Evangelicals and Climate Change
by Chris Schutte
On October 3 of this year President Obama gave an update on the progress of his administration’s action to combat climate change. Among the many interesting and important facts he shared, I’d like to highlight two. First, toward the end of his comments, the President said, “there are a lot of evangelicals who are actually generally on the conservative side of the spectrum that care deeply about this planet that God made.” Second, the President was accompanied at this news conference not only by Leonardo DiCaprio, but also by Kathleen Hayhoe, an Evangelical Christian and climate scientist who was profiled by NPR in 2014.
This may come as a surprise to many, as, according to a recent study, white evangelical Protestants are more likely than any other religious group to be climate change Skeptics. Only 27% of white evangelical Protestants are climate change Believers, while 29% are Sympathizers and nearly 4-in-10 (39%) are Skeptics. However, there is positive momentum among many evangelicals on this important issue.
In 2004, the National Association of Evangelicals, which is comprised of several leading evangelical denominations and institutions, published a document called “For the Health of the Nation,” which outlined a constructive public agenda for evangelicals. Not surprisingly, the sanctity of life and family life were featured, but, in addition, poverty, human rights, peacemaking, and, importantly “creation care” are also included. While climate change is not mentioned explicitly, it is stated, “We urge Christians to shape their personal lives in creation-friendly ways: practicing effective recycling, conserving resources, and experiencing the joy of contact with nature. We urge government to encourage fuel efficiency, reduce pollution, encourage sustainable use of natural resources, and provide for the proper care of wildlife and their natural habitats.”
In 2010, the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization met in Cape Town, and the conference’s final statement included an urgent call to care for creation, rooted in the theological principles of creation and redemption. In the section titled, “Love for God’s world,” the authors write that such love, “demands that we repent of our part in the destruction, waste and pollution of the earth’s resources and our collusion in the toxic idolatry of consumerism. Instead, we commit ourselves to urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility.”
Also, in his 2010 book The Radical Disciple, John Stott, who has been described as the Evangelical pope, included a chapter on creation care. He identifies climate change as “the most serious” global threat facing our planet, and celebrates the work of Christian environmental groups such as A Rocha (56). He often refers to the work of his protégé Chris Wright, an Old Testament scholar who, in his book The Mission of God, writes that, “It seems quite inexplicable to me that there are some Christians who claim to love and worship God, to be disciples of Jesus and yet have no concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership” (414).
Finally, in October of 2016, Mitch Hescox, the founder of the Evangelical Environmental Network, wrote a piece for time.com titled “The Conservative Christian Case for Climate Change Action,” in which he ties his advocacy to combat climate change to his pro-life convictions. He writes, “To be ‘pro-life’ is to care deeply about the great moral challenge of climate change, as climate disruptions impact each child of God in every nation.”
So, while the Evangelical Christian community in the United States has been slow to embrace the science that overwhelmingly suggests that human activity is causing climate change, and that climate change is already having a disproportionate impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations, that is changing.
Robust theological commitments to God as Creator and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, as well as a commitment to the world’s most vulnerable make Evangelicals potential allies of others working to combat climate change. As Peter Harris, founder of the above mentioned A Rocha recently wrote for Christianity Today, “we are still just beginning. Our worship and work and witness will be incomplete until our responsibility to conserve the glorious, God-given diversity of earth’s creatures becomes second nature.” Amen.
is a pastor at Christ Church in Phoenix, AZ.