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Some American Evangelicals Call for Action to Stop Global Warming

Some prominent American evangelical leaders have launched a campaign to persuade their congregants that more needs to be done to stop global warming.

By embracing a cause normally advocated by environmental groups, these evangelical leaders have broken with many of their colleagues and the Bush administration on the global warming issue.

America's evangelical Christians number in the tens of millions, and traditionally have embraced causes like the fight against abortion and gay marriage. But now, some evangelical leaders are warning their congregations about the dangers of global warming. In full-page newspaper ads, 86 prominent evangelicals pledged to work to help solve the global warming crisis.

Robert Andringa, who heads the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, was among those who signed the statement. "God created the universe and gave us responsibility to be stewards of it,” he said. “Also that we are to love God but also our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Well, among the things that Jesus taught us is the poor and the disenfranchised. And on this particular issue, it hits the poorer hardest."

Some scientists think climate change is responsible for the rise of stronger hurricanes, like last year's Hurricane Katrina, and fiercer and more destructive typhoons in Asia. Recent studies show glaciers, such as those on Greenland, are melting faster and this could significantly raise sea levels, causing flooding in low-lying countries like Bangladesh.

Despite some dissenters, most climate scientists believe human activity, especially the increased emissions of greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels, is making the Earth warmer.

On its web site, the Evangelical Climate Initiative calls for pressing the U.S. government to curb carbon emissions.

"Many Christians don't want to look to government first, but in this case we believe that the issue is big enough and significant enough that individual action alone cannot work. I'm convinced that we need government action," said Mr. Andringa.

President Bush, a devoutly religious man who regularly presides over prayer breakfasts, has a strong constituency among evangelicals. On the issue of global warming, he and his administration oppose mandatory limits on carbon emissions. He explained why early in his first term in office.

"We will not do anything that harms our economy, because first things first are the people who live in America and that's my priority," said Mr. Bush.

President Bush supports solutions other than mandatory limits on carbon emissions and favors more research into the causes of global warming.

Evangelical leaders, such as Richard Land, agree and have criticized those who are calling for government intervention. "A significant portion of my constituency does not think global warming is a settled issue. They don't think that human impact on global warming is a settled issue."

Yet pressure may build for more active measures, as evidence grows of global warming's effects on the environment.

Paul Wapner of American University says the move by some evangelicals to press for change is significant. "I actually think this is a big deal. I think that to have this voice which speaks to many people who have either said to themselves, ‘My religious life is a private matter, it is not a matter of public engagement.’ This call to action, I think, speaks to some of those people to say, ‘hold on, I have a public responsibility here’."

Yet it may take some time to convince most conservative Christians, as Robert Andringa acknowledges. "It just takes a long time for people to understand issues that are sort of abstract or too technical, and we're trying to bring it home, not as technical experts but as followers of Christ and ask, 'What is our responsibility?' It's to care for the creation and to care about those who are poor."

Even if Andringa and others persuade most evangelicals to join their cause, affecting such a vast and complex phenomenon as global warming will be difficult.