“Prayer for a Free Market Economy and Energy Abundance,” by the Cornwall Alliance. Illustration by Jim Cooke; photo by Shutterstock. Photo: Jim Cooke / Shutterstock

By Brendan O'Connor
11 August 2017

(Splinter) – In 2005, at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the National Association of Evangelicals was on the verge of doing something novel: affirming science.

Specifically, the 30-million-member group, which represents 51 Christian denominations, was debating how to advance a new platform called “For the Health of a Nation.” The position paper—written the year before An Inconvenient Truth kick-started sense of public urgency around climate change—included a call for evangelicals to protect God’s creation, and to embrace the government’s help in doing so. The NAE’s board had already adopted it unanimously before presenting it to the membership for debate.

At the time, many in the evangelical movement were uncomfortable with its close ties to the Republican anti-environmental regulation agenda. That year, a group called the Evangelical Alliance of Scientists and Ethicists protested the GOP-led effort to rewrite the Endangered Species Act, and the NAE’s vice president of governmental affairs Richard Cizik pushed for the organization to endorse John McCain and Joe Lieberman’s cap-and-trade bill. “For the Health of a Nation,” which Cizik also pushed, was an opportunity to draw a bright line between their support of right-wing social positions on abortion and civil rights and a growing sentiment that God’s creation needed protection from industry.

“Evangelicals don’t want themselves identified as the Republican Party at prayer,” the historian and evangelical Mark Knoll said at the time in support of the platform.

He was wrong. The rank-and-file membership rejected the effort. Like the oil and utilities industries, they decided that recognizing climate change was against their political interests.

At the behest of a group called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, the board buckled, releasing a statement in February 2006 “recognizing the ongoing debate” on global warming and “the lack of consensus among the evangelical community on the issue.” Just days later, an outside group of 86 evangelical leaders, under the aegis of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, issued a “Call to Action” declaring that climate change was real and that “millions of people could die from it in this century.” […]

The NAE did eventually endorse climate action in 2015. But it was too late. By that time, a corps of right-wing Christians, funded by fossil-fuel interests, had hijacked the public and political machinery of the evangelical movement. They are now in the White House, where the anti-environmental agenda is dominated by Christian fundamentalists like EPA Commissioner Scott Pruitt while the more moderate views of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson are ignored. This is the story of how they did it. […]

Investing in spiritual influence. How Koch Industries, fossil fuel companies, and the National Christian Foundation buy influence in the U.S. government to stop action on global warming. Graphic: Jim Cooke

Conservative groups, funded by fossil fuel magnates, spend approximately one billion dollars every year interfering with public understanding of what is actually happening to our world. Most of that money—most of the fraction of it that can be tracked, anyway—goes to think tanks that produce policy papers and legislative proposals favorable to donors’ interests, super PACs that support politicians friendly to industry or oppose those who are not, or mercenary lobbyists and consultants, in some instances employing the same people who fought to suppress the science on smoking. In terms of impact, however, few investments can rival the return that the conservative donor class has gotten from the small cohort of evangelical theologians and scholars whose work has provided scriptural justifications for apocalyptic geopolitics and economic rapaciousness. [more]

How Fossil Fuel Money Made Climate Change Denial the Word of God

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