For members of the First Church of the Nazarene, nestled in the under-populated foothills of the scenic San Gabriel Mountain range on Pasadena’s northeastern edge, caring for the environment comes with the spiritual territory. Vivid examples of God’s natural wonders are plentiful in this bucolic, tree-laden upper-middle-class neighborhood along the city’s border.

While knowing virtually nothing about Creation Care, a call to evangelical Christians to accept global warming as both scientific fact and something for Christians to help the world overcome, members of this popular church say the request is somewhat like preaching to the choir.

"Our pastor here was telling us something like that 10 years ago," said twentysomething Ryan Chilson, an aerospace electrician who attended services at Paz Naz Church on a recent sunny Sunday morning along with his wife, Iwaloa, and their 18-month-old son, Sean. "Christians should take care of the environment," Chilson said.

"We have a kid; we want to pass it on,” a pregnant Iwaloa said passionately of their son, who snoozed contently on his dad’s shoulder prior to the service. "We want to be able to go to the different parks and find out about nature and look at the trees and the grass.”

Longtime church member Don Cass didn’t know much about Creation Care, either. But "I feel there are a lot of people interested" in environmental issues, Cass said. "It’s a good idea, for obvious reasons."

It is for those increasingly obvious reasons — along with a few that aren’t so well known — that evangelical Christians now stand at the forefront of an emerging religious movement aimed at helping right the many colossal ecological wrongs of man by sensitizing congregants to humankind’s responsibility for, first, the damage that’s been done to the planet and, second, utilizing the tools available to correct the warmth-induced, Earth-changing imbalances that are currently rocking the world.

As a result of all this attention to healing Earth, the biggest environmental, albeit nonpolitical movement in America today may actually be occurring not at PETA rallies or Save the Rainforest teach-ins, but during Sunday religious services with more and more evangelical Christians of all denominations — Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic — beginning to link the salvation of our souls with questions of whether we litter, smoke or drive fuel-efficient cars.

But with all that in mind, another question that presents itself is one of political influence. National evangelical figures are hesitant to assign either blame for the current state of global environmental affairs or a possible political value to this campaign. But, as most people probably know, President Bush rode a tidal wave of evangelical Christian support in the last two elections on other major issues important to the faithful, notably his steadfast opposition to abortion and continuing the war in Iraq. So even with an admittedly abysmal track record, Bush’s absence on environmental issues is apparently forgivable in that light.

But will another politician’s position on the environment become a factor in national, state and even local elections in which evangelical Christians vote?

“Probably not,” at least not at the national level, longtime church member Glennie Cameron said prior to Sunday’s service. “I’ve always taught my kids and grandkids to respect the things around them, because they may not always be around. But as far as actually voting, I probably wouldn’t use that as one of my things for choosing a presidential candidate.”

Our national sin

With the secular bibles of the news world, Time and Newsweek, grimly validating a global warming phenomenon that’s been discounted and trivialized for decades, the world as we know it is rapidly heading for possibly life-ending changes. And, as every person on Earth should be right about now, Richard Cizik is very concerned.

Vice president of governmental affairs for the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals, Cizik understands that some of his faith, perhaps up to 12 percent, put little if any stock in science. But this is different. Global warming isn’t a question on a par with that of, say, homosexual lifestyles or evolution, but a well-grounded theory that has been largely eschewed by many evangelicals. Nor is it like abortion, inasmuch as people are still arguing over when life actually begins.

This — in well-measured detail but on a scale that may be too grand for most people to fully comprehend — is about how life may end, beginning with coastal areas that could be swallowed by as much as 100 feet of water in a matter of decades, followed by intense cold weather in London, New York and other major cities at higher latitudes, all given the accelerated melting rates of polar ice caps and the ongoing dissipation of the Atlantic’s temperature-regulating Gulf Stream. Here finally are hard, empirical, scientific data illustrating that the world’s temperature is steadily climbing due to increases in carbon dioxide emissions, as water levels rise and land masses begin to disappear.

Could the End of Days, as foretold in the Bible, finally be upon us?

Cizik’s answer is a qualified “perhaps.” Things will be bad, but perhaps not that catastrophic. If humans start behaving themselves from now on and are extremely lucky, maybe God will not punish us that terribly after all, although Cizik believes man certainly deserves whatever he gets.

The answer to reversing global warming, Cizik believes, will come from political policies, but only those that grow out of an acceptance of responsibility by men and women for what’s happening to the world coupled with a commitment to change our evil ways.

“Of course, there are answers, there are solutions, which we have to be a part of as evangelical Christians,” Cizik said in a phone interview from his Washington, D.C., office. “But I think there is a bigger issue than even the consequences of global warming, and that is in our national sin of permitting the degradation of the environment. God would allow us to reap the consequences of what we have sown. And frankly, I think it’s going to take a miracle for us not to. Because the consequences to which we have been a party for more than 100 years now are coming home to roost, and this is serious.”

"The environment is a values issue," Cizik’s boss and NAE president the Rev. Ted Haggard told the Washington Post’s Blaine Harden recently. "There are significant and compelling theological reasons why it should be a banner issue for the Christian right."

Usually associated with the right-wing and largely credited with getting George W. Bush elected, not once but twice, evangelical Christians are trumpeting a different message now, and that, as Cizik recently told Grist magazine, is "to watch over and care for the bounty of the Earth and its creatures.”

Scriptures, Cizik told Grist, particularly Revelations — perhaps the best-known of the Bible’s apocalyptic prophecies — not only affirm man’s role as a creation caretaker, “but warn that the Earth is not ours to abuse, own or dominate. The Bible clearly says in Revelations 11:18 that God will destroy those who destroy the Earth.’ ”

Groundswell of great proportions

In October, the association’s leaders unanimously adopted "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," which for the first time emphasized every Christian’s duty to care for the planet and recognized the role of government in safeguarding a sustainable environment.

But the environment, same-sex marriage and abortion aren’t the only political issues that evangelicals care about and are acting on.

Two weeks ago, evangelical leaders sent a letter to Congress and Bush calling for comprehensive immigration reform as the U.S. Senate took up the issue. In September, on the one-year anniversary of Bush’s declaration of genocide being committed in the Darfur region of Sudan, the NAE’s Web site, www.nae.net, stated that “the administration has made minimal progress protecting millions of victims of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” and that “it is time to move the Darfur genocide from a talking point to an action item. President Bush must put this issue on the top of his inbox.”

Strong words from a group to which Bush himself belongs and which he counts as one of his strongest supporters. Then again, although the group has been largely silently supportive of Bush’s war in Iraq, the NAE hasn’t been shy about criticizing clergy, namely insisting that televangelist Pat Robertson apologize for calling for the assassination of socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. And at home, evangelicals in December petitioned the Supreme Court to reject efforts to deregulate the sale of alcohol on the Internet.

When it comes to untangling the politics of the Middle East, three years ago, just a few months prior to the invasion of Iraq, 40 evangelical leaders from around the country called on Bush to be critical of both Israel and the Palestinian people in assessing the situation in that historically volatile part of the world. They pleaded with Bush to use “biblical standards of justice.”

As for the war, Fuller Seminary President Richard J. Mouw stands among the few evangelical leaders opposed to it, urging Christians, according to Fuller’s Web site, to question whether three major conditions of just war have been met: “that military action is the last resort, that proper authorization has been given [in this case, in the United Nations], and that a military strike will ultimately do more good than harm.”

But Mouw’s sentiments are far form the norm. Writing in the New York Times in January, Charles Marsh, a professor of religion at the University of Virginia and the author of The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today, found that “an astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president’s decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war.”

While Cizik in 2003 told NPR’s Bob Edwards that Bush’s war rhetoric against the clearly “evil” Saddam Hussein “resonates in the hearts and the minds of the American evangelical,” he and others at the vanguard of this religious environmental movement seemed reluctant to directly point any fingers at the president, who was described a few years back in a Rolling Stone article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as “America’s worst environmental president,” for initiating hundreds of rollbacks of America’s environmental laws and “weakening the protection of our country’s air, water, public lands and wildlife.” However, they do acknowledge that any answers that are eventually developed must ultimately be carried out at the highest political levels.

The question is, would this awakening to the needs of the environment translate into a change in how evangelicals will be looking for candidates who are sympathetic to their needs or, more accurately, God’s needs — in this case, healing the Earth?

“It’s just a groundswell of great proportions,” said Paul Gorman who now heads the inter-denominational National Religious Partnership for the Environment and is a former speechwriter for onetime presidential candidate and former Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy.

“People who care about this at a local level are less Republicans and Democrats than they are people who see something is going deeply wrong with the land,” said Gorman, who, according to his brief Web bio, worked as a listener-sponsored radio host for 28 years in New York; what Cizik calls "Secular City."

“Our message here is the moral dimension of all of this," said Gorman, “the fundamental moral issues, which are stewardship of creation, God’s creation, care for the poor, particularly as they are impacted, … and our responsibility to future generations.”

In the case of Cizik’s group, evangelicals are calling this vocation to care for the environment Creation Care. And the Evangelical Environmental Network, headed by Pastor Jim Ball, who was recently featured in a Rolling Stone article on global warming titled "Warriors and Heroes: Twenty-five Leaders Who Are Fighting To Stave Off Planetwide Catastophe," has started a publication called (what else?) Creation Care Magazine.

Gorman’s group’s call to action is titled “Partners in Stewardship” and states that each partner — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches USA, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and Ball’s Evangelical Environmental Network — “in common biblical faith but drawing upon its distinctive traditions is undertaking scholarship, leadership training, congregational and agency initiative, and public policy education in service to environmental sustainability and justice. Together, they seek to offer resources of religious life and moral vision to a universal effort to protect humankind’s common home and well-being on Earth,” according to the group’s Web site.

“Frankly,” Gorman said over the phone, “the way I look at this broadly, what is most important here is a genuine religious awakening across the spectrum of faith groups and denominations to a fundamentally religious concern and challenge, which is: What is the future of God’s creation in the hands of God’s children?”

Sticking to the script

According to Time and Newsweek — not to mention any number of environmental scientists — the world’s future is none too bright.

“No one can say exactly what it looks like when a planet takes ill, but it probably looks a lot like Earth,” Jeffrey Kluger writes in the opening paragraph of his cover story for Time two weeks ago, part of a multi-story package of pieces on the planet’s worsening physical condition.

Although it seems to be the most logical and latest example of Earth in revolt, some scientists and preachers are as loath as policymakers to point to Katrina as a result of global warming rather than bad engineering of the existing levees in New Orleans that buckled and failed.

As Ball said, “There may have been some elements of global warming, but, as we come to find out, it wasn’t really the strength of the hurricane; it was the levees. Now, what climate change is going to do is find all of our levees. It’s going to find our weaknesses.”

But even absent Katrina, the fact remains, according to Time’s March 27 report, that freakish weather has been wreaking havoc for at least the past 10 years in areas around the world, not just on the Gulf Coast.

Floods along the Ohio River in March 1997, for instance, caused 30 deaths and at least $500 million in property damage. Hurricane Floyd brought flooding rains and 130-mph winds to the Atlantic seaboard in September 1999, killing 77 people and leaving thousands homeless. One indication of just how warm it’s become in recent years is Antarctica, where the annual melting season has increased up to three weeks in 20 years. The same problems exist in Montana, which will lose all the glaciers in Glacier National Park by 2070 if their retreat continues at the current rate, all according to the Time article.

Just as some places will get wet, others will get hot and dry, and then burn. It’s been happening for the past few years in places like California and Texas. Temperatures in Dallas in the summer of 1998, for instance, topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 29 straight days. And in other places around the world, like India, that same year more than 2,500 people died in the worst heat in 50 years. The list of examples cited by Time goes on and on.

That same week, Newsweek was equally grim in its prognosis with an interview with former Time science writer Eugene Linden, whose book, The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather and the Destruction of Civilizations (and who was interviewed in these pages on March 26 by Kit Stolz), looks at the history of climate change and concludes this particular cycle is occurring faster than anyone thought. In her story on Linden, Newsweek’s Susanna Schrobsdorff points out that Prince Charles recently called climate change "the No. 1 risk in the world, ahead of terrorism and demographic change,” and that even conservative Republicans like Sen. Richard Luger of Indiana are now saying global warming is a real and potent threat to world stability.

Linden tells Schrobsdorff that climate changes throughout history have been quick and merciless. Speaking of what appears to be occurring now, Linden said, “The signals have become incontrovertible, and the naysayers just sound silly.”

It appears Gorman and Cizick feel much the same way.

“Unless you can get business and labor and religion and science and Republicans and Democrats working together, this thing is going to be irreversible,” Gorman said.

"The cold, hard facts are staring us right in the face,” says Cizik, “and that is we may have hit a tipping point and things are irreversible.”

Blaming Bush

Evangelicals certainly aren’t alone in believing the end is near. Ideas of imminent global destruction are made easy for most non-believing people to get their secularized minds around, with cable TV stations like the History and Discovery channels routinely offering stylized, science-backed CGI recreations of what life might be like after a hail of comets hits the planet or the oceans rise up and pound the life out of coastal cities. All the while on news channels at the other end of the dial, viewers see what remains of tsunami-ravaged southeastern Asia, as well as New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities.

Today, there has come a parting of the ways between political leaders, including Bush, and the Christian faithful. In God’s eyes, or so now say a growing number of evangelicals, man is viewed not so much as the favored child who is allowed to run wild by an all-forgiving parent/creator. Rather, this new evangelical God is now being cast in the image of an ill-tempered landlord, and man is the problem tenant trashing God’s property.

Given his “property management” track record in allowing the destruction of our natural resources at home and his penchant for waging wars abroad in order to take control of what remains of the world’s mineral riches, Bush may no longer be seeing eye to eye with members of his strongest voting base.

“The Bush position on climate change is not sustainable scientifically, politically, morally or religiously,” said Gorman, predicting that the Republican candidate for president in 2008 will have to have a strong position on global warming and the environment.

“The environment has always largely been a question of science and economics and public policy. We believe these are questions of faith and values. We need to expand our understanding of these questions beyond those disciplines,” added Gorman.

Ball, who explained how the phrase Creation Care came about a decade ago in order to give Christians a theological framework instead of a political way of thinking about the environment, agreed that our political leaders will have to step up to the plate in protecting the environment.

However, he disagrees with Gorman on just how much steam this emerging movement will generate among voters hoping to fulfill part of a religious calling.

“I’m not going to pretend evangelicals are manning the barricades on this issue. We have a ways to go here,” Ball admitted. The environment is still nowhere near as important as protection of the unborn, Ball noted. “However,” he said, “there is a subset of evangelicals that believes it is important, so in tight races they could become important, but this is an issue that is starting to be understood as something that more and more evangelicals care more and more about.

“That President Bush hasn’t been doing well on the environment doesn’t mean he hasn’t been paying attention to evangelicals. It means he hasn’t been doing as good on the environment,” Ball chuckled, but acknowledged, “There is a lot of room for improvement there.”

Cizik agrees that “there is plenty of room for preachers to speak truth to power and call for some repentance. I don’t mean to sound too much the preacher, but I will. How can you be the chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, in the face of all the evidence, and still maintain that global warming is a quote unquote hoax. How can you? Now, if you do, my opinion is you have to be the biggest riverboat gambler in history because you are not just gambling with your own life, but with the lives of millions of others.”

One thing is certain: Global warming isn’t going to go away. “You can’t hide this issue. So we as a nation have to decide to talk to one another, acknowledge the problem, which may involve the sin of degrading our environment and decide how collectively to address this so more people don’t die, and we need to do this now,” Cizik said.

“We don’t need to wait, in my opinion, until George Bush leaves office,” he said. “We don’t have three years to wait to decide whether we are going to have a national conversation on this topic. … We need some good, old-fashioned evangelical preaching, like the Old Testament prophet who pointed a finger at the political leaders of their day and said, ‘Thou art The Man.’ I mean, that’s what this of all issues calls for because what’s lacking, among other things, is the political will to act. But I think the public is catching on. … We,” Cizik said of evangelical preachers with a gift for speaking, “of all people can change the nature of this debate, and I think we already have.”