush Administration is wearing blinkers about the dangers of climate change, and its time that evangelicals use their considerable influence.
Mr. CIZIK: Because when evangelicals speak, Republicans tend to listen. And, frankly, it's the Republicans who need to get the message.
HAGERTY: Of course, the White House's favorite evangelicals oppose the letter, so it's not at all clear that the White House will heed this call to action.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.