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<p>CHARLESTON, W.Va.—On a rainy October Saturday, about half a dozen people trudged up a rocky path to witness what coal companies had done to Kayford Mountain, West Virginia. For generations, locals had gathered to pray on this high ground, and three towering white crosses marked the site. The surrounding woods showed off their early fall color, but not far beyond them was a vast, gray bulldozed moonscape left by mountaintop-removal coal mining. </p><p>For the last two decades, coal companies in Appalachia have used high explosives to blast open mountains, expose the coal seams and push the rubble into adjacent valleys. Mountaintop removal is faster and cheaper than tunneling underground for coal, and the struggling coal industry says it’s a vital source of jobs and much-needed energy. Opponents say the practice not only despoils nature, but also poisons the air and water of nearby communities.</p><p>The Kayford Mountain visitors largely came from out of state, invited to West Virginia by Allen Johnson, 67, who co-founded the anti-mountaintop mining group that has been fighting the practice in West Virginia for the past decade. Most in the small group were committed environmentalists, some having spent years fighting for causes like clean water and clean energy. They had something else in common: They were conservative evangelicals.</p><p>Johnson’s group is called <a href=”http://www.christiansforthemountains.org” target=”_blank”>Christians for the Mountains</a>. His friend, and cohost of the gathering, <a href=”http://johnmurdock.org” target=”_blank”>John Murdock</a>, 42, is a former Interior Department lawyer and writer, who carries business cards that read “Christian. Conservative. Treehugger.” Wearing a red flannel shirt, with a windblown nose and cheeks peeking out above his white beard, Johnson told the visitors about his old friend, Larry Gibson, a local environmental icon, who had lived and died on Kayford and was buried just up the road. Gibson started organizing to stop mountaintop-removal mining in the 1990s; he refused to sell his 50 acres to the coal companies, despite the attempts to intimidate him—coal trucks ran him off the road, drunken miners came on his property <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gjc7Jg_gMy0″ target=”_blank”>shouting obscenities and threats</a>, vandals burned down his cabin and shot his dog.</p><p>In the hyper-partisan world of American climate politics, these guys are a minority within a minority—evangelical environmentalists who are deeply conservative. Christian environmentalism has been making some headlines recently, not least over the summer when Pope Francis connected climate with social justice in his encyclical, <i><a href=”http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html” target=”_blank”>Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home</a></i>, and spoke again on those themes during his September visit to America. In the run-up to the international climate talks in Paris, advocates for bold action on global warming embraced the encyclical.</p><p>The shorthand for faith-based environmentalism is “creation care”—the notion that people have been entrusted by God to care for the Earth. But the common perception is that creation care was a concern of liberal congregations, ones far more concerned with social justice talk than fire and brimstone. Murdock and Johnson, however, are among a growing group of conservative Christians who draw bright moral lines, know their Bibles, and make connections between the environment and other social issues such as their opposition to abortion. Rather than joining the liberal ranks, they want to revive a heritage of belief they trace to the founders of the modern religious right. </p><br><p>Building on the work of believers overseas, a small but steady drumbeat of environmentalism has begun among America’s conservative Christians. A number of conservative churches have invited climate scientists to speak to their congregations, and others are making sustainable development part of their international missionary work. Polls of American evangelicals, particularly the younger ones, show increasing numbers of them believe that the planet is warming and the people are the cause. </p><p>If there’s a chance at bridging the gap in this polarizing issue, it could start here, in small gatherings like the one on Kayford Mountain. Faith has a long history of changing minds and pushing broad social change. And in America, the most potent nexus of faith and political power remains with the Christian right. The weaving together of religion and the environment could be one of the most important factors in how America and the world respond to whatever climate commitments are agreed to this week in Paris.</p><p>The battle lines have been drawn—many Christian conservatives don’t simply ignore the “creation care” movement, they denounce it. In recent years, Christian pastors and theologians have actively organized against environmentalism, releasing books and DVDs warning that creation care is a Trojan Horse from the left meant to subvert Christianity with nature worship. </p><p>At the same time, it’s not certain how easily secular environmentalists and conservative creation care advocates will mix. A growing voice for environmental action among the faithful doesn’t mean they will suddenly flock to the Sierra Club. The likes of Murdock and Johnson believe pollution is symptomatic of a broken, sinful society that has lost its way—and, for the same reason, they oppose abortion and gay marriage. Their environmentalism is a testament and an act of faith, a call to repent and restore a broken covenant with God, and to spread the Gospel. To them, conservative Christian environmentalism is deeply consistent and global in its ambition—the question is whether it can become consistent with anything else in America.</p><p>“All of nature wants Christians to act like Christians,” Murdock said in an interview some weeks after the Kayford Mountain visit, citing scripture:</p><p><i>The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God</i>.</p><p class=”cms-textAlign-center”>***</p><p><b>If you trace the origins</b> of the modern Christian right, you don’t have to look too hard for an environmentalist thread. Among the leaders who forged conservative Christians into a united, politically engaged movement in the 1970s and early 1980s, few were as influential as the fundamentalist Presbyterian preacher and theologian Francis Schaeffer. In lecture tours and books, such as <i>A Christian Manifesto,</i> and films such as <i>Whatever Happened to the Human Race?</i> Schaeffer urged believers to take worship beyond the church walls, to engage with the world and to combat what he deemed the evils of “secular humanism,” notably abortion.</p><p>He was also very concerned about the planet. In a less well-known book, <i>Pollution and the Death of Man</i> (1970), Schaeffer linked environmental stewardship with respecting life in its totality. “The two factors that lead to the destruction of our environment—money and time,” Schaeffer wrote, “or to say it another way, greed and haste.”</p><p>Schaeffer argued that the hippies of the day were right to fight America’s “plastic culture,” but misguided in their approach to faith, turning toward what he considered a pantheism that valued human beings “no more than grass.” Instead, Schaeffer said our call to care for the environment was a testament to the special place people occupy in God’s plan. </p><p>“There is going to be total redemption in the future, not only of man, but of all creation,” he wrote. “The Christian who believes in the Bible should be the man who—with God’s help and in the power of the Holy Spirit—is treating nature now in the direction of the way nature will be then.” </p><br><p>In the decades that followed, however, the Christian right did not take up Schaeffer’s environmentalism with anywhere near the enthusiasm that they did his pro-life stance. Murdock thinks there were several reasons for this. For one thing, evangelicals were appalled by certain environmentalist precepts at the time, especially “zero population growth,” which ran counter to the Christian push to be fruitful and multiply and raised the specter of abortion and forced population control. </p><p>But politics played a big role, too, according to Murdock. A few years after Roe v. Wade, the Republicans engineered a strategy in the 1970s to peel religious voters away from born-again Democrat Jimmy Carter by adding a pro-life plank to their national platform. Environmentalists, for the most part, decided to go “all in” with the Democrats by the mid 1980s after Ronald Reagan sided with western landowners in their “sagebrush rebellion” against federal regulations. </p><p>As the partisan alliances hardened over the decades, conservative Christians and environmentalists increasingly viewed one another as enemies. According to sociologist Lydia Bean, senior consultant for the faith-based community organizers <a href=”http://www.piconetwork.org” target=”_blank”>PICO National Network</a> and author of <i>The Politics of Evangelical Identity</i> (2014), the religious self-concept of American evangelicals became “so closely intertwined with partisanship” that anything championed by Democrats, including environmentalism, was implicitly yoked to secular humanism and therefore threatened Christianity.<br /></p><br><p><br />The call to care for creation didn’t immediately or completely vanish from the world of conservative Christians. Notably, the Evangelical Environmental Network was founded in 1993, and in 2004, the National Association of Evangelicals included creation care in its report, <a href=”http://nae.net/for-the-health-of-the-nation/” target=”_blank”>“For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.”</a> </p><p><b> </b>Still, most conservative Christians steered clear of the creation care ranks. Among the faithful, both sides of the creation-care divide bolster their arguments with scripture, reaching all the way back to Genesis. Christians who oppose “radical environmentalism” point out that, in the beginning, God grants people “dominion” over creation, telling them to “fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on earth.” </p><p>Creation care advocates, however, counter with a later Genesis passage in which God tempers that message of dominion, telling Adam “to tend and watch over” the Garden of Eden. </p><p>The tension between science and religion dates back to Copernicus, at least. Today, the rift continues in debates over evolution and intelligent design, stem cell research and other issues. But conservative Christian environmentalists see science and faith as carefully knit together—and suggest the study of Earth’s ecosystems and atmosphere can be another way to learn about God. </p><p>“I think God is a revealing God,” said Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina who lost a primary in 2010 after proposing a carbon tax paired with a payroll tax cut. In 2012, Inglis launched the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, which seeks “conservative solutions” to climate change. </p><p>“God is saying, come on, I will show you. I want to restore Eden’s lost dreams. Come, walk with me,” Inglis said in a phone interview. “Jesus Christ didn’t just redeem our souls on the cross, but the whole of creation. “</p><p class=”cms-textAlign-center”>***</p><p><b>In the coal country of southern</b> West Virginia, it’s hard to imagine environmentalism taking root without a serious push by people of faith. The state is among the most religious of states, but also dead last in belief that global warming is happening and humans are causing it. The main streets of West Virginia’s once-thriving coal towns are lined with brick skeletons—dark, empty storefronts, and boarded up windows. The state has the nation’s highest unemployment, at more than 7 percent. </p><p>West Virginians are proud of their mining heritage, which powered the world for 150 years. But the coal industry is dying due to competition from natural gas (booming in West Virginia) and, as the West Virginia Coal Association puts it, Obama’s “regulatory assault.” In fact, coal’s decline stretches back decades. While West Virginia has lost about 40 percent of its coal jobs under Obama, coal jobs plummeted around 50 percent under Reagan. Even at the start of Reagan’s presidency, the mining workforce was about one-third of its post-World War II peak. </p><br><p>“When you have a mono-economy, you are vulnerable to boom and bust,” Johnson said to the group after they returned from Kayford Mountain to a Christian retreat center on the outskirts of Charleston. He and Murdock were careful to keep the welfare of people, and not just nature, at the center of their case. </p><p>“When we’re talking about saving mountains, we’re also talking about saving mountain people, and a way of life with so many positive aspects that are often forgotten or blown by in our freeway world,” Murdock told the group.</p><p> At the retreat center, the Kayford visitors were joined by Michael McCawley, a West Virginia University epidemiologist who presented his recent findings linking poorer health among people in mountaintop mining areas with higher concentrations of toxic ultrafine particulates—likely from the blasting and the exhaust of heavy machinery—that are tiny enough to lodge deep in lungs and pass through the blood-brain and placental barriers.</p><p>McCawley’s work was inspired by research his colleague Michael Hendryx did on the health of people in mountaintop mining areas that relied on survey data collected door-to-door by platoons of students from Christian colleges, organized by creation care groups such as Christians for the Mountains and Restoring Eden. Hendryx found that people in mountaintop mining areas had significantly higher rates of cancer, heart disease and birth defects. McCawley’s research, in turn, suggested that ultrafine particles generated by mining might be the link behind that correlation.</p><p>“This is a pro-life issue!” said Bo Webb, after McCawley’s talk. “It’s pro <i>life</i>, not just pro birth.” </p><p>Webb, a native of nearby Coal River Valley, West Virginia, has spent years pushing for the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (<a href=”http://acheact.org” target=”_blank”>ACHE</a>) Act, which would impose a federal moratorium on new mountaintop mining permits pending a Department of Health and Human Services study of its health risks. </p><p>McCawley is a devout Catholic, and after presenting his research he played a few recordings of the church music he composes. It wasn’t a typical coda for a scientific talk, but it revealed how the creation care movement depends not only on Christians willing to embrace environmental science, but also on scientists willing to open up about their faith. </p><p>Among the most notable examples is the evangelical British atmospheric physicist, John T. Houghton, editor of three Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientific reports on global warming. In a series of lectures and books starting in the mid 1990s, Houghton spoke fervently about both his faith and the threats of climate change, inspiring several “climate conversions” among Christian leaders, including Richard Cizik, former vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. </p><br><p>Another well-known Christian climate scientist I spoke to for this story, Katharine Hayhoe, said she didn’t make a connection between her faith and her research until she was invited to speak about global warming to church groups. “I was telling people they should care about this. But then I thought, well, why <i>should</i> they care? Why do <i>I</i> care?” she said in a phone interview. “It’s because I believe God created this world for us and asked us to watch over it.”</p><p>After talking science with Christians, Hayhoe was ready to open up about her faith with fellow scientists. “That was like coming out of the closet,” she said.</p><p class=”cms-textAlign-center”>***</p><p><b>To be an environmentalist</b> as a conservative Christian, “you have to be ready to lose your friends,” said Cizik. He should know.</p><p>Many leaders on the Christian right see creation care as a gateway drug to the “liberal agenda” and cite Cizik as an example. In 2008, several years after he began to speak out about global warming, Cizik gave tentative support for gay civil unions during a <i>Fresh Air</i> interview with Terry Gross. He was forced to resign due to these comments, which led Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, to opine, “This is the risk of walking through the green door of environmentalism and global warming. You risk being blinded by the green light and losing your sense of direction.”</p><p>To fight this apparent infiltration, in late 2010 the <a href=”http://www.cornwallalliance.org” target=”_blank”>Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation</a>, which denies human responsibility for climate change, released a 12-part DVD series and a book called “Resisting the Green Dragon” that named global warming “one of the greatest deceptions of our day” and warned that “radical environmentalism is striving to put America, and the world, under its destructive control.”</p><p>The gist was that environmentalism is a global scheme to replace God with Gaia, usher in world government and rob the world’s poor of the energy resources they need to escape their plight. </p><br><p>Streams of theology, right-wing politics and fear connect in the pushback against creation care. Murdock understands the worry among conservative Christians that “some in the environmental movement are creating a substitute religion” that will lead people away from God. “But I believe you can build a bridge to people who have become aware of something greater than themselves, to introduce them to the creator,” he said. “Instead, a lot of these folks want to blow up that bridge. They see the environmental movement as the armies of hell that are marching across it.”</p><p>Even conservative Christians who don’t demonize environmentalists have fundamental objections to their agenda. “A lot of evangelicals aren’t opposed to the science but they’re opposed to the idea that we need the government to step in and solve the problem with more regulations,” said sociologist Lydia Bean. “You can’t expect them to sing with the rest of the secular environmental choir”—or even with certain sections of the faith-based choir, including Pope Francis. Murdock, for one, admires the encyclical’s critique of a “throw away culture.” But, the Pope’s prescription for solving the climate crisis sounds a lot like socialism to many conservatives. </p><p>According to David Jenkins, president of <a href=”http://www.conservativestewards.org” target=”_blank”>Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship</a> and an evangelical, the encyclical’s harsh take on capitalism does make it difficult for conservatives to embrace, despite the fact that it’s “rooted in that fundamental truth that we should not waste and abuse God’s creation.”</p><p class=”cms-textAlign-center”>***</p><p><b>The global implications of growing</b> Christian environmentalism were evident last summer on the leafy campus of Gordon College, a Christian school north of Boston. For five days in July, evangelicals met there to talk climate change in a conference called <a href=”http://lwccn.com/upcoming-events/canada-and-usa-conference/” target=”_blank”>“Hope for a Time of Crisis.”</a> The Gordon gathering was the North American end of a creation care campaign launched by the Lausanne Movement, an international evangelical alliance founded in the 1970s by Billy Graham and the Anglican evangelical John Stott.</p><p>Early in 2010, Stott argued for creation care in <i>The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling.</i> That same year, more than 4,000 evangelicals from around the world gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, for the third Lausanne Congress. </p><p>Stott was too ill to attend the proceedings in Cape Town. He would die the next year. But, in an <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU2jqP08bzo” target=”_blank”>audio greeting</a> recorded in advance of the congress, Stott said evangelicals had to confront the “specter of global warming,” and the delegates at Cape Town took up his call, adopting a wide-ranging resolution of faith and purpose that deemed climate change “the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world.”<br /></p><br><p><br />Indeed, the Lausanne Movement highlights the fact that, unlike some conservatives, evangelicals are very outwardly focused. The Movement’s goal is to encourage evangelicals to spread the gospel worldwide through international missions, a core tenet of evangelical faith called the “great commission.” So, it’s never far from mind that they’re fighting a battle on more than the domestic front.</p><p>Environmental missions were widely discussed at the Gordon Conference. Many of the presenters had worked among the world’s poorest communities, and their overall message was this: The biggest threat to the poor wasn’t emissions limits choking off their future economic development, it was the impacts of climate change they were already experiencing, such as floods and droughts, ruined fisheries and devastated crops. </p><p> “Missions represent an open door for evangelicals into creation care and climate change. It’s an understandable framework—to love and serve people,” said Lowell Bliss, an evangelical who founded the environmental missions group <a href=”http://www.edenvigil.org” target=”_blank”>Eden Vigil</a> and was an organizer of the Gordon Conference. “We can pour ourselves into things that are essentially climate adaptation projects without having to go into the big picture of climate change and all the political ins and outs.”</p><p>Christian missionaries’ doing environmental work isn’t new. What is new is integrating creation care into the missionary’s “gospel message,” Bliss said. That message, he said, is, “God’s love extends to people, but also to animals, plants and atmospheres.” </p><p>Now in Paris, Bliss has been joining scores of evangelicals in prayer walks and vigils during the climate talks. “I’m interested in using this momentum to build a global evangelical climate coalition,” said Bliss. “Our focus is on mobilizing our churches when the treaty comes back from Paris to our respective countries.”</p><p>In America, that mobilization seems to be underway. In 2012, a group of 20-something evangelicals started <a href=”http://www.yecaction.org” target=”_blank”>Young Evangelicals for Climate Action</a> to organize on college campuses, walk in climate marches and hold prayer rallies outside presidential debates. In 2014, they petitioned the National Association of Evangelicals to adopt the creation care principles outlined by the Lausanne Movement in 2010, which the association did this past October. Meanwhile, the NAE’s president, Leith Anderson, and Galen Carey, the man who replaced Richard Cizik as the organization’s vice president of government affairs, have co-authored a book to be published in March guiding evangelicals on political issues. It will include a chapter on creation care. </p><p>It will likely take more than moral pronouncements from on high to knock Americans out of their partisan trenches on climate change. Last January, during the Senate debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, a vote was taken on an amendment stating that human activity was a significant cause of global warming. Every Democrat voted in the affirmative. All but five Republicans voted no. When the Pope’s encyclical was released, the Republican presidential contenders—who routinely headline at religious political gatherings such as the conservative Christian Family Research Council’s Values Voters Summit—roundly dismissed the document as an improper intrusion by a religious leader into matters of science, economics and politics.</p><br><p>But, there have been some recent signs of cracks in the partisan wall. In September, Jay Faison, the Republican technology entrepreneur from North Carolina who is spending millions of dollars to lobby congressional Republicans to engage on climate, commissioned a poll of Republican voters. The survey found that 54 percent of self-described conservative Republicans believed that climate change was real and human activity played some role in it. In November, pollsters at the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College found that the percentage of evangelicals who believe the planet is warming rose from 49 percent to 65 percent in just the past six months. Notably, the survey of evangelicals didn’t ask whether humans were to blame for the warming. </p><p>Of course, agreeing that there’s a climate problem is a far cry from agreeing on a solution. Reached by phone, Jenkins of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship said he isn’t opposed to all regulations on energy efficiency and emissions standards “as long as people know the rules and it’s predictable.” But, he added, “any institution created by man, whether it’s government or business, is prone to have problems, because of our sinful nature. What we need is a balance.” </p><p>Jenkins supports market-based climate change solutions, such as swapping a carbon tax with a revenue-equivalent cut in corporate income tax. He admits, however, that Republicans have had a habit recently of disowning ideas that originated in their own ranks—such as cap-and-trade—if they are picked up and championed by Democrats. </p><br><p>“You’ve got to stop that, or you’re going to run out of territory,” Jenkins cautioned. “You’ll retreat into a corner, and you won’t be able to propose anything.”</p><p>If more conservative Christians rally around climate action, the pressure will mount on Republicans to join the fight. But creation care advocates interviewed for this story were split on whether conservative Christians <i>needed</i> to be mobilized for America to take real steps to combat global warming and adapt to its consequences. Most said the political implications of speaking out are trumped by the moral ones. Delays make the climate problem worse, they say, and increase the suffering that will result around the globe. But even if the faithful’s voice isn’t needed to spur meaningful actions on climate, it could certainly hasten them. </p><p>Back on Kayford Mountain, Johnson had told a story about his old friend, Larry Gibson. Though an infrequent churchgoer, Gibson had<b> </b>cleared the brush from the three white crosses to keep them visible from the road below when people visited this patch of forest he owned and protected from the dynamite and bulldozers. Johnson recalled the first foray that he and Christians for the Mountains made up Kayford Mountain to meet Gibson in May 2005. They had agreed to meet Gibson at noon, but didn’t get to his cabin until closer to 1 p.m.</p><p> “You’re late! Why are you so late?!” Gibson demanded. As Johnson fumbled for an apology, Gibson stopped him. “No, I’m saying why are you Christians so late in doing something about this!”<br /></p><br>

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