For eight months the question has bedeviled us, thanks to bumper stickers provided by the Evangelical Environmental Network: What Would Jesus Drive? While the EEN’s literature and Web site never provide a direct answer, it’s safe to assume that these green Christians do not envision the Savior arriving for the Second Coming in a Lincoln Navigator or Chevy Suburban. After all, EEN professes that “the Risen Lord Jesus cares about what we drive . . . Obeying Jesus in our transportation choices is one of the great Christian obligations and opportunities of the 21st century.” To spread the gospel of fuel efficiency and clean air, EEN’s executive director, the Rev. Jim Ball, and his wife recently undertook an informational crusade through the Bible Belt in their Toyota Prius hybrid car.
Last week, however, the nonprofit organization SUV Owners of America counterattacked with a full-page ad in USA Today declaring that, verily, Jesus drives an SUV. Well, make that Jesús, as in Jesús Rivera, the avuncular figure whose image appears in the SUVOA ad, along with copy describing Mr. Rivera as a Vietnam vet and happy SUV owner.
I was fascinated by the image of this new motoring messiah — was he a flesh-and-blood icon, like George Brazil, or an advertising construct like the Hathaway Shirt Man? Did he live in L.A.? Was he available for interviews? I called Strat@comm, the PR firm that represents SUVOA and many auto-industry clients, to learn more about Mr. Rivera. (Strat@comm co-founder Jason Vines, coincidentally, is SUVOA’s president and has worked for Nissan North America in Gardena, as well as Ford and Chrysler.) Company principal Ron DeFore, who, before he helped found Strat@comm, worked for Paramount and KTLA, got to the point about access to Jesús: “He is real, but I can’t tell you where he lives. Jesús wanted to talk to the press but we counseled him against that just for safety’s sake — there are some extreme people out there.”
Instead, DeFore informed me that SUVs are among the safest vehicles on the road today (he considers the rollover charge a canard, since there are relatively few such accidents), that smaller, fuel-efficient cars are more vulnerable in collisions and so, if anything, the government should allow cars to become bigger and thus safer, instead of forcing them to remain small and deadly simply to satisfy fuel conservation mandates.
“It’s blood for oil,” he said of federal fuel-consumption policy, appropriating the familiar anti-war slogan.
DeFore told me he grew up in Brentwood — ironically, home of the noted SUV-basher Arianna Huffington.
“If she lives in a $5 million house with a pool,” DeFore asked rhetorically, “why does she not think it’s hypocritical for her to come out for fuel efficiency and go back to an 8,000-square-foot palatial mansion that probably uses four to six times the fuel that the average American does?”
DeFore suggested that Huffington remedy her hypocrisy by doing one of three things:
“Either sell the home and move into a 1,200-square-foot condo or apartment like most people, or invite several homeless people to live with her. She claims she got religion and now drives a hybrid — which is great, because we’re all for consumer choice. But we’re against using the SUV as a villain.”
What, I nudged him, was the third thing?
“She should shut up.”
“The more extreme environmentalists draw from pagan sources, including Wicca.”
The knowledgeable voice on the other end of the phone sounded like Charlton Heston’s but belonged to Father Robert A. Sirico, the president of the free-market-minded Lord Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We were discussing the dark forces arrayed against SUV drivers; Fr. Sirico said his own group’s Web site had “come under severe attack” following its announced opposition to the concept of environmental stewardship.
Fr. Sirico is a Vatican-connected clergyman and SUV owner who has been quoted in SUVOA press releases — specifically, denouncing liberal Christian organizations for “promoting a ‘green’ agenda” and for proposing simplistic analyses of environmental problems.
“I believe in preserving private property,” he said, “but I don’t go around saying, ‘Jesus Is a Capitalist.’”
I asked him about the injection of religion into the SUV debate, Jesus or Jesús notwithstanding — had car-owning suddenly joined religion and politics as topics not to be discussed at the dinner table?
“The minute you say ‘environmentalism’ the discussion tilts left,” Fr. Sirico complained. “But there are a lot of people on the left who love their SUVs. Christians and other believers have a concern for the earth, but there are other ways of conserving resources other than turning them over to government bureaucrats.”
I had tried reaching the EEN’s Rev. Ball, but had been told he would not discuss the SUVOA ad campaign built around Jesús Rivera.
“He’s avoiding the media,” said Fr. Sirico, who then pointed out that the pontiff’s Popemobile is a Mercedes SUV. I asked him what, if Jesús drove an SUV, was the devil likely to own? “It would have to be fire-resistant,” he said.
Judgment Day: Actor Ed Begley Jr. and other electric car owners will participate in a funeral and memorial for General Motors' EV1, Thurs., July 24, 11 a.m. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd. See www.GenerationEV.com.