Greening the Churches
The role of left-wing foundations in the rise of religious environmentalism
By E. Calvin Beisner (Green Watch, December 2013 – PDF here)
Summary: The infiltration of “green” ideology into American religious groups has taken decades to occur. It has also required millions of quietly delivered dollars from left-wing donors, who otherwise have little respect for the religious persons whose minds they hope to sway—or for the traditional moral teachings on respect for human life and the poor that are central to America’s religious institutions.
The effort to turn American Christians into soldiers for the environmental movement began decades ago. A critical moment occurred in 1990, when Carl Sagan, the astronomer famed for his PBS series “Cosmos,” spearheaded a group of scientists (including 32 Nobel Laureates) who signed an “Open Letter to the American Religious Community” that declared:
We are now threatened by self-inflicted, swiftly moving environmental alterations about whose long-term biological and ecological consequences we are still painfully ignorant: depletion of the protective ozone layer; a global warming unprecedented in the last 150 millennia; the obliteration of an acre of forest every second; the rapid-fire extinction of species; and the prospect of a global nuclear war which would put at risk most of the population of the Earth. There may well be other such dangers of which we are still unaware. Individually and cumulatively, they represent a trap being set for the human species, a trap we are setting for ourselves.
Sagan said he worried humanity was not responding adequately to environmental threats and urged religious leaders to bring their moral authority to bear on the problem. Sagan and others presented the appeal in January 1990 to the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders Conference in Moscow, and it soon gained the signatures of over 270 global religious leaders from Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim traditions. Sagan co-chaired the Joint Appeal by Religion and Science for the Environment, based on the “Open Letter,” which was an impressive feat for an agnostic who was harshly skeptical of all religious claims. (Walker Percy, a Catholic novelist with a Columbia medical degree, wrote a spoof of Sagan’s “Cosmos” in which he chuckled at the man’s “sophomoric scientism.”)
Co-chair with Sagan of the Joint Appeal was the “New Age” Rev. James Parks Morton, dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. The vice president for programs at the cathedral, Paul Gorman, served as press secretary to Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) during McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign and was a longtime host on the leftist radio station WBAI. Gorman was a radical environmentalist who believed “The relentless magnitude of environmental degradation is clearly the overarching social, political, economic and cultural challenge for our generation, linked with the ongoing struggle for social justice.”
Kits for Christians
One response to the “Open Letter” was the formation of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE), with Gorman as the founding executive director. In April 1994, 30,000 evangelical churches across America received copies of Let the Earth Be Glad: A Starter Kit for Evangelical Churches to Care for God’s Creation. Another 23,000 congregations of mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish congregations received similar kits as part of a campaign by Gorman’s NRPE.
For most, the kits—which sought to convey “theological roots for celebrating God’s creation,” “tools for worshiping the Creator through His handiwork,” and descriptions of “the provisions and abuses of God’s creation”—were a bolt out of the blue. Significant religious involvement in environmental activism had until then been rare, mostly confined to liberal, mainline churches. What few evangelical recipients knew was the history behind the kits, including the NRPE campaign’s ties to the Left.
The version for evangelicals, Let the Earth Be Glad, was distributed by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), newly formed by Ronald J. Sider, author of the influential Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. EEN was part of Sider’s Evangelicals for Social Action, an advocacy group that had long touted the Left’s political and economic agenda. Sider launched EEN at the request of Gorman.
All told, NRPE claims, its “faith groups have sent resource kits to over 100,000 congregations: every Catholic parish, virtually every synagogue, 50,000 mainline Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches, 35,000 evangelical congregations.” In May 1999, the Acton Institute reports, “NRPE announced a 10-year, $16 million initiative designed to “assure that the next generation of religious leaders in America advance care for God’s creation as a central priority for organized religion.”
Major support for NRPE comes from left-leaning foundations with a history of supporting population control through government-run “family planning.” Few of the foundations have shown much friendliness to any religion, particularly to theologically conservative Christianity. For instance, the Rockefeller Foundation gave NRPE $400,000 in 2008 for its “Climate Policy & Replication” initiative and $80,100 in 2010 for a “Conference on International Adaptation” related to so-called climate change. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation gave NRPE a combined $2.8 million in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, and in 2011—mostly passed through to NRPE’s member groups, including EEN. (Hewlett’s support for abortion and government-run “family planning” programs is evident from its multi-million-dollar contributions to these areas.)
As an evangelical, I will focus here mostly on environmentalism’s presence in the evangelical movement. This is fitting, too, in that evangelicals have historically shown more resistance than Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Jews to the environmentalist message. Also, because fears about ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ have been the most powerful pull for evangelicals to become environmental activists, I will focus particularly on that issue.
Support among evangelicals for left-wing environmentalism (particularly with regard to ‘global warming’) grew slowly but steadily through the 1990s. Climate had a significant but still small part in 1993’s “Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation.” (“We and our children face a growing crisis in the health of the creation. . . . Yet we continue to degrade that creation.”)
But it wasn’t until 1997, with the release of “It’s God’s World: Christians, the Environment, and Climate Change,” a study resource prepared by National Council of Churches U.S.A. Eco-Justice Working Group, that the topic began to dominate NRPE member groups’ attention. By 1999, NRPE had launched an Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign that by 2001 would expand to 21 states—not coincidentally, many of the states that had close races for Congress the next year.
The Oregon Petition
EEN partnered with Christianity Today and the National Association of Evangelicals to sponsor a conference on “Compassion and the Care of Creation” at Malone College in Canton, Ohio, in 1999. I delivered a short paper and questioned whether mitigating global warming was a moral imperative. I also cited the “Oregon Petition,” which had then been endorsed by over 17,000 scientists (now by over 31,000) and which denied that scientific evidence proved that human-induced global warming was or in the foreseeable future would be harmful.
My paper was later posted—without my permission—at the website of World Hope International, with a note claiming that anyone could sign the Oregon Petition so long as he claimed to have a bachelor’s degree in some field of science, that no effort was made to check the validity of the signatures, and that “among the signatories were the TV characters Perry Mason and Hawkeye Pierce.”
Those charges were false. In fact, the initial 17,000+ signatures on the Oregon Petition were obtained in response to a first-class mailing to about 19,000 bona fide scientists who, to be included on the petition, had to complete a form listing scientific credentials; they had to sign the petition and return it as hard copy; and each signature was verified before the name was put on the list. Afterwards, the petition was posted to the Internet, at which time a form was also posted so that people who wanted their names added to the petition could go through the same process of verification before listing.
That listing of Perry Mason? Perry Mason was the real name of a chemistry Ph.D. in Lubbock, Texas, a man known personally to Oregon Petition organizer (and evangelical scientist) Art Robinson. That character from “M*A*S*H”? “Hawkeye Pierce” never appeared on the list. The radical environmental group Ozone Action succeeded in getting one bogus name, Geri Halliwell (the Spice Girl), included on the list, but it was quickly removed. False charges and dirty tricks: Such are the perils of dealing with some religious environmentalists.
In June 2001, EEN inaugurated a “Creation Fest Recycling Program,” and in December of that year it launched the HealthyFamilies.org website. Then EEN rose to national prominence with its “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign spanning 2002–2003, headed by its then-president, the Rev. Jim Ball (a former employee of the left-wing Union of Concerned Scientists whose wife Kara was employed by the National Wildlife Federation). The WWJD campaign urged Americans to fight global warming by driving low-emissions vehicles—never mind the higher injury and death rates faced by the vehicles’ occupants. The campaign, which focused on numerous Bible Belt states, was orchestrated and promoted by Fenton Communications, the left-wing public-relations organization. It was featured in newspapers and on broadcast and cable TV news. Also in 2003, EEN began its annual “Creation Sunday” observances, beginning with “What Would Jesus Drive?” in 2003, “God’s Oceans” in 2004, and “Protecting God’s Endangered Creatures” in 2005.
By 2006, largely in response to EEN’s efforts, 14 colleges of the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities had “Creation Care Initiatives” underway (Calvin, Eastern Mennonite, Eastern, Gordon, Judson, Messiah, Mount Vernon Nazarene, Northwest, Northwestern, Point Loma Nazarene, Roberts Wesleyan, Seattle Pacific, Taylor, and Waynesburg). That year, EEN, together with the Carbon Fund, started a program to help evangelicals “offset” their carbon consumption.
EEN’s most important climate-related effort by far was the launch of the Evangelical Climate Initiative’s “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action,” drafted by David Gushee, then professor of ethics at Union University. The ECI declaration garnered endorsements from 86 evangelical leaders—college and mission agency presidents and megachurch pastors prominent among them—at its 2006 release. (The number has since grown.) Interestingly, few if any of the signers were scientists of any sort, let alone climate scientists, who might have had expertise to evaluate the document’s alarming claims and its conclusion that “The basic task for all of the world’s inhabitants is to find ways now to begin to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels that are the primary cause of human-induced climate change.”
EEN then organized an “Evangelical Youth Climate Initiative,” signed by over 1,000 young evangelicals. EEN launched the campaign with an ad in the New York Times stating, “Our Commitment to Jesus Christ Compels Us to Solve Global Warming.”
EEN met strong resistance, though, from other evangelical leaders, resistance led by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance. (I was ISA’s founder and national spokesman. ISA later changed its name to the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which I currently lead.) The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance issued its own statement, “A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming.” The statement offered counterevidence to ECI’s claims and was co-authored by NASA award-winning climate scientist Roy W. Spencer, environmental economist Ross McKitrick, energy policy analyst Paul K. Driessen, and me. (My credentials are in religion, philosophy, economics, and history.) ISA issued the statement along with an “Open Letter” to ECI’s signers and others concerned about global warming that stated:
► Foreseeable global warming will have moderate and mixed (not only harmful but also helpful), not catastrophic, consequences for humanity–including the poor–and the rest of the world’s inhabitants.
► Natural causes may account for a large part, perhaps the majority, of the global warming in both the last 30 and the last 150 years, which together constitute an episode in the natural rising and falling cycles of global average temperature. Human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are probably a minor and possibly an insignificant contributor to its causes.
► Reducing carbon dioxide emissions would have at most an insignificant impact on the quantity and duration of global warming and would not significantly reduce alleged harmful effects
► Government-mandated reductions in carbon dioxide emissions not only would not significantly curtail global warming or reduce its harmful effects but would also cause greater harm than good to humanity–especially the poor–while offering virtually no benefit to the rest of the world’s inhabitants.
► In light of all the above, the most prudent response is not to try to prevent or reduce whatever slight warming might really occur. It is instead to prepare to adapt by fostering means that will effectively protect humanity–especially the poor–not only from whatever harms may be anticipated from global warming but also from harms that may be fostered by other types of catastrophes, natural or manmade.
The statement and its “Open Letter” gained 110 initial endorsements. Some Christian college and mission agency presidents, megachurch pastors, and other ministry leaders were among the endorsers, but they were mostly professors of science and economics at Christian colleges, approached because they had relevant expertise to evaluate the paper’s arguments.
Administration and faculty at Union University arranged a debate between David Gushee and me, with comments by science faculty members. (Gushee, remember, was the drafter of the ECI’s “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.”) Shortly before we took the stage in October 2006, Gushee quietly told me, “In preparing for this debate, I found that the science was a whole lot more nuanced than I thought it was when I wrote the Call to Action.” Not long after the debate, Union University President David S. Dockery, who had been among ECI’s endorsers, became one of several who revoked their endorsements.
In 2007, NRPE launched a major campaign on poverty and climate change, “God’s Climate Embraces Us All,” seeking to persuade the Bush administration and Congress that fighting “climate change” was essential to protecting the poor. In conjunction with the campaign, the group released a letter signed by Bishop William Skylstad of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Dr. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Reverend Michael Livingston, president of the National Council of
Churches; and Rabbi Eric Yoffe, president of the Union of Reform Judaism. That year, NRPE’s four member groups testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in support of carbon dioxide cap-and-trade legislation (which later failed in the Senate).
In 2008, a group calling itself “The Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative” (SBECI) led by seminary student Jonathan Merritt, son of a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, captured widespread attention as the major media sought to make it appear that the group spoke for the Convention. As it turned out, the Convention had not authorized it and had actually adopted an official statement in 2007 directly opposed to it. At least one SBECI signer, Frank Page, then-president of the Convention, seemed to have misunderstood the SBECI, because he later told Baptist Press he still supported the Convention’s 2007 resolution.
The partisan political aspect of NRPE and the religious environmental movement in general had been apparent all along, with the religious “greens” overwhelmingly supporting Democrats. Among evangelicals in general, a partisan shift became obvious in 2008, particularly among evangelicals under 30, of whom the left-wing Center for American Progress reported, “twice as many voted for Democrat Barack Obama than for the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry.”
Working with Obama
Once President Obama took office in 2009, NRPE and its member groups gained ready access to the halls of power in Washington, meeting that year alone “with the Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality, the State Department, the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the Treasury Department, and senior White House officials on several occasions to offer the perspectives of the faith community on climate change and to advocate protections and programs for low income people and developing nations,” according to NRPE’s website.
Aided by the American Values Network with its $350,000 advertising campaign in support of “global warming” legislation, EEN’s advocacy campaigns that year helped secure an affirmative vote on cap-and-trade in the House, though the measure failed in the Senate. (The Network’s head was Burns Strider, who had worked with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and also served as senior advisor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and as senior advisor and director of faith and values outreach for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.)
2009 was also the year in which Sojourners—the left-wing organization headed by evangelical Jim Wallis—stepped up its efforts on “climate change.” Along with Faith in Public Life and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Sojourners distributed a guide encouraging pastors to call for action in sermons. Sojourners’ prior debt to the hard Left became apparent a year later, when Marvin Olasky reported in World magazine that Sojourners received $325,000 from multibillionaire George Soros’s Open Society Institute in 2004, 2006, and 2007—which helps explain how Sojourners’ revenues more than tripled from $1.6 million in 2001-2002 to almost $5.3 million in 2008-2009. Wallis called Olasky a liar but later acknowledged the figures’ accuracy. Sojourners had also received almost $216,000 from the left-wing Tides Foundation in 2004–2009, plus more than $38,000 in 2010–2011.
In December 2009 and January 2010, the Cornwall Alliance released a research paper entitled, A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming. It was the work of 11 theologians, nine scientists (including six climate scientists), and 12 economists as authors and reviewers. More than triple the length of the earlier Call To Truth statement, it reaffirmed the earlier findings. Cornwall also released an “Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming” (EDGW) that bore the signatures of 91 ministry leaders, theologians, pastors, ethicists, and higher education leaders, as well as 41 scientists (including 11 climate scientists), ten economists, and hundreds of laymen.
A misleading ‘pro-life’ campaign
In 2010 EEN launched a new initiative, Mercury and the Unborn, to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s moves to institute strict new regulations on mercury emissions from coal-fired electric power plants. Claiming one in six American infants were exposed in the womb to levels of mercury that put them at risk of devastating, permanent brain damage, EEN characterized the reduction of mercury emissions as a “pro-life” issue. In a radio, television, and billboard advertising campaign (the radio component alone cost $150,000), EEN praised as “sensitive to pro-life concerns” members of Congress who supported new mercury regulations—including some members with 100 percent pro-abortion voting records. It questioned the pro-life commitment of members of Congress who opposed the regulations—even some with 100 percent pro-life voting records. The campaign’s funding seems to have come at least in part from a $50,000 grant in July 2011 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a notoriously pro-abortion donor.
Sojourners’ Wallis isn’t the only evangelical “green” to be less than candid about his funding. When Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said the Rockefeller Foundation had given EEN $200,000 in 2009 and $50,000 in 2011, EEN president Mitch Hescox denied it, saying his organization had received no money from that source during his tenure. He was technically correct, but disingenuous. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, not the Rockefeller Foundation, actually made three grants to EEN—$450,000 indirectly through NRPE in 2006, two months before Hescox became EEN’s president, the other two during his tenure. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund was founded by David Rockefeller expressly to promote “family planning” and population control around the world, including programs that involve coercion.
The Cornwall Alliance responded with a new major paper, “The Cost of Good Intentions: The Ethics and Economics of the War on Conventional Energy,” which argued that EEN had misunderstood EPA’s scientific findings about mercury contamination and that exposure rates were many times lower, while the risks to infants were greatly exaggerated—the risk was not one of permanent, devastating brain damage but of a delay in neurological development that was minimal and temporary. (Only a trained specialist using targeted testing
could detect such a delay, and it almost always disappeared early in life. In the tiny percentage of cases where damage persisted, it amounted to about a one-half point reduction in I.Q., a difference found in identical twins raised in the same household. Offsetting that risk was the significant improvement in levels of health and safety resulting from the availability of inexpensive energy from coal-fired power plants.)
Thirty-one pro-life leaders from 21 pro-life organizations then issued a joint statement, “Protecting the Unborn and the Pro-Life Movement from a Misleading Environmentalist Tactic,” which repudiated EEN’s campaign. Citing Cornwall’s “Cost of Good Intentions” paper, they said, “The life in pro-life denotes not quality of life but life itself. The term denotes opposition to a procedure that intentionally results in dead babies . . . even if one grants the exaggerated numbers and harms claimed by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) in its recent quarter-million-dollar advertising campaign that claimed, ‘being pro-life means protecting the unborn from mercury pollution,’ mercury exposure due to power-plant emissions does not kill infants.” They concluded that EEN’s campaign would “confuse voters, divide the pro-life vote, and postpone the end of abortion on demand in America.”
Nonetheless, in 2012 EEN began claiming that the fight against global warming is a “pro-life” cause as well, though the claim is vulnerable to the same kind of critique. Here, too, major funding for EEN’s campaign comes from pro-abortion foundations such as Hewlett ($475,000 to launch the ECI) and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
In July 2013, 194 evangelical scholars calling themselves the Evangelical Scientists Initiative, closely allied with EEN, sent an open letter to Congress calling for urgent action that would supposedly prevent climate change. One would expect a letter on climate change would have among its signers a host of climate scientists. That’s especially true for a letter that begins: “As evangelical scientists and academics, we understand climate change is real and action is urgently needed.” The news media often assume that such a proclamation involves climate scientists, and that’s what happened with this letter: A reporter for ClimateWire, a publication of Environment & Energy Publishing, e-mailed me asking, “Did you expect this collection of 200 Evangelical scientists, all with degrees in climate science, to promote their studies with a faith-led banner?” (emphasis added).
In fact, out of the 194 signers—who were identified only by institution, not by the fields in which they taught—only five had degrees in climate science (2.6%), while by far the largest field of study represented was biology, with 117 (60.3%). That is to say, the number of degreed climate scientists was fewer than the number of such scientists among the authors and reviewers of Cornwall’s Renewed Call to Truth.
Left-wing monies have been crucial to religious environmentalism (including evangelical environmentalism), notably—
► Evangelicals for Social Action ($500,000 from the Marisla Foundation in 2007, 2008, and 2009, all designated to environment/climate)
► Evangelical Environmental Network ($100,000 paid and another $100,000 approved in 2010 from Marisla Foundation for its climate campaigns; $650,000 directly from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 2006, 2009, and 2011, and $100,000 indirectly from the same fund through NRPE in 2006, all for its climate campaigns; $75,000 from the Energy Foundation in 2013)
► National Religious Partnership for the Environment (the Rockefeller Foundation gave $400,000 in 2008–2010 and $80,100 in 2010–2011; a total of $3.5 million from the Hewlett Foundation: $200,000 in 2000, $400,000 in 2005, $600,000 in 2007, $600,000 in 2008, $700,000 in 2009, $700,000 in 2010, and $300,000 in 2011; $150,000 in 1998–1999 from the Bauman Family Foundation; $1.2 million for climate campaign and $305,000 for mercury campaign in 2011 from the Energy Foundation; $532,000 in 1998–2000 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; $75,000 from the Marisla Foundation in 2006; $320,000 in 2005, $314,000 in 2006, and $450,000 in 2007—a total of $1.084 million—from the Pew Charitable Trusts)
► Sojourners ($325,000 total from Soros’s Open Society Institute in 2004, 2006, and 2007; $253,791 total from Tides Foundation in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2011)
► Richard Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good ($175,400 from Soros’s Open Society Institute in 2009–2010; $25,000 from Tides Foundation in 2010). (As vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, Cizik had pushed its board hard to endorse the ECI; he was later forced to resign when, in an NPR interview, he endorsed same-sex unions. For his environmentalist efforts, he found support at Ted Turner’s United Nations Foundation, then at Soros’s Open Society Institute.)
This list only scrapes the surface but still totals over $9.6 million. All of these left-wing foundations also support population control through government-run “family planning” including (often incentivized, sometimes forced) sterilization and abortion. They also support centralized economic planning, as well as the transfer of power to global institutions like the United Nations. It seems fair to say their support for religious organizations seems based less on religious motivations and more on a larger agenda, one that has little to do with religion.
E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is founder of and national spokesman for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and the author of Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate.