Debating what moral issues are . . .

This debate is important . . .

Jim Wallis: Dr. Dobson, Let’s Have a Real Debate

Last week, James Dobson and a number of other Religious Right leaders wrote a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals, claiming that work on climate change was a distraction from “the great moral issues of our time.” I responded on our God’s Politics blog on Friday, with the piece Dobson and Friends, Outside the Mainstream. So far this week, we’ve had several other good responses from Brian McLaren, Bill McKibben, and Lyndsay Moseley. And, I’ve invited James Dobson to a debate on the question, “What are the great moral issues of our time for evangelical Christians?”

James Dobson’s letter attacking Rich Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals has caused a firestorm, and maybe the beginning of a really good dialogue. Brian McLaren’s post yesterday pointed out that the letter from Dobson and friends actually acknowledged that there is a real debate among evangelicals about the seriousness of climate change and the reasons for it. So instead of calling for Cizik’s resignation for saying global warming should be a moral issue for evangelical Christians, why don’t Dobson and his friends accept a real debate on whether climate change is, indeed, one of the great moral issues of our time? A major evangelical Christian university should host just such a debate.

But I want to focus on the following very clear statement from Dobson’s letter:

“More importantly, we have observed that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.”

That is indeed the key criticism, and the foundation for the real debate. Is the fact that 30,000 children will die globally today, and everyday, from needless hunger and disease a great moral issue for evangelical Christians? How about the reality of 3 billion of God’s children living on less than $2 per day? And isn’t the still-widespread and needless poverty in our own country, the richest nation in the world, a moral scandal? What about pandemics like HIV/AIDS that wipe out whole generations and countries, or the sex trafficking of massive numbers of women and children? Should genocide in Darfur be a moral issue for Christians? And what about disastrous wars like Iraq? And then there is, of course, the issue that got Dobson and his allies so agitated. If the scientific consensus is right – climate change is real, is caused substantially by human activity, and could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths – then isn’t that also a great moral issue? Could global warming actually be alarming evidence of human tinkering with God’s creation?

6 comments on “Debating what moral issues are . . .

  1. AMEN ! !
    Wonderful post! I agree that the evangelicals, Christian Right, compassionate conservatives, or whatever they want to call themselves get too bogged down in the issues you mentioned. Not that they’re not important issues, but there are a lot of issues being overlooked. I don’t think they buy the global warming idea because it hits them where it hurts – in the pocketbook. And Father GWB says there’s no such thing as global warming. I’m convinced that if he said the sky was yellow, they’d believe it. One of my main arguments all along is the idea that evangelicals (and I use that term very loosely, but that’s how they refer to themselves) are so violently opposed to abortion but are so okay with going to war (over there) and killing so many.


  2. I’m troubled because the whole idea of having a debate about who’s right and who’s wrong flies in the face of Paul’s advice to a divisive church:

    “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

    If your ministry is family ministry, fine. Practice it. Don’t go saying someone else’s ministry for social justice isn’t part of the body. If you’re ministry is environmental responsibility, great. Go put it into effect. Don’t go calling for debates with someone who has other gifts and priorities. And above all, don’t leave the impression with the non-Christian world that all Christians care about is who’s right and who’s wrong.

    Why not do good to all people, instead?


  3. The evidence that climate change is happening and that human activity is what’s causing it seems quite strong. Opposition seems to run more along political than spiritual lines. Am I naive in hoping that Christians can defend the right to life AND promote proper stewardship of creation?


  4. I’ve always thought that mankind’s original command was to be a good gardener. God simply wanted Adam and Eve to take care of his garden and they just really messed up the plan. Yes, we have a higher calling today, and I don’t want to diminish it in any way. But we’re still called to take care of what God gave us, and that starts with the green Earth. It’s not only the atmosphere, stratosphere and whatever else is up there. It also is paramount that we take pride in our surroundings, which by the way, have truly been trashed out here in rural America. My Christian faith is in no way dampened when I speak out in favor of life-saving, global conservation practices.


  5. Global climate change is cyclical. It has gotten cold, and it has gotten hot. There have been floods and drought and fire. This cycle is in no way caused by humans, nor could we ultimately stop it. It is simply part of the big picture; it is all part of the wonderful world God gave to us.

    However, we are commanded to be responsible with the creation, to rule it, and care for it. This means that if we can stop polluting the air, we definitely should. But we can no sooner destroy the earth than we can stop God from existing.


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