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On the Trail of ‘What Would Jesus Drive?’

We had an audacious goal when we began planning the “What Would Jesus Drive?” (WWJDrive) educational campaign. We hoped that we could help turn transportation into a moral issue in this country. You can judge whether our efforts thus far have begun to meet this goal. But thanks to help from the media we certainly have gotten the question out there.

Even before the formal launch of WWJDrive, we had articles in major papers and an AP wire story, which helped stoke interest in our Detroit press conference on Nov. 20. We were joined at that press conference by major religious leaders from the National Council of Churches, the Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and Catholic Sisters from Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.   
Later that day we met with Bill Ford and other senior Ford executives, senior leaders of the United Autoworkers Union and executives from General Motors. We presented them with statements signed by over 150 senior religious leaders. We called upon them to improve the fuel efficiency of their entire fleet and requested further dialogue. Mr. Ford took our views seriously and said they would get back to us. We take him at his word.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
The response from the media to WWJDrive has been nothing short of astounding. The following national and international news shows provided coverage, many showing all or portions of our TV spot and/or doing interviews with myself or my colleague Ron Sider: “ABC’s World News Tonight,” “Good Morning America,” and “This Week”; “NBC Nightly News”; “CBS Evening News”; “Fox News” and “The O’Reilly Factor”; and CNN’s “Headline News,” “International News,” “TalkBack Live,” “Inside Politics,” and “Crossfire.”   
Approximately 500 local TV stations carried stories, many of them showing all or part of our TV spot (to see the spot go to www.whatwouldjesusdrive.org.) Articles have appeared in over 1,500 newspapers, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Thousands and thousands of radio stations have aired interviews or done news segments, including over 1,200 Christian radio stations. Ron Sider and I have been on countless radio talk shows. Numerous columnists have written about WWJDrive, including George Will.   
There’s been lots of good-natured ribbing, some of which you may have heard. (Even Jay Leno got into the act with a joke that asked what plastic statue Jesus would have on the dashboard.) There has also been criticism. Most of it has been knee-jerk reactions from people who have not seen our TV ad or the materials on our Web site.   
Nearly all such criticisms don’t address the three serious moral issues we have raised: the impact of transportation pollution on human health, especially children; that transportation is the largest source of global warming pollution in the United States, and that global warming is projected to impact the poor the hardest; and our dependence on foreign oil from unstable regions. 
Many critics have assumed that we have climbed onto some amorphous “anti-SUV” bandwagon. This is not the case. Rather, we are pro-fuel-efficiency and pro-pollution-reduction. We encourage folks to find ways to drive less (carpool, maximize trips, use public transportation, walk). When a new vehicle is required, we suggest that folks buy the most fuel-efficient, least-polluting vehicle available that truly meets their needs. In some cases this is a sport utility vehicle. We just wish automakers gave folks the option to choose among fuel-efficient ones. 
Some, like George Will, have criticized our being in favor of raising federal fuel economy standards. We simply point to a 2001 study of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) requested by Congress that concluded that raising fuel economy is in the national interest, and that a fleet-wide average of 37 miles per gallon by around 2015 is quite achievable.

Finally, some have suggested that the question “What Would Jesus Drive?” disrespects Jesus and that they are offended that we asked the question. But the question actually treats Jesus with the highest respect.

It implies that he is Lord of all of our choices, including our transportation choices. I think much of this criticism actually stems from these folks feeling like we are personally attacking them for their current transportation choices. Many have never thought of transportation as a moral issue. 

We’re not trying to make folks feel guilty. We want to help them understand that transportation choices offer all of us new ways to love our neighbors. In so doing we will be faithful disciples of Jesus, who lives in our hearts and helps us with all the choices we make.

Jim Ball is executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network and publisher of Creation Care magazine.

Read “What Would Jesus Drive?” by Jim Ball.