The House's new Republican leadership will begin doling out coveted committee chairs after the Thanksgiving break, and it's unclear whether Rep. John Shimkus is helping his chances to lead the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee by arguing that climate change is a myth because God told Noah he would never again destroy the Earth by flood.
Shimkus, an Illinois Republican, who won his seventh term this month, earned a dubious bit of YouTube notoriety
in March 2009 when he told a subcommittee hearing on energy and the environment that we needn't worry about global warming because of Genesis 8:21-22. In that passage, Noah emerges from the ark, sacrifices some birds and beasts to God, and in turn earns God's pledge: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man."
Shimkus, a conservative Christian who attends a Lutheran church, then cited Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 24) and his prophecy about the Second Coming when Christ will gather his believers and leave the rest to perish. The congressman invited the two clerics in attendance to a "theological discourse" on those verses -- they have been debated and interpreted over the centuries -- but Shimkus said the meaning was clear to him:
"The earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. ... I do believe God's word is infallible, unchanging, perfect."
He went on to discuss atmospheric carbon levels in the age of the dinosaurs -- a topic that would normally be biblically problematic for scriptural literalists -- and noted that millions of years ago the carbon levels were estimated to be as high as 4,000 parts per million (ppm) as opposed to 388 ppm today, and that was the time of the greatest number of flora and fauna on the planet. "There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet," he said.
Shimkus' statements were met with eye-rolls and much Internet commentary back then. But after Republicans swept into power in the House on Nov. 2, followed a week later by Shimkus' announcement that he would seek the chairmanship of Energy and Commerce -- a committee through which most bills travel before reaching the House floor -- Shimkus' past statements have suddenly become fresh news again.
Not that he's backing away from them, even as the campaign for Energy and Commerce chair becomes one of the most bitterly contested among Republicans.
"I do believe in the Bible as the final word of God," Shimkus told Politico
after announcing his candidacy. "And I do believe that God said the Earth would not be destroyed by a flood."
Shimkus notes that he believes the climate is changing, and toward the warmer side. But he questions whether spending money to mitigate its effects is wise, especially given God's guarantee that floods would not destroy the earth before Jesus returns.
The three other Republicans battling Shimkus for the Energy and Commerce gavel are Joe Barton of Texas, Fred Upton of Michigan and Cliff Stearns of Florida. Barton and Upton are believed to be the top contenders. But the relatively moderate Upton is taking some heat from conservative groups, like the Family Research Council, for being a "part-time Republican" while Barton is still saddled with his viral line last year in which he called Obama administration efforts to make BP cover cleanup costs for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill a "shakedown."
All three candidates are certainly representative of the new global-warming skepticism
dominating the latest version of the Republican Party. Of climate change, Ron Johnson, the new senator from Wisconsin, said it is "far more likely that it's just sunspot activity."
Moreover, Shimkus and the Bible-believing skeptics of climate change have powerful allies
in the emergent Tea Party movement, which in turn has extensive support for the oil and coal industry.
Yet Shimkus may have long-term political viability issues with his Christian base. While evangelicals continue to be more skeptical
about global warming and whether humans have anything to do with it, younger evangelicals are increasingly warming to the climate change cause, and in recent years many conservative Christian leaders have signed on to the theological imperative of "creation care,"
as it is known. And white mainline Protestants, like Shimkus, are even slightly more likely than Americans overall to say the earth is warming because of human activity.
The BP oil spill was also a moment of truth for many Christian conservatives
, who saw the nation's dependence on oil and environmental disasters as intertwined, and an inevitable challenge to people of faith.
"Ecological Catastrophe and the Uneasy Evangelical Conscience," as Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a powerful jeremiad
comparing the oil spill to the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Then again, those eco-evangelicals don't seem to have many options in the Energy and Commerce contest, especially if it comes down to Joe Barton, who apologized to BP for its treatment by President Barack Obama, or John Shimkus, whose theology may not be as problematic for these green Christians as his politics.
"Really, the focus is not going to be climate," as Shimkus told Politico. "The climate debate has, at least for two years, has ended with this election. The real focus is on energy security."