(RNS) Rabbi Moti Rieber travels the politically red state of Kansas armed with the book of Genesis, a psalm and even the words of Jesus to lecture church audiences, or sermonize if they’ll let him, about the threat of global warming.

Rabbi Moti Rieber is director of the Kansas chapter for the San Francisco-based Interfaith Power & Light.

Rabbi Moti Rieber is director of the Kansas chapter for the San Francisco-based Interfaith Power & Light. RNS photo courtesy Moti Rieber

“My feeling is that I’m the only person these people are ever going to see who’s going to look them in the eye and say, ‘There’s such a thing as climate change,’” Rieber said. “I’m trying to let them know it’s not irreligious to believe in climate change.”

He is at the vanguard of religious efforts — halting in some places, gathering speed elsewhere — to move the ecological discussion from its hot-button political and scientific moorings to one based on theological morality and the right thing to do.

Where allowed behind the pulpit in a United Methodist or Lutheran church, Rieber can sense a restless shifting in the pews as he draws parallels between God asking Adam to tend the Garden of Eden and humankind’s stewardship duty to the environment.

He can see a few faces turn away while describing the disproportionate plight of human-driven climate change on the world’s poor, and reminding parishioners of Jesus’ admonition that “as you do it to one of the least of these my brothers, you do it to me.”

Rieber has his work cut out for him in a state governed by Tea Party favorite Sam Brownback — who has blasted Obama administration rules on reducing carbon emissions — and home to the conservative-activist billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Rieber, who leads a congregation of about 85 families at a synagogue in Lawrence, is director of the Kansas chapter for the San Francisco-based Interfaith Power & Light — one of the most prominent groups championing greater faith-based activism on  climate change.

The Kansas River's water levels are being affected by sand and gravel dredging, according to the American Rivers organization. "Dredging widens and deepens the river channel, lowering the water level of the river and the water table," according to the organization. "Dwindling access to water is a major threat to humans, animals, and plants, including agriculture, especially considering the looming concern of climate change."

The Kansas River’s water levels are being affected by sand and gravel dredging, according to the American Rivers organization. “Dredging widens and deepens the river channel, lowering the water level of the river and the water table,” according to the organization. “Dwindling access to water is a major threat to humans, animals, and plants, including agriculture, especially considering the looming concern of climate change.” Creative Commons image by Jolynne Martinez

Led by an Episcopalian priest, Sally Bingham, the organization is a network of 15,000 churches across 41 states, including some of the most conservative in the country. Members often begin with promoting green technology in a church — efficient light bulbs and solar panels — before turning to the morality of environmental stewardship.

“I honestly believe that there’s not been a single cultural change or big movement that didn’t have the voice of the religious community,” Bingham said. “It’s crucial.”

Her effort is not alone. The United Methodist Church promotes a “Green Church Initiative.” A core mission of the Episcopal Church is “to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”

In May, the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops urged the Environmental Protection Agency to draft new carbon-pollution rules for power plants. For years, the leader of the 300-million member Christian Orthodox faith — Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, known as the “Green Patriarch” — has declared planet stewardship a spiritual duty.

And this year, Pope Francis is preparing an encyclical — one of the highest forms of papal opinion — on the “ecology of mankind.” He has already weighed in against what he calls the greedy exploitation of the environment.

“I think it will be a game changer,” said Mary Evelyn Tucker, director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, of the encyclical that would guide 1.3 billion Catholics. The forum is an international multireligious project that promotes dialogues with religions and other disciplines on environmental solutions.

Research scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, as director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, studies the ebb and flow of discourse over environmental changes. He believes the faith-based embrace of the issue is “one of the most exciting things happening in this entire space.”

It moves the discussion, he says, beyond science and polar bears to “a whole different set of values. Not liberal vs.conservative, but now moral and religious … It can engage people in, I think, a particularly deep and powerful way.”

The toughest hurdle, however, are evangelical Christians, Leiserowitz noted in a published paper last year. One in four Americans fall into this group, a powerful supportive force for those in Congress who do not believe in global warming. Yet even among evangelicals, Leiserowitz says, there is not just one view about climate change.

When asked in a 2008 survey cited in Leiserowitz’s study whether “global warming is happening,” 44 percent of evangelicals said it is and the result of human actions, 41 percent said any warming was not caused by man.

Evangelicals tend to be less receptive to outsiders, making efforts such as Interfaith Power & Light ineffective, say evangelical leaders such as the Rev. Mitchell Hescox.

Hescox is president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, devoted to raising awareness about the threat of climate change.

Hescox said the reach of his network has grown from 20,000 evangelical Christians to 300,000 in five years. the organization has 900 “creation care specialists,” many of them evangelical ministers, trained to spread the gospel of safeguarding God’s handiwork.

When Hescox speaks to congregations across the country, he says climate change threatens a core evangelical concern — the sanctity of life.

“One of the key values of the evangelical church is being pro-life. I’m pro-life from conception to natural death. To go in and be able to talk about my values truly gives me an opening for them to hear what I have to say,” he said.

A rising star in this new firmament is Katherine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who is also a scientist and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. Her husband, Andrew Farley, is an evangelical minister.

She was featured in Showtime’s climate documentary “Years of Living Dangerously,” and in April was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

“You have to know who your audience is,” said Hayhoe who speaks at churches, evangelical colleges and conferences, half of them from red states. “I know what people are thinking. I know what many of their questions are. I know what they’ve been hearing.”

She answers their doubts even before they are raised. But more importantly, Hayhoe said, “I start out by sharing not from my head, but from my heart — what my own values are and why I care about this issue.”

(Gregg Zoroya writes for USA Today.)

YS END ZOROYA

13 Comments

  1. Oh, I get it. Now that some scientists have documented it as “scientific fact”, a prequalifier has been met in the mind of thr secular humanist that now signifies the topic is ready for “moral” development and discussion across general society.

    And please, keep ignoring the relative morality of unpayable, intragenerational soverign debt.

    I guess since no scientists can lab test the facts surrounding children born into their parents governmant debt, it will never come up as a moral discussion.

    • The man is trying to undo the damage from Bible thumping wackadoodles who have declared that environmental destruction is their god given right. A conservative religious view which happens to coincide with the interests of big business, what a surprise!

      • You might as well get a few things right, if you want to get some attention.

        It would be the existence of both bible wackadoodles and talmud wackadoodles, to be accurate in assigning responsability along religious lines to the pushers of big business environmental destuction.

        And if you are really a believer in climate change as a call to limit the freedom of everyone around you…I have no doubt you are that arrogant…I don’t see why you don’t commit all the way and advocate a globally resource based economy ala jacque fresco. Now that would be equality. And I personally would support it because it would mean equality for all people here now and those to come.

        Or you can blame conservatives exclusively, and know that I am laughing at your obviously media/public education conditioned thoughts.

        • I am not a “believer” in climate change. Nobody has to believe it. The evidence is there for itself and demonstrated through objectively credible methods. Scientific consensus tends to make something credible in of itself.

          I can blame conservatives because they are deliberately misrepresenting scientifically accepted ideas to further agendas which are not particularly sane. Made worse by deliberately mixing religious nonsense with political expediency. They tend to do that a lot.

  2. Maybe this global warming rabbi will find it in his environmentalist heart to openly defend DISSENTING SCIENTISTS like Dr. Lennart Bengtsson when they get attacked and punished merely for failing to properly sign onto the global warming religion.

    The fact that scientific dissent is not allowed by the global warming guardians (more accurately, global warming CULTISTS) is a major problem that clergy like the rabbi, needs to address. These guys want the public to forget about that big Climategate scandal, forget about Al Gore’s famous snake-oil selling of the now-broken “Hockey Stick.” But the American people won’t forget that mess.

    Scientists should not get attacked for saying that more information, more studies, are needed on this global warming issue, instead of blindly spending massive tax money and straining/wrecking one’s economy on claims that may be scientifically flawed and inaccurate.

    • Doc, you are a creationist. This already pegs you as someone who doesn’t take science seriously or understands the process as to how scientific ideas are accepted. So of course you are a denialist when it comes to this as well. Major surprise there.

      Scientific “dissent” on global warming generally amounts to un-peer reviewed papers, studies and making unfounded statements for political effect. Dr. Lennart Bengtsson was kicked out of a “global warming skeptic” organization for publishing a paper which was “less than helpful to their cause.
      http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2014/05/14/ha-ha-lennart-bengtsson-leaves-advisory-board-of-gwpf/

      Talk about using bad examples Doc.

      • You have that wrong about Bengtsson, Larry. The scientist was forced out of the GWPF but NOT because he said anything against the GWPF cause. The global warming CULTISTS applied so much bullying and pressure on him that he had to leave.

        (He was also rejected by a journal, despite his prominent status as a PRO-global-warming scientist because he dared to offer a questioning article instead of the usual global warmer choir stuff.)

        “I had not expecting such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc.”

        “Under these situation I will be unable to contribute positively to the work of GWPF and consequently therefore I believe it is the best for me to reverse my decision to join its Board at the earliest possible time.”

        • Doc, you have no understanding of how scientific ideas are published or accepted. What a surprise.

          Scientific papers are peer reviewed because a scientist is EXPECTED to defend their findings from people who may have different ideas. They get rejected for methodological reasons. The findings not measuring up to the methods employed to get to them. His was riddled with errors

          http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/16/rejected-climate-science-paper-environmental-research-letters

          Fact of the matter is there is well founded consensus on the subject of global warming

          http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus.htm
          “A survey of 928 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change’ published between 1993 and 2003 shows that not a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused.

          A follow-up study by the Skeptical Science team of over 12,000 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subjects of ‘global warming’ and ‘global climate change’ published between 1991 and 2011 found that of the papers taking a position on the cause of global warming, over 97% agreed that humans are causing it . The scientific authors of the papers were also contacted and asked to rate their own papers, and again over 97% whose papers took a position on the cause said humans are causing global warming.”

          “the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes”

          • Larry: I believe what I read. I believe what I am told. I ask no questions…and then a likewise groupthinking society rewards me for being correct.

            Its so easy to be a Larry.

          • So I take it you lack any kind of reasoned, evidence supported argument in response. Hence the personal attack.

            Your capitulation is duly noted.

  3. Perhaps Christians should be more careful and thoughtful about the claims concerning Global Warming. The group that first came out with this ‘crisis” in 2007 was the IPCC. Their report failed to take into account the Medieval Warming Period (MWP) where no industrial age existed, a pathetic number of tree rings from Russia not even suitable for a scientific study, and it failed to indicate any possibility from other scientists that Global Warming could be due to the sun’s cosmic rays which ionize earth atmosphere causing clouds as the Danish researcher Henrik Svensmark proposed. In fact the IPCC was made up of one researcher from Penn State, Michael Man and a group of graduate students, environmental activists and gender appointees, that some say, had an axe to grind and very little commitment to scientific method.

    In January of 2012 a group of 16 notable scientists wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled, “No Need to Worry About Global Warming” in which they quote many other scientists that said “The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere’s life cycle. Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today. Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.”

    Moreover, these scientists stated that “Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.”

    Al Gore is rich from promoting Climate Change and Global Warming. Is this industry subsidized by big money which wants to buy off reliable scientific method in order to promote a political agenda? Is it possible that “these” people promoting Global Warming have financial interest in emerging Green Companies? Who is getting rich off of this and why?

    These are the questions I am asking and I would like answers to them.

  4. Here is a Moral Issue: Church Splits

    TULLIAN TCHIVIDJIAN AND TRANSPARENCY
    Fri Mar 12, 2010
    This post was first published on December 11, 2009, as we wrapped up our series on Tullian Tchividjian and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. After extensive research, we are convinced that Tullian “played it close to the vest”, withholding from the Pastor Search Committee and leadership his future plans for Coral Ridge, which are becoming more and more evident. In our opinion, this was not only deceptive but dishonest. Please be sure to read our concluding comments, which have been “penned” today.

    As we wrap up our coverage of Coral Ridge’s new pastor, we have to wonder one thing – just how transparent was Tulllian Tchividjian with the Pastor Search Committee as well as the leadership of the church? Did they know about the colleagues with whom he associates? He is certainly being transparent on his blog in promoting them along with their books! (You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours…) Although Coral Ridge has a strong reformed tradition, is Hyper-Calvinism the direction in which the members now want to go because that’s where the church is heading and in a hurry!

    Coral Ridge, much like Bellevue Baptist Church, had a theological giant at its helm for such a long period of time. D. James Kennedy was heavily involved in the Moral Majority, and he often focused on America’s Christian heritage. At one time the church was bursting at the seams with close to 10,000 members in the 1990s. Coral Ridge even included billionaire Rich DeVos (Amway co-founder) among its ranks. Rich’s contributions were probably substantial. As the Moral Majority lost ground and Christians became disillusioned with the concept of using politics to moralize the nation, church membership has waned. Desiring to be a beacon on a hill once again, Coral Ridge members were probably awed that the legacy of Billy Graham could live on if they chose one of his seven grandsons as their senior pastor.

    The problem is Tullian Tchividjian is NOT Billy Graham! As far as we can tell, he doesn’t share the same theology as his grandfather. Here’s a case in point. While we understand that many churches DO NOT include an altar call at the end of every church service (neither of us attend churches that do), it seems that this was part of Coral Ridge’s tradition. Oh, there’s that word again…tradition. The problem with Tully’s swift change in doing away with an altar call is this – that was the hallmark of Billy Graham’s ministry. Now his grandson is suddenly getting rid of it! Tchividjian has been at the helm of Coral Ridge for eight months now. Why he didn’t go more slowly or get the input of the congregation is surprising to us. Of all the changes he could have made, that one is the most ironic.

    We are saddened that D. James Kennedy’s only legacy, his daughter, has been banished from the congregation her father started. What a legacy for Coral Ridge! Whether or not we approve of the tactics the dissidents used to try and oust their brand new pastor, we still find Tchividjian’s actions reprehensible! As we stated in a previous post, the Coral Ridge members really need to educate themselves on this hyper-Calvinist crowd. We have found these men to be demeaning to those who do not agree with their precise theology. These puffed-up guys are not true Calvinists (with whom we have no problem) – they are what we call “Calvinistas”. There is a HUGE difference! The Wartburg Watch is chockfull of information about them.

    Now that Tully is revealing his alliances on his blog and through his professional associations, it’s time for the Coral Ridge congregation to project into the future. What do they want their church to be like in the decades to come? You can definitely learn a lot about the future by studying the past. And rest assured, these Calvinistas have a fairly short past that can be thoroughly investigated, especially on the internet. Silence is definitely not golden!

    We believe the pendulum has swung way too far to the right, and we don’t believe it will stay in that position for very long. This group is relatively small in number — that’s why they have to duplicate themselves in these reformed organizations (Gospel Coalition, Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals, Together for the Gospel, and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). You see the same names over and over and over again. Yet there are some intriguing differences.

    What is disconcerting is that there seems to be alliances between thoughtful Calvinists, such as Tim Keller and Calvinistas such as C.J. Mahaney. The difference in practices and beliefs between these two groups is noticeable. For example, Tim Keller is widely recognized as a thoughtful man who believes in some form of evolution and a limited flood. He has been very effective in formulating methods of engaging the New Atheists. It is inconceivable to us that such a man would have much in common with Mahaney whose Sovereign Grace Ministries has been scarred with accusations of abusive tactics towards its membership. Do Keller and others like him understand the ministries of all of the folks with whom they are aligning? Are they actually reading each others’ books?

    Why is the belief in creationism important? Well, for your blog queens, it is not important. But, for some of the Calvinistas, this issue is at the same level of the virgin birth. Do you think we are exaggerating? One member of the Gospel Coalition said to Dee, “Are you saying creation is a “B” issue?” when she asked why the church couldn’t allow for an “old earth” perspective. People are thrown out of “creation” classes if they disagree with the young earth perspective. We wonder if said pastor would throw Tim Keller out of the class as well? In case you think we are misrepresenting Keller’s beliefs, please refer to this excellent site set up by Francis Collins called Biologos site or just “google” his name. (http://www.biologos.org/resources/leading-figures)

    Finally, we two women have another question. We understand that most conservative theologians do not believe women can be pastors. However, are there absolutely no women who could be members of The Gospel Coalition?

    The Calvinistas re trying to increase their ranks among the younger generation, but our prediction is that Christians are soon going to awaken from their slumber (by the prompting of the Holy Spirit) and realize how harmful these hyper-Calvinists have been to the cause of Christ. When the pendulum does swing back to a more balanced theological position, we wonder how many of these Calvinistas will be knocked off their lofty pedestals? And will Tully be among them?

  5. I consider myself a Christian but I also believe that man is causing harmful changes to the earth. I also believe that God new we could not be trusted to protect the earth, just look to Revelations 11:18.

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