People Do Change Their Minds

Recently I was reading an article by Richard A. Muller called “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic” in the NY Times. Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines.” Muller begins by saying:

Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

Muller ends by saying:

 Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.

This made my think back to an article that I had read a month ago by Kevin DeYoung entitled “Why No Denomination Will Survive the Homosexuality Crisis”. DeYoung basically says that we are all talking past each other and that there is no way that conservatives, liberals and those want a compromise can ever get along or agree.

His conclusion is:

 “My plea is for these denominations to make a definitive stand. Make it right, left, or center, but make one and make it clearly. Insist that member churches and pastors hold to this position. And then graciously open a big door for any pastor or church who cannot live in this theological space to exit with their dignity, their time, and their property. Because sometimes the best way to preserve unity is to admit that we don’t have it.”

 I feel for DeYoung. He is in a tough ecclesiastic place. But … I have to respectfully disagree. After all, people do change their minds. 

Here is the odd part of this conversation: Things are not static. People are not givens, and views are not set in stone. Things change.

Now there is a caveat.

What I would want to bring to attention is that in both the issue of climate change and homosexuality (and I would add emergent evolution) the migration is not symmetrical. The movement is predominately one way traffic.

I don’t think that the issue of LGBT rights is as much of a forgone conclusion as some others. I do not think that it as inevitable as I ofter hear. I think that there is a lot of hard work ahead to educate, to protect and to actually legislate.

But here is why I am hopeful. Having a friend who is gay is how so many young people report changing their minds on the issue. It’s amazing – knowing someone who is gay, being a friend is a powerful influence. That element paired with advancements in science bringing greater explanation are major reasons for hope.

People who grow up in Bible believing churches, have a gay friend and figure out the need to read the Bible different on that issue. But rarely does the migration happen the other way. Somebody is ok with their gay friends, then reads the Bible and says “hey I think that this 3,000 year old understanding of sexuality is more accurate than what scientist, sociologist, and psychologist are telling us today.”

That is why I am hopeful. Not because it is inevitable. Not because ‘gay is the new black’. No – I am hopeful because the movement is almost exclusively one way traffic and because having a friend can be such a powerful influence.

In both climate change and evolution – people do change their minds. Mostly based on science. But in the realm of human relationship, there is nothing like a friend.*

So I would like speak against Mr. DeYoung’s proposal and put forward a counter-proposal:

I make a motion that we give it time. That was don’t initiate a parting of the ways. That we live in the uncomfortable tension and let God sort it out as God’s Spirit works within us, among us, and all around us. That we acknowledge the plurality of perspectives and we don’t make this a terminal issue to the relationship. 

Can I get a second? 





*p.s. I know that somebody is going to come on and post that their is someone at their church who ‘wants out of the gay life style’ and that reinforced their previously held view.  The thing is that within the construct of a church culture where one is told to ‘pray away the gay’ (to use a common phrase) is it the same kind of friendship I am talking about. If you are the ‘healthy’ or normal one and you are wanting to change them … it’s not exactly a symmetrical mutuality.  When someone is under shame from the institutional frameworks of the church, they are not free to be the kind of friend who who is most likely to change one’s mind.


Jigsaw Puzzle or House of Cards?

JigsawHere is a sweet metaphor from The Economist article ‘The clouds of unknowinglast month:

Whether your impression is dominated by the whole or the holes will depend on your attitude to the project at hand. You might say that some see a jigsaw where others see a house of cards. Jigsaw types have in mind an overall picture and are open to bits being taken out, moved around or abandoned should they not fit. Those who see houses of cards think that if any piece is removed, the whole lot falls down.

When I read this quote I really dug it and didn’t know why until I realized the house-of-cards-ists reminded me of biblical literalists. But the article is about views on climate science between the scientists and deniers.

The defenders of the consensus tend to stress the general consilience of their efforts…the way that data, theory and modelling back each other up. Doubters see this as a thoroughgoing version of “confirmation bias”, the tendency people have to select the evidence that agrees with their original outlook. But although there is undoubtedly some degree of that (the errors in the IPCC, such as they are, all make the problem look worse, not better) there is still genuine power to the way different arguments and datasets in climate science tend to reinforce each other.

The doubters tend to focus on specific bits of empirical evidence, not on the whole picture. This is worthwhile…facts do need to be well grounded…but it can make the doubts seem more fundamental than they are. People often assume that data are simple, graspable and trustworthy, whereas theory is complex, recondite and slippery, and so give the former priority. In the case of climate change, as in much of science, the reverse is at least as fair a picture. Data are vexatious; theory is quite straightforward.

At least one person made the connection before me. Jonathan Hiskes from Grist made a similar observation in the ‘bonus point’ in his post on The Economist piece:

One reason why some people adopt the house-of-cards view is that they transfer the metaphor from fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalism requires that every single tenet of a holy scripture be true. If not, the whole apparatus topples. Hence the Biblical inerrancy view…the Bible is true not just as a whole, but in every single historical and scientific detail. Most Christians I know don’t have this literalist view of the Bible. And I’ll leave it to theologians to explain whether this view of scripture makes sense. But if your faith rides on such a belief, you’re likely to look at climate change in the same way.

It’s an intriguing observation concerning the overlap between (fundamentalist) evangelicals and global warming deniers. But I don’t know if it’s simply transfered from religion. That’s a chicken and egg scenario if I’ve ever seen one. House-of-cards tendencies can be found outside of religion and are probably deeply embedded in the human psyche. On the other hand, it might be reinforced through the conditioning of dogmatic teaching. My sense is that it has more to do with one’s circumstances in relationship to a given topic, whether it’s healthcare, economic injustice, LGBT issues, environmental policies … you get the idea. People can be house-of-cards types when it comes to the facts on one issue and jigsaw types on other issues.

How You Can Help Pass a Clean Energy and Climate Bill in the Senate

Reposted from the Interfaith Power & Light Blog. In episode 57 of the podcast, Ben Lowe and I told you to stay tuned for some ways you can push this legislation through. Here are some ways you can help.

At local town hall meetings around the country, opponents of climate and energy legislation are turning out in force along with opponents of health care reform in an orchestrated strategy to shout down congressmembers and intimidate them.

As senators head home for the August recess, we must step up our efforts to demonstrate faith community concern for this issue.

Here is what you can do to help push for climate legislation:

  1. You can find more information about an upcoming town hall meeting near you by clicking on one of the orange markers on this map. Please attend an event near you, and peacefully display your support, as a person of faith, for a clean energy and climate bill. While we certainly do not want to imitate their angry mob tactics, it’s important that our senators hear a more accurate portrayal of public opinion at the meetings.
  2. Visit our Action Center and send a letter to your senator saying that as a person of clean faith you support:
  • increasing our competitiveness in a global clean-energy market that could reach nearly $2 trillion in the next decade.
  • creating millions of new American jobs
  • protecting God’s Creation for future generations
  • protecting the most vulnerable members of our society from catastrophic climate change

Green Revolutionary Ben Lowe: Homebrewed Christianity 57

greenrevolutionBen Lowe is co-coordinator of Renewal, a grassroots student movement answering God’s call to renew creation through prayer, service, and advocacy. There are lots of books coming out about ‘creation care’, but this one, Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation, gets the official Homebrewed seal of approval. This is an extraordinary group and I’m very impressed with what they are doing. In this podcast we get into how this movement started, talk about how to begin the conversation in your campus ministry or congregation, and how to be compassionate towards other people with whom we share our home.

If you are involved in some form of student ministry and you have done some kind of work in the environment, give us a call and share your ideas with others. I often hear from ministers who are looking for ideas. Call us at 678-590-BREW.

We mention a climate change bill, and I was actually in D.C. lobbying around the same time Ben was, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454), that will significantly reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. It barely passed the House after being weakened significantly, and it is on the way to the Senate after the August recess. Stay tuned for updates from Homebrewed Christianity and watch for ways that you can help strengthen the bill and get it passed.

Praise for Green Revolution in the blogosphere:, Review by Jonathan Merritt, Review from Christine Sine

A Visit from Thomas Berry in the Rockies

I was in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado with my family last week. To describe the trip, I could show this photo and write about how I had an intensely mystical experience with God in the mountains.


Which I did. But my trips to the mountains are always simultaneously joyful and mournful. The story I want to tell is about seeing the effects up close of the North American pine beetle outbreak. It’s devastating the Rocky Mountain forests in the U.S. and Canada and growing exponentially each year. The epidemic is occurring because our winters have not been cold enough to stop the beetles from multiplying. Bark beetles are good for the ecosystem, but not in this amount. The fall colors in our evergreen forests are telling us that global warming is no longer something our kids will face; it’s happening now. And it will accelerate if our forests disappear.


But as I mourned, I heard the voice of a man named Fr. Thomas Berry. No one explains our present environmental situation better (and plainer) than this:

The great work of our time, I would say, is moving the human community from its present situation as a destructive presence on the planet to a benign or a mutually enhancing presence. It’s that simple.

From the film Thomas Berry Speaks:

It is that simple. It’s not a political issue. It’s not about saving trees. It’s about our fragile interconnected relationship with other living things, including human beings in vulnerable communities around the world. We know what we need to do, and it comes down to making the decision to be a mutually enhancing presence rather than a destructive one.

Another Congressman Quotes Bible Against Climate Bill

My ears always perk up when I hear the Bible quoted on the House floor to argue against a bill I support. Today,  Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) didn’t do as bad a job with Luke 11:46 as Shimkus did with his Bible quotes. The verse Pence quotes is one of Jesus’ three woes to the lawyers in Luke’s Gospel. Rep. Pence calls them ‘lawmakers’, which isn’t a good translation of the word nomikos in Luke, but neither is ‘lawyer’, the common translation. A nomikos in Luke seems to have authority to control people’s way of living Judaism. They are zealous for the Torah, and people consult them about how to follow the Law. Jesus’ woes to them in Luke 11 indicate that they have an obligation to help people follow the law and not just ‘burden’ them with things to do. The nomikoi in Luke joined the scribes and Pharisees as some of Jesus’ biggest opponents, as they had always been toward God’s prophets.

I suppose nomikoi could have made pronouncements which were legally binding, so in that sense they could be considered lawmakers. So let’s let him slide on his use of Luke 11:46. But what he says about the bill is completely wrong.

He says, ‘But there’s no dispute, the Democrat cap-and-trade bill will raise the cost of energy to every household in America, every small business, every family farm…’

Wrong. It’s going to lower our energy bills.

‘…and it will cost millions of American jobs.’

Wrong. It will create millions of jobs.

If you are going to talk about lawmakers putting a burden on people and not lifting a finger to help them, I’m sure we can find some examples, but this isn’t one of them.

By the way…

Whether you’re much of an activist or not, you can do something to help (if you’re reading this on June 25 or June 26). Congress is getting a lot of calls right now both for and against the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The vote will likely be tomorrow. Your call could tip the balance.

Here’s what to do:

Call the Congressional Switchboard and ask to be connected to your representative. If you do not know who your representative is, click here and enter your address.

House Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

What you can say…

Please pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act, HR 2454.  I am calling as a person of faith (and/or as a member of  ___________ congregation in _______). This bill will help launch a clean energy future and avert the worst impacts of climate change.

UPDATE: The bill passed! It was very close. It’s heading to the Senate next.