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Anti-SUV query: What would Jesus drive?

A Boston-area protest questioning the ethics of gas-guzzlers had unusual sponsors: clergy.

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And several months ago, when United Church of Christ ministers gathered in Springfield, Mass., "People were eagerly signing pledges that they wouldn't buy SUVs," McKibben says.

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At Saturday's rally in Lynn, rain-spattered posters bearing messages such as "Test drive your feet. Walk away from SUVs" shared sidewalk space with several signs drawing on religious themes.

Dan Smith, associate minister of Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, Mass., created a joking but provocative sign reading, "What would Jesus drive?"

"I hope it will at least encourage folks to think twice, and possibly pray about this decision, as they would about many other hard choices they make," Rev. Smith says.

Call for local engagement

Local churches, Smith suggests, could do far more in addressing the problem of global warming. Noting that his church parking lot is full of SUVs on a Sunday morning, he says, "I happen to love the people who drive them, [but] I feel we could all be better informed about the consequences of our decisions as consumers and as Christians."

To some auto dealers here, being informed should be a two-way street.

Michael Iovanna, owner of the Pride Motor Group, notes that SUVs make up 50 to 60 percent of his business. As rally participants cluster on the sidewalk beyond his showroom window, he says in a genial tone, "They're here to make a point. Personally, I think they're making the point to the wrong sector. I'm just an independent car dealer trying to feed my family."

Mr. Iovanna considers this "a federal issue." He also poses a rhetorical question about protesters: "Are they at the airport, picketing the people getting on planes?"

Carmakers not idle

As a dealer for Lincoln-Mercury, Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Hyundai, Iovanna defends manufacturers. "Ford Motor Company and General Motors are doing a great job building more fuel-efficient vehicles."

Ford, he says, plans to improve fuel economy by 25 percent in the next five years. He also points to the growing presence of high-mileage hybrid and electric vehicles.

The challenge, he says, is: "How can we do it so everybody can be happy?"

For environmentalists, happiness can be measured in degrees.

"Global warming is the single largest thing human beings have ever done to the planet," McKibben says. "We're changing the planet in ways that wouldn't have been fathomable 25 years ago." Americans, he says, contribute 25 percent of the world's human-generated carbon dioxide. In January, he says, a group of leading climatologists predicted that the temperature of the planet could increase by five degrees this century.

For Rev. Massie, any happily-ever-after scenario will require all groups to accept responsibility for their decisions.

Adds Smith, "This campaign is about raising awareness, not just of the environment per se, but of God's creation and of our daily responsibility to do what we can to care for the incredible gift that God has entrusted to us."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor