The Rev. Lennox Yearwood punched his fist in the air as he rhythmically boomed into the microphone.
“This is a moment for great leadership,” he said. “This is a moment for our country to stand up. This is our moment.”
But Yearwood’s audience was not a church. It was the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA on Wednesday ended two days of public hearings on its proposed regulation to cut carbon pollution from power plants, and mixed in with the coal lobbyists and business executives were conservative religious leaders reasserting their support for President Barack Obama’s environmental policies - at a time when Republican Party orthodoxy continues to question the science of climate change.
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More than two dozen faith leaders, including evangelicals and conservative Christians, spoke at EPA headquarters in Washington by the time the hearings ended.
“The science is clear,” said Lisa Sharon Harper, the senior director of mobilizing for Sojourners, an evangelical organization with a social justice focus. “The calls of city governments - who are trying to create sustainable environments for 25, 50 years - that’s clear.”
Harper was one of about 20 interfaith activists who quietly sang “Hallelujah” and Jewish spirituals in a prayer circle outside one of the environmental agency’s entrances here Tuesday. Yearwood and three other faith leaders spoke at the hearings Tuesday, and about 20 others did on Wednesday.
Although many of the faith leaders came from traditionally progressive congregations, like black churches, synagogues and mainstream Protestant denominations, others were more conservative Christians who reflect a growing embrace of environmentalism by parts of the religious right. This week’s hearings on the new EPA rule gave them an opportunity to make their argument that climate change hurts the world’s poor through natural disasters, droughts and rising sea levels, and that it is part of their faith to protect the planet.
“I have been called by God to speak out on these issues and believe it is my conviction as an evangelical Christian that we must be stewards of God’s creation,” the Rev. Richard Cizik, a former top lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals and now president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, said in prepared remarks on Wednesday.
The agency is also holding hearings this week in Atlanta, Denver and Pittsburgh.
Five years ago, only 34 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed that solid evidence existed that the Earth was warming because of human activity, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center. An additional 31 percent said no evidence existed proving global warming whatsoever. Recent polling shows that many evangelicals are still skeptics.
“For the most part, people in the climate advocacy movement are ignoring a number of various biblical texts that are more specifically relevant to the issue,” said E. Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance, an evangelical organization opposed to the EPA rule. “They’re quoting broad general texts that everyone would agree with.”
But in recent years a number of conservative religious groups have embraced global warming as a serious concern. The National Association of Evangelicals began pushing for an assertive climate change policy during the George W. Bush administration. The Christian Coalition, founded by Pat Robertson, unsuccessfully lobbied in 2009 and 2010 for a climate change bill.
“Rather than letting our faith dictate our politics, we’ve gotten to the point for many of us where we’re letting our politics - typically what the Republican Party says - dictate our faith,” Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, said in a phone interview. “Caring about God’s creation and caring about God’s people is entirely consistent with caring for your neighbor.”
In addition, groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network have grown over the past five years, said the network’s president, Mitch Hescox, by making a different argument than typical environmentalists make.
“This is not about polar bears; it’s not about future life; it’s about current reality and children’s health,” Hescox, a Republican who was scheduled to speak at the EPA hearing in Pittsburgh on Thursday, said in a telephone interview. “We’re not going to get anywhere if it remains a liberal issue.”