- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

Quoting the Bible, the television ad warns that SUVs hurt children and cause global warming, and concludes with the question: "What would Jesus drive?"
Scheduled for broadcast next month in four states, the ads with their spin on the "What would Jesus do?" slogan popularized by evangelical Christians have made headlines as part of a campaign to boost environmental awareness.
The campaign is "calling on people of faith to push fuel efficiency and buy fuel-efficient vehicles," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC), which is part of the coalition backing the campaign.
Critics say some of the activists behind this campaign are promoting pagan earth worship and pushing an agenda that has more to do with politics than prayer.
Some leaders of the movement "are Gaia worshippers who say the Bible should be put on the shelf and Earth is the giver of life," says Henry Lamb, author of a 1996 treatise on the movement.
But backers of "What Would Jesus Drive?" say they are acting on biblical principles of stewardship over God's creation.
"For us, environmentalism doesn't start with Earth Day, it begins with Genesis," says Paul Gorman, founder and executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE).
In the beginning, however, Mr. Gorman's expertise was politics, as a speechwriter for Sen. Eugene McCarthy's 1968 anti-war campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Prominent politicians, including Al Gore, were "instrumental" in the founding of NRPE in the early 1990s, according to Mr. Lamb.
"Gore in particular arranged prayer breakfasts in Washington [to generate] political and financial support," said Mr. Lamb, executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization, a Tennessee-based property-rights group.
Others active in founding the religious partnership, according to Mr. Lamb, were Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords and Tim Wirth, then a Democratic senator from Colorado. Mr. Wirth is now president of the U.N. Foundation, created by billionaire Ted Turner to support U.N. population-control programs.
"Population control is certainly a big issue with them," Mr. Lamb said of the religious environmental groups. "They promote choice and family planning."
They were promoting fuel-efficient automobiles in Detroit last week, where Mr. Gorman and others in the movement including Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network met with auto executives.
"I think [industry executives] were genuinely interested in what we had to say," Mr. Gorman said.
"We want people to think of transportation as a moral issue," says Mr. Ball, an ordained Baptist minister who lives in Maryland. His group produced the "What Would Jesus Drive?" ad with funding from the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation.
The ads will begin airing next month in North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana and Iowa. Those four states "have populations we could reach with our limited budgets, and they also have large evangelical populations," Mr. Ball said.
The campaign's Web site (www.whatwouldjesusdrive.org) has already attracted more than 100,000 visitors, Mr. Ball said.
It has also spawned no small number of joking responses, such as the statement that the Almighty owns a Pontiac and a Geo, according to Psalm 83, which urges the Lord to "persecute them with thy Tempest, and make them afraid with thy Storm."
"I've seen them all," Mr. Ball said of the spoofs.
Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson is not amused by the "What Would Jesus Drive?" effort, saying in a statement last week that "the concept of linking Jesus to an anti-SUV campaign borders on blasphemy."
Mr. Ball's group knows how to play hardball politics: the Evangelical Environmental Network spent $1 million in 1996 to lobby against changes to the Endangered Species Act. "Congress and special interests are trying to sink the Noah's Ark of our day the Endangered Species Act," Calvin B. DeWitt, co-founder of the environmental network, said at the time.
The Evangelical Environmental Network is one of four partners in Mr. Gorman's religious partnership, along with Catholic and Jewish environmental groups and the NCC, whose leader, Mr. Edgar, spent 12 years in Congress as a Pennsylvania Democrat.
"We're here in Detroit to tell the auto industry that we're calling on people of faith to push fuel efficiency and buy fuel-efficient vehicles," Mr. Edgar told reporters in Detroit last week, when the environmental groups met with auto executives.
In his 1996 paper, "The Rise of Global Green Religion," Mr. Lamb traces the origins of NRPE to a movement promoting a "biocentric belief in Gaia" a conception of the earth as the source of all life.
Beginning in the 1980s, the movement was centered at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, N.Y., where Mr. Gorman spent seven years as vice president for public affairs and advocacy beginning in 1985.
Mr. Gorman was a well-known radio personality in New York. He spent 28 years at WBAI, a public radio station in New York where in 1973 he broadcast comedian George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say on TV," sparking FCC sanctions and a landmark 1978 Supreme Court ruling.
In 1986, a year after joining St. John the Divine, Mr. Gorman co-authored a book with Eastern mystic Ram Dass, aka Richard Alpert, a former associate of LSD guru Timothy Leary.
St. John the Divine was also home to the Temple of Understanding, affiliated with the United Nations. In 1988, the temple co-founded a "Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival."
The NRPE grew out of the forum, which first met in Oxford, England, where the featured speaker was James Lovelock, author of "The Ages of Gaia."
In September 1993, the NRPE made its public debut with a celebration that included a speech by Mr. Gore, who said the new group would "trigger the beginning of grass-roots [environmentalist] activity in tens of thousands of religious congregations across the country."
Mr. Gorman left St. John the Divine to become executive director of NRPE. Two years ago, Mr. Gorman received a $250,000 Heinz Award for his "major new vision" that had "broadened the base of the environmental movement."


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