Churches step up environmental activism

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“Essentially, the larger environmental groups set the agenda. They determine what needs to be protested, and they get that information out to the smaller groups, including those specifically religious groups,” said E. Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance For the Stewardship of Creation, a coalition of clergy, scientists, academics and others that remains skeptical of how far such churches as the UCC have pushed the envelope.

“The marching orders come from the much larger, much more well-funded environmental groups,” he said.

Mr. Beisner stressed that he too is concerned about environmental issues. But, he said, too many evangelicals have fallen into the trap of believing that anti-fossil fuels advocacy, combined with sufficient government regulation, is the answer to all problems.

“A lot of people, especially among very sincere religious people, have an almost utopian mentality that says it ought to be possible for us to live in a risk-free world,” Mr. Beisner said. “That just isn’t so. We are not going to eliminate all risk. We have to recognize that some risk is unavoidable.”

Another potential pitfall of the evangelical-environmentalist marriage runs deeper, specialists say. In all communities, churches typically strive not to be seen as one more combatant in the political battles people see in the other six days of the week. Those who work in the natural gas industry, for example, may be unlikely to attend Smithfield UCC, given the church’s involvement in drilling protests.

Churches shouldn’t shy away from controversial topics such as the environment, but the conversation should never drive people away, said Galen Carey, vice president of government relations at the National Association of Evangelicals.

“The church needs to be a place where there’s room for different views on political issues. There needs to be a place for respectful dialogue,” he said.

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