DULUTH, Ga. — Because “a lot of pastors feel they are two bad sermons from, ‘Do you want fries with that?’“ they avoid controversial subjects, according to Florida pastor Joel Hunter, speaking at a May 13 conference promoting creation care.
Hunter pastor of Northland Church in Lakewood, Fla., and author of A New Kind of Conservative, said pastors are key to winning the hearts and minds of evangelicals when it comes to caring for the environment but they need to be “equipped and empowered in order to care about this issue.”
Hunter, a member of President Obama’s advisory council on faith-based partnerships, said pastors need to know enough about the science of climate change to be able to “explain to those who will inevitably come back — as they should — with skepticism on any subject.”
Hunter said there is both good news and bad news for supporters of creation care.
“The bad news is that this movement honestly is going very slowly in the church,” he said during his address at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga. “By now we would have hoped to be meeting with multitudes, and you see what’s here. There’s a gathering of leaders.”
Despite that, Hunter said, “the time is growing in its ripeness from several aspects,” so environmentally conscious evangelicals should not be discouraged.
Along with new technologies that allow humans to cultivate the earth in new ways, Hunter said “there is a ripeness in the church” in form of an expanding moral agenda.
“There is now an unstoppable expansion of what it means to be an evangelical Christian,” he said. “We are no longer going to be stuck on one or two major issues.”
Hunter added that evangelicals must not abandon concern for the unborn in order to embrace a broader agenda. “Frankly, if you cannot protect a baby in its mother’s womb, that is the paradigm of all vulnerable life,” he said. “If we don’t continue to lift that up as central, then woe be unto us.”
But Hunter said evangelicals need to understand “that ‘pro-life’ means a whole lot of things.”
“It’s not just inside the womb, it’s outside the womb,” he said. “Life outside the womb is just as important as life inside the womb to God.”
Hunter said evangelicals have “an unprecedented platform in this country to speak to power on behalf of those who have no power.”
“You must know that those in power are listening to evangelical Christians in a way they have never listened before,” said Hunter, one of a quartet of preachers identified as praying with candidate Obama before his election as president.
He said the nation’s leaders are listening “if for no other reason because of our sheer number,” but also “because of our activism that has turned from being narrow, negative and combative to being constructive and helpful.”
“All of politics runs not on those who can argue the loudest — not even those who can present the best arguments — but runs on those who are willing to offer solutions,” he said. “Politicians are like everybody else. If you’ve got something that can help me, I want to see it, and especially this particular administration, although all administrations have been like that.”
With that kind of clout, Hunter warned that evangelicals “need to not lose our way.”
“Power does funny things to people,” he said. “Attention does very funny things to people and all of a sudden we begin to think that it’s the justice of our cause rather than the Creator, the sovereign God who put us there, and the principles of Scripture that are more important than anything we can come up with.”
Hunter said Christians “need to attach everything we do to Scripture” and “have to be sure that we can be steadfast in knowing the facts and not merely be more clever with our opinions.”
Hunter said the best way to build awareness about environmental stewardship is telling stories about vulnerable people most hurt by neglect for the earth.
“People are not moved by syllogistic certainty,” he said. “They are not moved by philosophy. They are moved when they see somebody they can help.”
Jonathan Merritt, manager of the conference and national spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, introduced Hunter at the event, sponsored by Flourish.
“Dr. Hunter taught me that you can be a conservative who unashamedly defends the sanctity of human life, that you can believe traditional orthodox Christian views about some of the most pressing issues of our day and at the [same] time care passionately about God’s creation,” Merritt said, “that those things are not mutually exclusive.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)