Martin Marty – Global Warming and American Christianity

Those who long recognized that the public has to take a long view, should it wish to address global warming, learned in the recent election that they have to take a longer view. The Tea Party, which makes its first appearance in Sightings today, massively opposes small measures and even serious attempts to bring up the topic.

Not a few Tea Partiers undergird their opposition with theology of the biblical sort. Last October 20 in The New York Times, John M. Broder did a close-up of typical action in campaigns at Jasper, Indiana. Global warming? “It’s a flat-out lie!” shouted the founder of the local T.P., basing his view on theologian Rush Limbaugh and “the teaching of Scripture. ‘I read my Bible. . . [God] made this earth for us to utilize.’” Lisa Deaton, a founder of Tea Partyish “We the People Indiana,” added gloss: “Being a strong Christian, I cannot help believe the Lord placed a lot of minerals in our country, and it’s not there to destroy us.”

It would be easy to refute and dismiss such proclamations, but they are generously backed. Broden: “Those views in general align with those of the fossil fuel industries,” which subsidize—at the rate of [by now well over] $500 million in the last two years—lobbying against legislation that would help postpone The End. Such industries can always find some dissenter against the overwhelming scientific consensus which warns against the destruction of the planet. Ron Johnson, the new senator from Wisconsin, settles it all scientifically. Climate change? “It’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity.” Or part of an every ten-thousand year cycle. Wait and see.

Bill McKibben, whom the utilities lobbyists and the Tea Partiers most hate, is an advocate of measures to confront climate change. In The New Republic, he writes: “On what is quite possibly the single biggest issue the planet has faced, American conservatism has reached a near-unanimous position, and that position is: pay no attention to all those scientists.” He skewers the “tiny bunch of skeptics being quoted by right-wing blogs.” McKibben, who includes churches as he rides the speaking circuit to awaken publics, is not a total pessimist. He thinks true conservatives, who would like to conserve the earth, will come to see through the conspiracy theorists, utilities lobbyists, and beyond the crack-pots—and help make sacrifices to bring about change.

McKibben, long a favorite of readers of The Christian Century, has begun to get support from editors who know what real conservatism means. So it was cheering to see LaVonne Neff commenting in Christianity Today on McKibben’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. She quoted stories identifying the author as “probably the nation’s leading environmentalist” and “the world’s best green journalist.” He is also, she notes, “a churchgoing, Sunday-school teaching Methodist, who wants to see Christians leading the environmental movement,” and makes a theological case for their doing so. McKibben argues for “small and local” ways to help confront the issue. Ms. Neff, contra Mr. Limbaugh and other theologians on the far right, argues that McKibben’s recommendations “fit well with Scripture’s respect for creation” and “its requirement to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

Many Catholics, Jews, and Mainline Protestants, who have worked this theme in their “social justice” preaching, rejoice to hear such evangelical voices. Neff writes, “McKibben is not a doomsday prophet,” but he is a prophet crying in our heating-up wilderness.


“Local is beautiful: Bill McKibben believes we can thrive on a planet that will never be the same,” Christianity Today, November, 2010.

John M. Broder, “Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faith,” New York Times, October 20.

Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by (New York: Times Books, 2010).

—, “Hot Mess: Why Are Conservatives So Radical about the Climate?” The New Republic, October 6, 2010.

Martin E. Marty’s biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at


Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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