Sanctifying climate change evidence

Recently the self-proclaimed prophet Cindy Jacobs warned Jim Bakker that President Obama’s “anti-biblical” policies with regard to LGBT equality will lead to blizzards and “weather disasters” in the upcoming year. Such pronouncements from Jacobs are nothing new; in January of 2011 Jacobs attributed the sudden die-off of blackbirds in Arkansas to the groundswell of support for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Jacobs is considered a prophet in the Council of Prophetic Elders, a sort of steering committee for the New Apostolic Reformation. Together with Peter Wagner, Jacobs helped create the theology of “spiritual mapping” which seeks to battle demonic influences in specific geographic regions. In addition to prophecy, she claims powers of faith healing and the ability to cast out ‘gay demons’ (that is, the demons that cause homosexuality, not demons that are themselves gay). She is a somewhat marginal, though by no means unpopular figure in the religious right, and she has massive followings in several Spanish-speaking countries. She is also the co-founder of Generals International, a ministry dedicated to “achieving societal transformation through intercession and the prophetic.”

Her association of catastrophic events with America’s sinful ways is also not unique to her. Jim Bakker has made similar predictions, as have many other leaders of the Charismatic Right. In fact, this trend of interpreting world events as signs from God seems to be a hallmark of this new breed of evangelical activists.

It’s an odd development, showing a distinctly animistic influence, as well as a sort of paranoid form of blackmail directed at those who believe differently. “You’d better do what we say, or God will strike you with a tornado.” But more significant than either of these, is the relationship between these kinds of claims and the evangelical tendency towards climate change denial.

The denial of climate change is inextricably linked with the idea that God ‘micromanages’ his creation with a political and social agenda in mind. After all, if we humans can change the climate, then obviously God isn’t in control after all. One might think events like Katrina, the Japan earthquakes, or the devastation in Haiti might lead to this exact conclusion, but these events, too, are interpreted as part of the plan. But this bit of theology isn’t just about explaining away the usual run of natural disasters.

Explicitly connecting everything from dying birds to general weather patterns to specific political agendas offers the perfect explanation for the embarrassingly obvious signs that global climate change is, in fact, happening. By allowing their followers to attribute changing weather patterns to the ostensible sins of the nation, they remove any possibility that even the clearest evidence will convince them of the reality climate change, much less do anything about it.

That Jacobs, Bakker, and others put their unwavering support behind a political party that stands unquestioningly in line with corporate America and opposes sustainable energy and environmental regulation may or may not be an accident, but it is an alliance that certainly works well for both sides. That is a question I will explore in future essays.