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New sermon from the evangelical pulpit: global warming

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The film has support from a broad range of groups, including the National Council of Churches (NCC) and Jewish organizations, which have their own global warming initiatives. The NCC, for example, recently released a report on how member churches can reduce carbon emissions and overall utility expenses. The American Jewish Committee provides cash incentives to its employees to purchase fuel- efficient vehicles.

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A "Call to Action" statement on the film's website has gathered dozens of signatories from a broad range of faith leaders, environmental groups, scientists, policymakers, and celebrities.

But converting and galvanizing Evangelicals is a major goal. "Too often Evangelicals have focused on just one or two issues," says Dr. de Vries.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, a Florida pastor who is the new president of the Christian Coalition, agrees. Speaking just for himself on a recent "Call to Action" teleconference, he said, "I'm part of the religious right, and am one of those leaders who wants to expand the agenda." After viewing the film, his 12,000-member congregation formed a team to consider how to become more ecologically responsible.

The shift within Evangelicalism gained some momentum earlier this year when 86 Evangelical leaders issued a statement on global warming, saying climate change was not in doubt and human action was required. They were immediately criticized by other Evangelicals, however, and still are. Yet they can point to growing support.

"In a survey earlier this year, 66 percent of Evangelical people favored environmental legislation to address global warming, even if it cost as much as $15 per month per person," De Vries says.

Younger Evangelicals, in particular, are getting on the bandwagon, working on a draft statement of their own.

Some Evangelicals recognize the problem as a moral issue but still see it primarily as one of individuals taking action. Others insist it's long past time to call for policy changes.

"It's not just individuals turning off the lights, but whether industries continue to pump pollution into the atmosphere," says Tony Campolo, cofounder of a nonpartisan group, Red Letter Christians. "Unless government starts controlling industry better than it has, we are not going to have a solution to this problem."

With global warming affecting poor countries more than the developed world, Dr. Campolo says, there is a biblical imperative for a wealthy America, responsible for at least 25 percent of global carbon emissions, to act.

Such Evangelical leaders remain under fire from colleagues, but they are counting on the film to change minds, starting with pastors.

"Spiritual leaders are waking up to this broader responsibility, and congregations really respect what their local pastor says," Dr. Hunter adds. "Just as all politics is local, all spiritual growth is local. As more pastors are aware of this challenge, it will gain traction – and quickly, I think."

Durley is equally optimistic about the black church community. "There has been a raising of the veil of ignorance around this issue. As we talk to people throughout the South, they ask, 'How can we get mobilized?' "