Do you ever get the feeling that some pastors and priests just aren't happy with their jobs? It is easy to get the impression that they have become bored with the business of saving souls, and seek more tangible, if you will, distractions.
How else to explain the misuse of Holy Scripture to justify wide ranging ventures in the realms of social activism and politics by churches and church leaders? That includes a February 8 statement on global warming released by a group of 86 Christian evangelical leaders.
Please do not misunderstand. Churches and clergy should be in facct, must be fully engaged in the public arena on many issues. Those include standing against abortion, euthanasia, genocide, embryonic stem cell research, and pornography. It means defending marriage and the family, promoting Christian education, and countering seemingly endless assaults on traditional morality. And of course, the overarching call for Christian charity and love must be clear.
Strong actions in the public square by the church and clergy on these kinds of issues are firmly rooted in and even demanded by Holy Scripture and traditional Christian teachings.
For good measure, every person in the United States has the right to spout off their views about any topic they like, including, pastors, priests, bishops and so on. More power to them.
Trouble arises, however, when churches and clergy in their official capacities start staking out political positions on topics straying far from Scripture and church tradition, on issues where faithful Christians can and often do disagree. We've seen this for many years with various mainline Protestant churches and within the Roman Catholic Church, for example.
So, individual Christians and the world must listen to churchmen officially pontificate on issues that lie beyond their purview, such as welfare programs, the minimum wage, budget deficits, taxes, trade, private accounts for Social Security, and environmental policy.
Indeed, the environment has become a fashionable favorite. A host of liberal church leaders have been using their positions to rail against so-called manmade global warming for some time, and now this collection of evangelicals has joined the chorus.
Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book "The Purpose Driven Life," was one of the 86 who signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative's "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action." In an interview with Business Week last year, Warren explained: "Evangelicals have three characteristics: They believe that the Bible is literally God's word. The second thing they would say is that Jesus Christ is who He says He is: He claimed to be God. The third would be that we have a responsibility to pass this good news on to other people."
So, where does activism on global warming fit in? Well, just as with church liberals on this topic, these evangelicals cite assorted, vague passages from Holy Scripture, arguing that these somehow support a particular environmental policy agenda. These evangelical leaders call for "national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through cost-effective, market-based mechanism such as a cap-and-trade program."
Not only is all of this atrocious theology, but it also happens to be bad economics and questionable, at best, climate science. The declaration ignores that while many in the scientific community acknowledge some inconsistent, uneven, and slight warming, there is widespread disagreement over possible causes. Indeed, many argue it is simply part of a natural trend or cycle. For good measure, no one has any idea if this trend will continue; if so, for how long and to what extent; or what the environmental consequences might be. Nonetheless, these Christian leaders assert: "Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors." Such a statement is grossly irresponsible.
Meanwhile, little economic disagreement exists that legislative efforts to cap carbon-dioxide emissions will jack up energy costs substantially, resulting in slower economic and income growth, and lost jobs. So much for helping the poor.
In the end, statements like this one on global warming from church leaders do the most damage by undercutting the church's moral authority. After all, if pastors offer worthless declarations on environmental policy, then how many people wonder about their authority to speak on abortion, marriage, or even on saving souls?
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, can be reached at ChurchandSociety@aol.com.
Copyright © Raymond J. Keating