Conservative Christians and the Green Dragon

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Yesterday marked the opening of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico. At the opening ceremony Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, called on the Mayan goddess Ixchel to bless and guide the proceedings.

“Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, invoked the ancient jaguar goddess Ixchel in her opening statement to delegates gathered in Cancun, Mexico, noting that Ixchel was not only goddess of the moon, but also “the goddess of reason, creativity and weaving. May she inspire you — because today, you are gathered in Cancun to weave together the elements of a solid response to climate change, using both reason and creativity as your tools.” … “Excellencies, the goddess Ixchel would probably tell you that a tapestry is the result of the skilful interlacing of many threads,” said Figueres, who hails from Costa Rica and started her greetings in Spanish before switching to English. “I am convinced that 20 years from now, we will admire the policy tapestry that you have woven together and think back fondly to Cancun and the inspiration of Ixchel.

While such an invocation may warm the hearts of many Pagans and practitioners of indigenous faiths, and was no doubt seen as a poetic metaphor by the more secular-minded politicians, activists, and policy experts in attendance, to conservative Christians it was no doubt further confirmation of their greatest fear. That the environmental movement is a stalking horse for Pagan religion, a “green dragon” that seeks to destroy Christianity.

“At a critical moment in the global environmental debate, many of America’s top Christian leaders have joined with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation to produce an explosive new 12-part DVD series, Resisting the Green Dragon, which has begun shipping both in the United States and abroad. The series sounds the alarm about dangerous environmental extremism and brings a Biblical viewpoint on environmental issues and creation stewardship to evangelical churches, ministries, and schools.”

In the above clip provided by Right Wing Watch, the speakers make it plain that this is a spiritual struggle, a battle between competing religions. Christianity on one side, and the “green dragon” of pagan environmentalism on the other. Participating in the video series is a roll-call of conservative Christian heavy-hitters, including Bryan “feminized medal of honor” Fischer, Tony “gay kids kill themselves because they know they’re abnormal” Perkins, Wendy “contraception education is a plot by Planned Parenthood to make money by providing abortions” Wright, Janet “allowing gay parents to adopt is state-sanctioned child abuse” Parshall, and Glenn Beck favorite David “paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses” Barton. Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect acknowledges that these figures are politically influential, but tries to minimize the potential damage they could do to legislative/political environmental solutions.

“In a sane world, we could just dismiss this as kooky and irrelevant. But given the evangelical right’s strength among the Republican grassroots, it would be irresponsible not to prepare for when these arguments make their way into the chambers of Congress. That said, I would caution liberals against taking these statements as representative of American Christianity, or even evangelical Christianity. Right-wing evangelicals are very loud, but they are a minority within American Christianity and are outweighed by the mass of Catholics and mainline Protestants who have more sensible views on the subject.

What’s more, there’s an ongoing fight within evangelical Christianity itself, between intensely political, Republican-aligned evangelicals like those “resisting the Green dragon,” and evangelicals like Richard Cizik, the former vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who now leads an organization that works to bridge the gap between progressives and evangelicals on issues ranging from climate change to prison reform. These people are allies, and we should work with them as we push against the climate denialism of the religious right.”

First off, as much as I admire Richard Cizik’s principled stance on environmentalism, his influence has been greatly diminished within American Evangelical Christianity. It remains to be seen if he’ll become a standard-bearer for a large number of younger evangelicals who have a broader view of issues like climate change. Secondly, while the 2010 elections were supposedly narrow-focused on taxes and fiscal issues, many of the newly elected Republicans are very socially conservative Christians, Chuck Donovan at the Daily Caller says that “the 112th Congress could prove to be the most socially conservative set of newcomers since the one that rode into Washington on Ronald Reagan’s coattails in 1980.” If you think they’ll be happy to stop at tax-related legislation, well, I have some prime swampland in Florida to sell you.

Some scholars claim that “nature religion” is the future of religion on this planet, and they may be right, but these would-be (green) dragon slayers will do everything in their power to derail this shift in environmental attitudes from being represented in our policy decisions for as long as possible. Those of us within our communities who see environmental issues through a lens of sacred interconnectedness, or as a religious calling, should have cause to be concerned about what this latest effort will mean. As for the Climate Change Conference in Cancun, observers are expecting a low-key meeting, without much in way of new treaties or big initiatives; ensuring more years of relative inaction while increasing numbers of people are directly affected by climate change.  For more on Resisting the Green Dragon, a 12-minute preview is available here (password: RESIST).