Christian Coalition Declares Support For John Kerry’s Climate Efforts

It’s official: the religious right no longer dominates evangelical politics. The movement has outgrown its narrow focus on school prayer, abortion, and homophobia. Evangelicals have been trending this way for several years, but concrete change came today as the Christian Coalition endorsed John Kerry and Lindsey Graham's efforts to pass a major clean energy and climate change bill. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Christian Coalition, it’s the organization formed out of the remnants of Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign and brought to prominence by Ralph Reed – what Democracy for America is to Howard Dean, and the backbone of the religious right in the early 1990s.)

I have long been intrigued by the changing nature of evangelical politics. It was the subject of my undergraduate thesis: evangelicals never cease their political involvement, but every few decades, the nature of that involvement changes. Since the mid-1970s, evangelical politics have been in the era of the “religious right,” but that era is coming to a close. Evangelicals aren’t abandoning their positions on the aforementioned wedge issues, but they are changing their rhetoric and beginning to care about justice issues. All the evidence, though, has been circumstantial, with plenty to counter it: Individual megachurch pastors, like Rick Warren, call for a more civil discourse and a focus on more than just two or three issue, but always meet with sharp rebukes from the likes of James Dobson. A poll showed young evangelicals, while as pro-life as their parents, are also pro-civil-unions, but there’s no sign of political action to back it up. The Christian Coalition elected a president concerned with creation care (climate change) and poverty in 2006, but ousted him before he took office.

So while thousands of evangelical churches are “greening” their congregations, whether or not personal commitment to “creation care” would translate to political action has always been a slippery question. Today, I think, we finally have a solid answer. This isn’t just a generational shift like in the above poll; it’s the old guard seeing the light and braodening their focus. The current leader, Roberta Combs, took over as president for Pat Robertson in 2001 and led the aforementioned ouster of her 2006 replacement, but says the following in a new radio ad:

President Bush was right: our addiction to foreign oil threatens our national security and economic prosperity. America spends almost a billion dollars a day on foreign oil and a lot of that goes to countries that do not like us and harbor terrorists. Washington's failure to act puts our national security at risk, and drains our economy. I've heard from so many Christian Coalition supporters that energy is one of the most important issues we face today. America is a can-do country. We've got to take the lead to explore energy alternatives and protect our national security. We have to make our country safer by creating jobs with the made-in-America energy plan. I would like to ask you to call Sen. Lindsey Graham and encourage him to continue fighting for our families.

Evangelical politics are same-old same-old on abortion and, for now, gay rights. They are and always will be fundamentally conservative, but that doesn’t mean the progressive movement should reject a strong partner on specific issues such as the fight against climate change. With the forced ouster of James Dobson at Focus on the Family, the movement’s rhetoric and willingness to cooperate seems to be changing, and that’s an outstretched hand I say we take where we can. Assuming the KGL bill doesn’t give too much away to coal, we need to do whatever it takes to pass it. This just might be the “change” voters were looking for: not just in policy outcomes, but in rhetoric and advocacy as well.

Tags: Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson, Lindsey Graham, faith and politics, religious right, Climate change, Environment, james dobson, Evangelicals, Climate change, Environment, james dobson, Evangelicals (all tags)

Comments

4 Comments

why do you assume

The Kerry Graham Lieberman bill doesn't give away too much to coal? From what I'm reading at Grist and elsewhere, there is very little to like about this bill. I am not at all surprised the Christian Coalition would come out supporting a fake "climate" bill that is mostly a giveaway to fossil fuel and nuclear interests, with some token clean energy element.

I will take my chances with the EPA regulating CO2. I know that's not a long-term solution, but I suspect that more coal-fired power plants will get built in the next 5 years with the KGL bill than without it.

by desmoinesdem 2010-03-18 09:11PM | 0 recs
RE: why do you assume

By "assuming... we need to do," I didn't mean the bill doesn't contain too much for the coal industry in the present tense. I meant that as an "if... then" statement, future tense. If, once we see the final bill, it doesn't, then we should support it.

Most environmental groups seem inclined to support the bill - the Sierra Club, the ACP, Earthjustice, etc. - are pushing for a good bill, but they still seem inclined to support a bill over the EPA (while still defending the EPA's right to regulate). I'll be interested to see if they maintain that stand next week, or whenever the final bill comes out. As of right now, the most recent article I've read at Grist did not include coal among the bill's major problems. I do grant this, however: there is little more than a token clean energy element. It should definitely have more for clean energy. But, the markets may well be pressured into clean energy just based on the utility trade system.

One other point I would make is that the extra-legislative fight against coal-fired plants is going so well that the Sierra Club is starting to shift its focus from stopping new plants to decommissioning and repurposing existing ones.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-03-18 11:06PM | 0 recs
RE: why do you assume

Is it going to go anywhere in the Senate? Atleast 6 Democrats will defect - Lincoln, Landrieu, Nelson, Byrd, Bayh and one other wild-card. In return we get 1 GOP - Graham. Maybe Snowe but I doubt it. So it's DOA already right?

by vecky 2010-03-19 12:51AM | 0 recs
RE: why do you assume

This one's more likely to get some bipartisan support - thanks to nukes and, sadly, oil - than was the health care bill. Not only do the Christian Coalition and vets groups provide cover, Collins, Gregg, LeMieux, Lugar, and Murkowski were at the White House the other day to discuss the bill. If we got them all with no other surprises, that'd be 7. And will all no Democrats also filibuster? So there's still a chance. That's why KGL are taking so long to craft the language and details.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-03-19 11:41AM | 0 recs

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