An Environmentally-Friendly Christian Coalition?

Back in 2006, the Christian Coalition made news when its new president, Joel Hunter, resigned before even official taking office due to the organization’s unwillingness to consider broadening its agenda beyond gays and abortion to include things like poverty and climate change:

The Central Florida pastor recently tapped to lead the Christian Coalition of America resigned his position in a dispute about conservative philosophy — more than a month before he was to fully assume his post, he said Wednesday.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, of Longwood’s Northland, A Church Distributed, said he quit as president-elect of the group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson because he realized he would be unable to broaden the organization’s agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage.

He hoped to include issues such as easing poverty and saving the environment.

“These are issues that Jesus would want us to care about,” Hunter said.

The resignation took place Tuesday during an organization board meeting. Hunter said he was not asked to leave.

“They pretty much said, ‘These issues are fine, but they’re not our issues; that’s not our base,’ ” Hunter said of his conversation with the group’s leadership.

A statement issued by the coalition said Hunter resigned because of “differences in philosophy and vision.” The board accepted his decision “unanimously,” it states.

As Hunter explained at the time, his “attempt to broaden the agenda just didn’t work. I thought maybe it would. They said they wanted to go into some of these other issues, but when it came time to do it, they were afraid of alienating their base.”

Which makes this recent development all the more confusing:

To environmentalists, it must have seemed a sight as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker nesting in a chainsaw factory: Roberta Combs addressing the annual gathering of the National Wildlife Federation?

Let’s rephrase that: The president of the Christian Coalition, a staunch ally of right-wing Republicans, has befriended one of the country’s most venerable environmental groups.

In a later phone interview with Pittsburgh City Paper, Combs confirmed it was her first public talk ever to an environmental group. And it happened right here in Pittsburgh, the latest development in a burgeoning partnership between Combs and NWF President Larry Schweiger.

“I feel at home here, with you guys, the National Wildlife Federation,” Combs told some 250 staffers and volunteers from across the nation, at their May 1 gathering at Downtown’s Omni William Penn.

Schweiger, a Pittsburgh native, told the audience that he and Combs have been quietly working Washington, D.C., together for some time. As a result, he said, “We’re getting into places we’ve never gotten into before” — like the offices of some Republican politicians.

The NWF has more than 4 million members and supporters. The Christian Coalition claims some 2 million supporters, a substantial pool of potential new allies in the fight against global warming and other ills.

For Combs, the chief motivator is energy policy. She said the alliance with the NWF dovetails with the Coalition’s own America’s Path to Progress initiative, which calls for ending our reliance on foreign oil to improve national security as well as to combat climate change. The urgency of those goals helped her see past a longstanding partisan divide.

“This is not a Republican issue. This is not a Democratic issue,” said Combs, standing at the podium with her grandson Logan. “This is a family-values issue.”

Energy efficiency and renewable energy, she added, are “the kind of progress that upholds our Christian values.”

For the last several years, the Christian Coalition has been rather irrelevant, having all but lost every bit of the influence it once wielded within the Religious Right political power-structure.  And I suspect that this sort of heretical behavior will only serve to further lessen what little relevance it might still have had within the movement. 

After all, the Religious Right does not look kindly on those in its camp who try to make climate change part of the agenda, regardless of their motivation.