Jack Wyrtzen: Evangelical Environmentalist

Word of Life Island, Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains, NY

Who is Jack Wyrtzen?

The founder of Word of Life was a household name in post-war evangelical and fundamentalism. He may have also been an evangelical environmentalist.

Here is Fred Clark, aka Slacktivist:

Jack Wyrtzen was an old-school evangelist — a little bit Billy Sunday, a little bit Billy Graham. He was a former insurance salesman and a Bible-school drop-out who went on to become a radio preacher and eventually the president-and-founder of a popular para-church ministry, Word of Life. Wyrtzen had a loud, genuine laugh and a penchant for even louder jackets. He was also a straight-ticket fundamentalist — young-Earth creationism, premillennial dispensationalism, plenary verbal inspiration, inerrancy, the whole platform.

I met him on several occasions over the years and found him a hard man not to like.

Word of Life was a big deal in the fundie church and private Christian school I grew up in. My family wasn’t part of the Word of Life club, but many of our friends and neighbors made regular pilgrimages up to Schroon Lake for Bible conferences and Bible camp, and they studiously worked their way through correspondence courses for Wyrtzen’s Word of Life Bible Institute….

…And so it came to pass that I wound up mailing a copy of the soon-to-be-declared Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation to — among hundreds of others — Jack Wyrtzen, President and Founder, Word of Life Ministries, Schroon Lake, NY.

I didn’t expect that one would get a response. Our declaration wasn’t proving very popular within the creationist and “Bible-prophecy” fundamentalist branches of evangelicalism. Many young-Earth creationists bear a suspicion bordering on outright hostility toward ecology which is, after all, a secular science. And most premillennial dispensationalists couldn’t be persuaded to care much about the environment because Jesus was coming back any day now and it’s all gonna burn. The world that Hal Lindsey had taught them to think of as “The Late Great Planet Earth” was going to be destroyed as part of God’s great plan, so why bother taking care of it? (For the record, I believe we also sent a letter and a draft of the declaration to the Rev. Tim LaHaye. We did not receive a response from him.) Sure, our “declaration” was full of chapter-and-verse proof-texts supporting “creation care,” but those tended to be from all the wrong parts of Genesis and Revelation, so most of the creationism and Rapture crowd weren’t eager to sign on.

But from that faction there was one surprising exception: Jack Wyrtzen. Jack added his signature and sent back an enthusiastic, hand-written note affirming that he was confident Jesus was returning soon (multiple exclamation points!) — but that he also believed that loving God meant, in the meantime, taking care of “God’s beautiful creation!!!”

I treasured that endorsement for personal reasons, and hoped it might persuade others from the fundier-side of evangelicalism to join Jack in permitting their followers to listen to what we were saying. (It didn’t.)

That was almost 25 years ago, but I found myself thinking fondly of that sweet note from Jack Wyrtzen last week as the hand-picked president of 81 percent of white evangelicals announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the global effort to combat the damage from climate change.

A lot has changed over those years and I’m not sure a new “Declaration on the Care of Creation” today would ever receive the kind of response the old one got from folks like Jack Wyrtzen. The evangelical “Christian radio” pioneered by old-school “Bible” preachers like Wyrtzen is now home to culture-warriors and scores of wanna-be Limbaughs and Hannitys who regard environmentalism as a hoax or a socialist conspiracy. The Fox News toxin has infected much of the evangelical subculture so that these days any talk of the environment triggers their hippy-punching instinct (liberals care about something so we must oppose it). And after the 2000 election here in the U.S., even the facts and science of climate change became a matter of partisan dispute.

Read the rest here.

The Diplomacy of Narcissism

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This is what E.J. Dionne calls Donald Trump’s foreign policy of “America First.”  Here is a taste of his recent column at The Washington Post (via Real Clear Politics).

The problem with “America First” is that it describes an attitude, not a purpose. It substitutes selfishness for realism.

It implies that nations can go it alone, that we stand for nothing beyond our immediate self-interest, and that we should give little thought to how the rest of humanity thinks or lives. It suggests that if we are strong enough, we can prosper no matter how much chaos, disorder or injustice surrounds us.

America First leads to the diplomacy of narcissism, to use what has become a loaded word in the Trump era. And narcissism is as unhealthy for nations as it is for people.

Perhaps the best approach to the problem as it affects us both individually and collectively was offered by Rabbi Hillel, who lived in the century before the birth of Christ. Hillel’s lesson to us began with two questions: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?”

Precisely. All of us should be prepared to stand up for ourselves. We are patriots because we love our own land in a way we can love no other. But we live in a world of more than 7 billion people and nearly 200 countries. Does our nation not stand for something more than its own existence? Can we possibly survive and prosper if we are only for ourselves?

Read the entire column here.

Richard Bernstein Weighs-In on the Chaplin-Cruz Dust-Up

BernsteinLast night while scanning Facebook I ran across Richard Bernstein’s take on this whole Joyce Chaplin-Ted Cruz debate. He was gracious enough to let me share it here.

Bernstein is a historian who teaches law at New York Law School.  He is the author of several books, including The Founding Fathers: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2015); The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (Oxford, 2009); and Thomas Jefferson (Oxford, 2003).

Not familiar yet with the Chaplin-Cruz dust-up?  Get up to speed here and here.

There is a dust-up on Twitter between Harvard’s Joyce Chaplin and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about the consequences of President 45’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Prof. Chaplin argued that the US was created by the international community as a result of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, and Cruz fired back an angry and bitter retort insisting that the United States was entirely self-created by the following equation: “Declaration+Revolutionary War+Constitution=USA.”

Well, Prof. Chaplin is a bit off, but Senator Cruz is way off. Here’s one historian’s take on the matter, rooted in various books that I’ve written and in the research supporting them:

The United States was self-created on either 2 July (the adoption of the independence resolution) or 4 July (the adoption and promulgation of the Declaration of Independence) 1776. Its first form of government (omitted by Cruz from his equation) was the Articles of Confederation, framed in 1777 and ratified in 1781. Of the three resolutions introduced by Richard Henry Lee (VA) in the Second Continental Congress in June 1776, one pertained to declaring independence; a second pertained to framing articles of confederation; and a third pertained to securing foreign alliances, showing the importance that the founding guys placed on the international dimension of the struggle.

* The treaty between the US and France in 1778 was the first by which a foreign power recognized the United States; other treaties with other nations confirmed American independence in the eyes of those nations making the treaties.

* The Treaty of Paris of 1783 is the instrument by which Britain officially recognized American independence, though one could argue that, by entering into full negotiations with American diplomats, Britain recognized American independence earlier than 1783. The step of opening negotiations was the first step in a process culminating in the treaty, and thus in full recognition.

The creation of the United States is a process with domestic and international dimensions, as set forth above. It ended with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 and its effectuation on 4 March 1789. On receiving news of the Constitution’s ratification, Benjamin Rush (a signer of the Declaration) said, “‘Tis done. We have become a nation.” One could argue that the United States first took shape as a confederation of states in 1776 and then reformulated itself into a federal republic, an independent nation, by 1789. Note, however, that the Constitution does not include the word “nation” — in fact, during the Convention, the delegates were so leery of that word that they specifically excised it from the document.

Apparently, Ted Cruz is an idiot. He seems not to realize that a formal treaty between Britain and the United States, under which Britain recognized American independence and nationhood, was an essential part of the creation of the United States. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay did not make that mistake, nor did they miss the importance of the treaty they were appointed by Congress to negotiate. It is sad that a graduate with honors of the Harvard Law School is so stupid as to miss that essential point about the origins of the United States. Cruz insists on the Battle of Yorktown (1781), but he misses that the treaty negotiations were the direct consequence of the UH-French victory over Britain at Yorktown.

Indeed, regarding the use of the word “nation,” Abraham Lincoln was the critical figure in establishing the legitimacy and importance of defining the United States as a nation. His predecessor in that argument, of course, was Alexander Hamilton, who in THE FEDERALIST No. 85 wrote, “A nation without a national government is to my mind an awful spectacle.”

In sum, the creation of the United States as an independent nation was a long, arduous process, one with both domestic (national) and international elements – one that can’t be contained in a tweet.

Joyce Chaplin vs. Ted Cruz

Perhaps you have seen the Twitter battle taking place between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Joyce Chaplin.   Cruz ran for POTUS In 20016.  Chaplin is an early American historian and chair of Harvard’s American Studies program

Chaplin’s claim that the United States was formed by an international community through the Treaty of Paris (1783) is true.  Having said that, to connect the Treaty of Paris with Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement seems to be a bit of a reach. I hope Chaplin will write a longer piece on this.  I am less interested in the connections between Paris 1783 and Paris 2017 and more interested in Chaplin’s understanding of the relationship between the past and the present on matters like this.

Cruz, of course, can’t stay away.  His tweets reveal his simplistic understanding of the American Revolution.  As Cruz proved during his presidential campaign, he is incapable of nuance, especially when history does not conform to his view of American exceptionalism.

I wonder what Cruz would say about me if he ever found out that I tell my students that the Americans would not have won the Revolutionary War without the help of France, Spain, and other European powers.

Here are the tweets:

The “Rapture Bet”

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Check out Fred Clark’s piece titled “A death bet is morally repugnant.  So is a ‘Rapture’ bet.”

A taste:

Donald Trump is making a death bet on climate change. The president is 70 years old and he just doesn’t care about what the world will be like three decades from now. By 2050 he, personally, will be gone, so why should he care about anyone or anything in a future that he will not, personally, live to see?

The idea of a death bet is as vile as it is simple. Live large and indulge yourself, free of all responsibility, paying for it all with debt that won’t come due until after you, personally, are dead. This screws over your heirs, and your creditors, and everyone else who is not you. But, hey, what do you care? You’ll be dead…

But it’s not just Donald Trump making the death bet of climate-change denial. He has the support on this of millions of white evangelical Christians. They don’t care about climate change because they believe the world is about to end anyway. They’re not making a death bet so much as, in their minds, a “Rapture” bet: Can you imagine, Rayford? Jesus coming back to get us before we die!

This isn’t quite as brazenly immoral and selfish as Trump’s death bet. He doesn’t care about what the world will be like in 50 years because he doesn’t care about anything he does not personally experience. These Rapture-Christians don’t care about what the world will be like in 50 years because they don’t believe the world will still be here then. They’re sure it won’t. They’re sure the Rapture is imminent — that it will occur any day, any moment, maybe even before you finish reading this…

Ask them about climate change and they’ll assure you there’s no need to worry about famine and flood in 2050, because they’re “certain” that Jesus is coming back before then. Ask them about their teenage child’s plans to major in art history or theater arts and they’ll give you a very different outlook.

Or just consider the way, say, Rapture-preacher John Hagee is grooming his son to take over his family ministry to ensure that it continues for another generation. Or, more cynically, look at the way these Rapture-preachers and Rapture-believers invest for their own retirements. They’re hedging their Rapture bet when it comes to their own future, but not when it comes to a future they imagine will only affect the lives of other people they don’t personally know.

Read the entire post at Clark’s blog Slacktivist.

Historically, things are a bit complicated.  Of course there is a longstanding history of rapture thinking in modern American evangelicalism.  This is part of the reason why some early 20th-century fundamentalists did not like the Social Gospel.  Why work for social reform when Jesus would be coming back soon? But to be fair to the historical record, many fundamentalists also combined rapture-longing with social action.

A belief in the end times was also the reason why some premillennialists did not initially support U.S. involvement in World War I.  Why fight a war to “make the world safe for democracy” when Jesus would be coming back soon?

And we could go on.  Not all rapture Christians broke with the social demands of Christian faith that their 19th-century Second Great Awakening ancestors championed, but some did.

There is also some question about whether the general failure of evangelicals to support environmental causes today is directly related to their views of the “end times.”  In 2012, political scientists David Barker and David Bearce argued in an article titled “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change” that “believers in Christian end-times theology are less likely to support policies designed to curb global warming than are other Americans.”  Religion scholar Robin Globus Veldman challenged their findings in a piece at Religion Dispatches.

This all reminds me of when PBS host Bill Moyers accused James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior in the early years of the Reagan administration, of arguing that there was no need for Congress to pass legislation protecting the environment because Jesus Christ would soon be returning. Moyer quoted Watt as saying “After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” In 2005, Watt wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post claiming that he never said these things.  He wrote: “I know no Christian who believes or preaches such error.” Moyer apologized, but Watt wanted to make sure, over twenty years after he left office, that Americans understood that evangelical belief was not incompatible with environmental reform.

Today, in a piece on this issue by Washington Postreligion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey, does not mention the “rapture” argument.

In the end, I am sure there are evangelicals out there who believe that the environment is unimportant because the rapture is coming soon.  Clark is right when he says that these rapture Christians are inconsistent. They plan for the future when it comes to their own retirements and inheritances, but they do not plan for the future when it comes to the fate of the planet.

I will end with a tweet from conservative pundit Erick Erickson.  Not sure if it fits into the “rapture Christian” category, but it is certainly revealing.

Will 2020 Election Be a Referendum on Climate Change?

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It’s possible.  Here is Dana Nuccitelli at The Guardian:

This is the rotten state of today’s GOP. They’re happy to sell out the future of humanity for their own short-term political gain. Noam Chomsky was right – the Republican Party may be the most dangerous organization in human history. This move comes at a time when the need to act on global warming has been clear for decades, but the GOP has blocked all American climate policy efforts, and we’re now running out of time to avoid dangerous climate change.

America’s withdrawal from the Paris treaty will take four years, meaning that the 2020 election (and the 2018 midterms) will be a referendum on Trump’s decision today. American voters must send the world a signal in that election. In the meantime, it will be up to the rest of the world – particularly China and the EU – to take up the mantle of leadership on climate change that America has left behind.

 

Obama’s Response to U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Agreements

Obama Scandals

Courtesy of the Boston Globe:

“A year and a half ago, the world came together in Paris around the first-ever global agreement to set the world on a low-carbon course and protect the world we leave to our children.

“It was steady, principled American leadership on the world stage that made that achievement possible. It was bold American ambition that encouraged dozens of other nations to set their sights higher as well. And what made that leadership and ambition possible was America’s private innovation and public investment in growing industries like wind and solar — industries that created some of the fastest new streams of good-paying jobs in recent years, and contributed to the longest streak of job creation in our history.

“Simply put, the private sector already chose a low-carbon future. And for the nations that committed themselves to that future, the Paris Agreement opened the floodgates for businesses, scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation on an unprecedented scale.

“The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”

Trump Will Abandon His Pro-Life Position If He Pulls Out Of The Paris Climate Agreement

Climate

Delegates of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference

Nathan Schneider writes for America and is a professor of media studies at the University of Colorado.  His piece “Trump’s war on the environment is a war on the young and the unborn” is on the mark.

Here is a taste:

I just put my 1-year-old to sleep. He went down easily. He doesn’t know it yet, and won’t understand it for years I suppose, but minutes before he fell asleep, White House sources revealed that President Trump intends to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. The man who will probably be my son’s first image of what a leader looks like has chosen a short-sighted, confused, greedy version of the present, or of past greatness, over the future of the planet that my son and his friends, and their children, will inherit.

There’s no sense anymore in bothering to cite the scientists’ numbers or to reproduce charts or to quote from “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’ encyclical that Mr. Trump received from its author’s hands just a week ago. The debate is over, and it has long since ceased to be a real debate. Even the former ExxonMobil chief executive officer who is Mr. Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, became the last, best hope that the president would opt to stick with the climate deal. Paris was never enough, but it was the one step that virtually every country on Earth could agree to start with. It stood for a rare, almost impossible hope that global consensus might be possible for a species otherwise embracing its own suicidal fragmentation.

“Suicide,” actually, isn’t the right word. My son isn’t choosing the planet he will be getting. The unborn children to come certainly aren’t. Nor are the vast majority of living, grown human beings. Mr. Trump’s fleshy shell will be rot and decomposure by the time the climate truly turns to chaos. This is war—the war of one generation on those that follow it, and we are led reluctantly into battle against our descendants by a despot determined to ignore the outcry of his scientists, his citizens and even his most oil-stained advisers. We need to call it what it is.

I don’t relish the prospect of war. I am one of those Catholics with serious reservations about our church’s “just war” teaching—about whether a war can ever be just. Our God is a Prince of Peace who bears no arms. But we need not affirm the justice of a war to recognize that it is happening. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines an act of war more stringently, I think, than many who claim the banner of just war theory admit. It says, “The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.” That’s a high bar, but Mr. Trump is roaring far above it. This is what we are up against. This is it.

When such damage is underway, we cannot stand by or claim refuge in our complaints as we grudgingly take part. “Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions,” the catechism continues. “One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.”

The command has gone out now: We are to proceed with the destruction of the planet, in the name of some imagined greatness of the past, to preserve the privileges of the most privileged country on Earth. We are to refuse coordination, cooperation, restraint and consensus. We are to deny our children, born and unborn, the planetary gift we received, from our parents and from our God. We cannot.

Read the rest here.