Admit it; you assumed evangelical Christians are all so conservative in their politics, they even shut their left eye when they vote. Sure, there are also centrist, liberal and apolitical Christians aplenty. Yet, that little add-on — “evangelical” — gives away a Christian whose politics is reliably red. Right? Not just on social issues like abortion or marriage, but in fact most issues.
Perhaps, then, you’d be surprised to learn the Evangelical Environmental Network has gathered the signatures of “more than 4,400 pro-life Christians in Colorado…urging the Colorado congressional delegation to reject efforts to sell off America’s public lands, honor protections of national monuments, and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund…” Which, of course, doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement of the new Republican administration’s environmental agenda. It sounds a lot more like the environmental platform of that other political party, the one that begins with a “D” — the one whose name you had thought never crossed the lips of self-respecting evangelicals.
The Evangelical Environmental Network probably thought that would surprise you, too; hence, the group’s press release beamed out to Colorado news media this morning. The subtext: This ain’t your grandad’s evangelical movement. Here’s more from the press release:
“As pro-life Christians, we are called to be good stewards of the bounty upon which all life depends, to protect and defend the beauty and purity of the land and water, and to have clean skies and fresh air for our children to enjoy. Our public lands are essential to our quality of life; they are national treasures,” said Rev. Mitchell Hescox, President & CEO of EEN. “As stewards of these national treasures, we must be ever vigilant against attempts to sell them, transfer them, or weaken their protections, or to weaken the laws that make our public lands possible.”
Nationwide, more than 225,000 pro-life Christians have signed the EEN petition to support policies that defend and preserve America’s public lands, and ask members of Congress to heed their call and take encouragement from their support to do what’s right when it comes to our national heritage and God’s creation.
Are we witnessing a watershed in the history of the evangelical movement and its involvement in politics? Are younger, hipper evangelicals about to seize the helm after having a come-to-You-Know-Who moment about their relationship with nature?
Maybe, but wait: What is the Evangelical Environmental Network, and who is behind it? The EEN offers this explainer on itself at the bottom of this morning’s mass email:
The Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) is a ministry that educates, inspires, and mobilizes Christians in their effort to care for God’s creation, to be faithful stewards of God’s provision, to get involved in regions of the United States and the World impacted by pollution, and to advocate for actions and policies that honor God and protect the environment.
There are skeptics, though. Not surprisingly, they tend to support the traditional fossil-fuel industries and embrace more of a free-market approach to the environment. They offer a different take on groups like EEN. One such skeptical voice, the Washington, D.C.-based Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, published an analysis in 2015 titled, “Greens ‘smuggle’ climate policy into the church to tip climate politics.” It cites a report by the New America think tank — “Spreading the Gospel of Climate Change: An Evangelical Battleground” — that frankly assesses the strategy, tactics and funding of groups like EEN. Writes CFACT’s Marita Noon, quoting extensively from the New America report:
Environmentalists worked to reframe climate change as “Creation Care” and “hoped that evangelical Christians might publically embrace climate change as a moral issue and an authentically ‘conservative’ concern.”
To do this, funders looked to the Evangelical Environmental Network
(EEN) “to reach out to evangelicals and leverage the moral authority of faith.” The report states: “With funding from the Hewlett and Energy Foundations, the EEN launched the Evangelical Climate Initiative, the culmination of its four-year effort to encourage major evangelical institutions to develop a public witness on climate change.”
The Hewlett Foundation and its beneficiary, the Energy Foundation, are major funders of the environmental movement in general, including some of its more reputedly left-leaning constituents. From 2000 to 2015, for example, it gave the Sierra Club Foundation more than $4.4 million, the Environmental Working Group $3.5 million and $2.6 million to the Environmental Defense Fund, according to research by the right-leaning group, LeftExposed.
Meanwhile, the author of today’s press release actually was a Beltway PR firm, the Bromwich Group, whose principal Michael R. Bromwich served in the Obama administration as the first director of the newly created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. When asked who was picking up the tab for the Bromwich Group’s services, associate Katie Dixon responded in part: “The Bromwich Group actually works for a coalition of organizations that have come together around the Antiquities Act, and are helping push out the EEN release. As for funding for EEN, I know they are a 501c3 but don’t have any more intel on their organizational funding.”
None of which is to challenge EEN’s theological take on the environment or to presume how evangelicals should feel about groups like EEN or environmental issues in general.
It’s just that in politics, the backstory is always helpful. Without such context, you’re flying blind. Or, you might say, making a leap of faith.