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?
Or, are the only really "great moral issues" those concerning abortion, gay marriage, and the teaching of sexual abstinence? I happen to believe that the sanctity of life, the health of marriages, and teaching sexual morality to our children are, indeed, among the great moral issues of our time. But I believe they are not the only great moral issues, and Dobson says they are.
So Jim, let's have that debate - the big debate. What are the great moral issues of our time for evangelical Christians? You're right, a new generation is embracing a wider and deeper agenda than you want them too. I think that is a very good thing. You think it is a bad thing, and want to get people fired for raising broader issues than those connected to sexual morality. So, today, I am inviting you to have that debate about what the great moral issues of our time really are. Again, let's ask a leading evangelical university to invite us both and host a public debate, and perhaps ask a major evangelical publication to co-sponsor it. Let's have that debate, Jim, and see what America's evangelicals think the great moral issues of our time really are. How about it?