Hypocrisy

October 11, 2006

The Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD) and the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty recently released a report attacking the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI). It is entitled “From Climate Control to Population Control: Troubling Background on the ‘Evangelical Climate Initiative.’” Earlier this year the ECI urged evangelicals to take action to prevent global warming. This led to a response a few months ago from the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) that claimed there was no serious threat and that it would be unwise to try and adopt extra environmental measures.

Now, the IRD and the Acton Institute have attacked the ECI because the ECI received money from the Hewlett Foundation. However, there are a two major problems with their argument. It is worth noting that this is not a new charge, but one that was leveled back in February, but the IRD and Acton Institute for some reason decided to bring it up again even though it is no more valid today than then.

The first error they make is with their poor connecting of the dots. They point out that the Hewlett Foundation also gives money to pro-choice organizations. They view the Hewlett support of the ECI as part of an attempt to use population control as one way of helping the environment. The statement argues:

Efforts are clearly underway to obtain endorsements from prominent evangelical leaders for a public relations agenda that, just under the surface, connects “creation care” to population control and abortion on demand. Such efforts, if successful, would give anti-Christian ideologies unmerited moral and theological cover that they now lack.

Unfortunately, it appears that those associated with the Evangelical Climate Initiative are unwittingly doing just that. As a result we fear that these Evangelical leaders who in good faith associated themselves with the ECI are being exploited by organizations that not only deny their biblically-based value system, but hold such beliefs in contempt.
It is important to note that this is not a valid connection. Just because I give you 5 dollars does not mean you should be held responsible for the beliefs of someone else I gave 5 dollars to. It seems quite a stretch to suggest that Christians such as Rick Warren, Ron Sider, David Neff, Timothy George, Leith Anderson, Duane Litfin, and Jim Wallis are acting “unwittingly” and being “exploited.” These are strong men of God who have arguably done more for the cause of Christ than the IRD and Acton Institute.

When this attack was first made, ECI spokeman Jim Jewell explained, “The only thing that the grant shows is that there is some agreement that global warming is going to hurt people in the days ahead and that it needs to be stopped. ... To say that the grant says anything else, it really holds no water.” Even the IRD and Acton Institute statement adds a footnote that undermines their own attack. It reads:

We are not implying that those who signed the ECI are pro-abortion because one of the key funders of the initiative is pro-abortion. Quite the opposite. We assume that few of the ECI signers were aware of this funding, and that most if not all of the signers are pro-life.
Thus, even their own footnote (it is sad this is only footnoted and not in the text of the report) says that the ECI should not be held responsible. This whole attack is a red herring, which is a logical fallacy. Rather than trying to prove the ECI statement is wrong, the IRD and Acton Institute are simply trying to shift attention by trying to falsely link the ECI to pro-choice groups.

The other major problem with the IRD and Acton Institute statement is that it avoids the real conflict of interest. As I uncovered in an Ethics Daily article a couple of months ago, the ISA (the statement that went against the ECI’s and included as signers individuals from both the IRD and Acton Institute) is closely connected to big oil money. Of the signers of the ISA’s statement, eight of them worked for six organizations that have received a total of $2.32 million in donations from ExxonMobil over the last three years. This includes one of the four authors of the document. The Acton Institute is one of the organizations that has received money from ExxonMobil. (Two men connected to the Jack Abramoff scandal also signed the statement.)

Unlike the ECI’s Hewlett connection, the ISA’s big oil connections do raise serious concerns of a possible conflict of interest. This is a direct connection (not the indirect one against ECI), and is much more closely related to the issue of environmental protection. It is sad if some Christians have reduced themselves to being pawns of big oil and its attempt to distort the truth. Christians should avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing. Let this be a lesson to the IRD and Acton Institute: before worrying about the speck in your brother’s eye, deal with the plank in your own!


UPDATE [10-12-06]: Last night’s episode of Moyers on America asked, “Is God Green?” It offered a very interesting discussion on evangelicals and the environment. Moyers even points out that the Acton Institute and other Christian groups against more environmental protections received money from ExxonMobil.

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