What would Jesus drive?

Can you picture Buddha behind the wheel of a Cadillac Escalade? Or the Pope driving a Hummer? Congregational minister Dan Smith recently took to his pulpit in Lexington, Mass., and asked the memorable question: "What Would Jesus Drive?" Such musings are rooted in the evangelical tradition, where "What Would Jesus Do?" is frequently asked.

With help from the environmental writer Bill McKibben, Smith crafted a campaign that included demonstrations at local sport-utility vehicle dealerships. "I was motivated to bring my faith to bear, not on the crisis I perceived in the environment per se, but in God’s creation," Smith told his congregants. In an interview, he added, "I wanted to say something about global warming, but our church parking lot is usually half-full of SUVs. For me to be involved in an activist rally surprised some people, but I have to say that the congregation has been supportive."

The Evangelical Environmental Network has now launched "What Would Jesus Drive?" as a national campaign.

An interfaith clergy group made a pilgrimage to Detroit last month to deliver an open letter calling for Ford, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors to build cleaner cars. "We’re taking the message from pulpits to parking lots," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ. David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, pointed out that buying a car is a moral choice, and that the gas guzzlers "threaten God’s creation and fuel the causes of war."

Some 1,200 religious leaders from across the spectrum have signed a letter to the U.S. Senate urging improvements to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) laws and reduced carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants. The Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign now has branches in 21 states.

Religious groups, including several orders of Catholic nuns, also are pushing shareholder resolutions at Ford and GM calling for more complete global-warming disclosure, and asking the companies to commit to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.

So what would Jesus drive? People I’ve talked to say he’d probably take public transit. They can’t imagine him behind the wheel of any car, let alone an SUV. You can send a letter to auto-company honchos and get other information on the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign at www.protectingcreation.com or www.whatwouldjesusdrive.org.

Clean Car Awards

The top three clean vehicle fleets in the U.S. are, in order, from Japanese automakers Honda, Toyota and Nissan, according to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Placing fourth was Ford, which won in the "most improved" category. "Bill Ford has touted his green thumb, but until now, only his speeches have merited a thumbs-up," said UCS’ Jason Mark.

Assistance with a Conscience

The American Automobile Association has 43 million members, and the Better World Club only 3,000. But both offer nationwide roadside assistance, travel programs and insurance. The big difference is that AAA lobbies against clean-air legislation and is a key supporter of mammoth road projects. Better World, by contrast, was started by a former Nader’s Raider, donates money to cleanup efforts and offers carbon offsets. It’s at www.betterworldclub.com.