Representative Michele Bachmann officially joined the crowded field of GOP presidential candidates on Monday. Like many in the race, she identifies herself as a Christian. In fact, in her kick-off speech in Waterloo, Iowa, she described how she gave her heart to Jesus Christ at the age of 16, and how she uses prayer to guide her decision-making.
But there is one area in which Bachmann departs dramatically from her own tradition and that of most Christian denominations in the nation: environmental values. Bachmann calls climate change "nonsense" and she routinely refers to the EPA as the job-killing organization of America." And yet the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, to which Bachmann was until recently connected, asserts that caring for the world is "a moral issue."
Bachmann isn't alone: in a great new post, Eleni Towns of the Center for America Progress outlines how nearly every GOP presidential candidate follows their church teachings when it comes to abortion and gay marriage, but not when it comes to climate change and environmental protection.
As a Christian myself, I know what it is like to have disagreements with the Church. I don't concur with every teaching that comes from the pulpit, and I believe that questioning is a vital part of faith. But I am still suspicious about the timing of this GOP heterodoxy.
Over the past several years, most Christian denominations have officially embraced environmental values broadly and the moral imperative to confront climate change specifically. The Vatican, the National Association of Evangelicals, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, and other churches have called for on the faithful to help solve the climate crisis.
Several GOP candidates agreed with these church teachings -- until the Tea Party became the new religion in Washington, that is.
Ever since the Koch Brothers (who made their money in oil refining and other fossil fuel operations) started pouring funds into the Tea Party, it has taken on decidedly polluter-friendly positions: climate change does not exist, we should rollback public safeguards that help prevent business from harming communities, and companies should not be required to reduce their dirty emissions.
And seemingly, once GOP campaigns realized that the Tea Party might bring more voters to the polls than churches could, they too started following the gospel according to the Koch Brothers. They began siding with the guys behind the curtain instead of the guys in the pulpit. Almost every candidate has flip-flopped from their previous positions on climate change in the last year, even as their churches' positions have become stronger.
Back in 2008, for instance, Newt Gingrich sat down with Nancy Pelosi and made a video saying the only issue they agreed upon was the need to fight climate change. Today, Gingrich doubts climate science and questions the need for action.
When Tim Pawlenty was governor of Minnesota, he signed a climate law designed to reduce Minnesota's carbon emissions and helped launch a regional climate initiative within the Midwest. Today, however, he wonders how much of climate change is caused by humans and accuses the scientific community of "data manipulation." Pawlenty, who is an evangelical, must have missed the 2006 "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action" that 86 leaders signed, including the pastor of Pawlenty's church.
I too hold positions that are at times out of sync with the Methodist Church, even though the church plays an enormous role in my life. It isn't easy, and it makes me uncomfortable, and I only do it if my heart, my conscience, and my prayer guide me in that direction. I don't do it to win primaries. When the GOP candidates chose to follow the polluting Koch brothers instead of their own clergy, that's pandering, not principle.