US Auto Industry Asked: ‘What Would Jesus Drive?’

20 November 2002

Wednesday will be a solemn – perhaps Damascene – day in the life of the chairman and chief executive of the Ford Motor Company.

In a meeting of the earthly representatives of Mammon and God, William Clay Ford Junior and top executives from General Motors will grant audience to the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

Says NRPE executive director Paul Gorman: “We are under a commandment to be faithful stewards of God’s creation. This is a crisis in God's creation at the hands of God’s children.”

The God for whom the NRPE speaks is that of Christians and Jews, other Gods for some reason being unrepresented. The coalition is worried about the effect of the internal combustion engine on the environment.

It has already instigated an ad campaign in Christianity Today magazine with TV spots in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and North Carolina. The ads, asking “What Would Jesus Drive?”, depict him observing a clogged superhighway. There is even a campaign website,

Leaders of many groups within the coalition have signed a letter to the chief executives of Detroit’s Big Three automakers asking for improvements in fuel economy. They cite a biblical mandate to be good stewards of God’s creation with responsibility to the poor who are especially harmed by pollution. And they attack “autocratic, corrupt and violent” governments that produce oil.

Says the letter: “We write now to ask you in the automobile industry a more explicit question: what specific pledges – in volume, timing and commitments to marketing – will you make to produce automobiles, SUVs and pickup trucks with substantially greater fuel economy?”

And Rabbi David Saperstein, Washington representative of the reformist Union of American Hebrew Congregations, even has the temerity to question the supreme moral tenet of the 21st century, opining: “The letter raises the issue of urging the automobile companies to engage with the ethics and human impact of what it is they are producing and to think about the values beyond the profit line.”

Those tempted to mock, warns one media observer, should consider the power wielded stateside by the religious lobbies of various persuasions. Allied to the muscle of the secular environmental lobby, they could become a potent force indeed – to which even the automotive, oil and advertising multinationals will listen with respect.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff