Two Evangelical Leaders, Jim Wallis and Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, on ‘Radical Faith,’ Climate Change and More

RUTH GRAHAM Was it you?

MEYAARD-SCHAAP No, it certainly wasn’t!

You know, we recycled. But if the truck didn’t pick it up at the curb, I don’t know if we would have done that either. I don’t remember derision, necessarily, around climate change or environmentalism. Growing up, what I mostly remember was silence.

I had an older brother whom I respect a ton, three years older than me, who studied abroad in New Zealand at a Christian program called Creation Care Study Program. He came back totally transformed. The climax of his transformation was, soon after he came home, he announced to my Midwest family that he was now a vegetarian because of the choices he had made. And that went over as you might expect. To my parents’ eternal credit, they didn’t quite understand it, but they wanted to and they worked to understand it.

That sent me reeling, because I didn’t know anybody like me who had ever made that choice. I had a caricature in my mind of people who were vegetarians. They were throwing red paint on fur coats on the weekend. So it was painful because I needed to either suspend my own assumptions and change the way I thought and change my assumptions about the world, or write my brother off as one of those people that I thought was crazy.

And, you know, thanks be to God that my brother was patient and generous in bringing me along. And he was kind of the first person that helped me understand that his choice to become a vegetarian and the other choices he made after returning from that experience wasn’t him rejecting our Christian faith and the Christian values that have been instilled in us. It was him living more deeply into them.

WALLIS The parallel here is there were particular relationships that were transformational.

WALLIS The left wants to say the answer is to become more and more secular, leave religion. I think the answer to bad religion is better religion. It’s our faith, [Kyle] and I were raised in it, and we didn’t just become liberal, lefty, secular. I would say more than ever, the future is going to be leaning into faith. With secularism and dying churches, it’s going to be only those who lean into a deep passion — I would say radical faith — only that will survive.

MEYAARD-SCHAAP I think you’re right because, like you said, the far left says to reject religion. I think the far right says the opposite: Lean into an unquestioning faith, lean into this particular version of faith, which is more cultural than theological or spiritual.

WALLIS My students are very weary of hearing me say: “Don’t go left or right. Go deeper.”

MEYAARD-SCHAAP Particularly at [Young Evangelicals for Climate Action] we were doing work with mainstream environmental organizations. And my experience, almost to a person and to an organization, was eagerness and acceptance. I think a lot of those organizations recognize that they’ve done a really good job mobilizing everyone that they can mobilize. They built the biggest choir loft that they can build with the kind of messaging that they have and the kind of people they are trying to reach out to. And if we’re going to build a coalition that’s actually big enough to accomplish what we need to accomplish on climate at the speed and scale that the crisis demands, we need to build a bigger choir loft.