When at first you don't succeed...

…try again, but don’t lead with your real agenda.

Two key leaders of the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) have decided that evangelicals aren’t buying the ECI’s claims that human activity–and especially the use of fossil fuels–is driving climate change. Time to re-tool the message.

Publicly, Jim Jewell (erstwhile Chief Operating Officer of the ECI) is perfectly willing to distance himself from those who would make global warming the be-all and end-all of their environmental activism. From a blog post on January 23rd:

Even our evangelical brethren who have championed environmental concerns have made it appear that Christian response to the problems facing us have to be political and must begin with controversial government action on climate change.

Oh. You mean, like these guys?

But post-partisanship only goes so far, and by the following Friday he and Rusty Prichard, editor of Creation Care Magazine and (until the end of 2008) the national director of outreach for the ECI’s parent organization, the Evangelical Environmental Network, sent out an email to assure their friends of their commitment to climate change.

They announced the birth of “Flourish,” an organization that will “reinvent” and “depoliticize” the evangelical environmental movement by developing materials and programs for local churches “that the core of the evangelical community will trust and embrace.” Theologically sound, politically neutral environmental stewardship is to be commended? What’s not to like?

Unless it’s neither.

We are proud to have served with the Evangelical Environmental Network and to be part of the team that launched and sustained the Evangelical Climate Initiative.  It is rare when a public campaign can shift the political landscape on an issue as the ECI has since 2006.  We remain amazed by its success, yet sobered by the work ahead.  We believe the evangelical presence in federal debates on climate policy is vital, unique, and potentially game-changing.  We hope you and others will continue to support Jim Ball’s and EEN’s strategic work crafting and advancing climate policy.  We believe that what EEN is doing is absolutely vital to shaping and advancing climate policy that is infused with moral priorities.

No apologies for politicizing the issue, there. No equivocation about “those of our brethren” who make climate change their entire agenda. No shy blushing about Jim Ball’s famous, “What Would Jesus Drive?” Prius tour.

So why the new organization?

This approach is not only important in building personal and church commitment to creation care but it is also essential to developing a desire to address climate change.  We believe teaching and working on creation care without requiring initial commitment to climate science or climate policy is also the best way to advance awareness of climate change and to stoke an eventual desire to take actions that will address climate change in the evangelical church.

I see: Overly-hyped claims of catastrophic, human-induced climate change and sharply-politicized calls to drastically cut carbon emissions (80% reductions by 2050, anyone?) failed to penetrate the core of the evangelicalism, so Mssrs. Jewell and Pritchard are going to instead sell creation care, first, and climate change later. Smart.

Most of the evangelical leaders speaking at the inaugural conference are already public advocates of stopping catastrophic, human-induced climate change. But given the disconnect between the public and private reasons given for the (re)birth of “Flourish,” it wouldn’t be too surprising if some of them don’t yet know what they’re getting into.