Evangelicals and Global Warming

Here’s an interesting little chart from a 2008 survey:

warming

Is it evangelical theology or the high overlap between conservative politics and evangelicals that contributes most to these statistics?

I’m developing a hunch. Religious arguments against addressing global warming usually fall into the following basic categories:

  1. ‘If you think it’s hot now, wait until Jesus comes back.’ Long before global warming gets serious, Jesus will come back on a white horse, judge us, destroy the wicked with flames, and take the righteous to heaven. Just wait until you see the carbon footprint of an angry God.
  2. ‘You’re worshiping creation instead of the Creator.’ Caring for the Earth is a subtle form of paganism. Recycling leads to buying a fuel-efficient car, which leads to drum circles and neo-druid solstice rituals.
  3. ‘The Great Commission has nothing to do with lowering GHG Emissions.’ Addressing the threat of global warming doesn’t help anyone accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Therefore, anyone or any church involved in protecting the Earth is distracted from our calling to present the gospel so that people can be saved. Worse, these people are spreading this distraction to others. So this type of ‘ministry’ is actually causing countless unsaved people to go to hell, and the blood is on the hands of the global warming alarmist Christians.

I’ve been on the receiving-end of all of these statements, and I’m not at all exaggerating on the wording. Show me a Christian argument against global warming, and I will show you how it fits into one of these three categories. As we get closer to Earth Day, I’m going to be addressing each one, but I want to get back to the survey and my initial question.

The above responses aren’t at all concerned with whether an increase in CO2 from fossil fuels is causing the earth to warm at a rate that will cause the most vulnerable communities in the world to suffer from drought, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. None of them addresses the scientific evidence.

My hunch is that the evangelical theology from deniers doesn’t cause people to doubt the existence of anthropogenic climate change; it causes them to think that concern about it leads Christians astray. Denial of human-caused global warming is usually aimed at the scientific claims, and sounds like, ‘The earth is actually getting cooler.’ Or, ‘Warming is a natural cycle caused by the sun.’ Or, ‘Methods of measuring historical CO2 levels are untrustworthy.’ These denials compliment arguments against climate legislation, such as capping emissions.

Maybe this is an obvious distinction, but I think it’s important when it comes to having productive conversations with our friends on the subject. When people make a theological argument against care for creation, it’s about their (sometimes) sincere belief in what work is important for Christians to be involved in. When the science is attacked, it’s often because of conservative political ideology. But often these groups overlap, as the survey demonstrates.

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10 comments
Studious
Studious

I find it interesting that the wording on the questionnaire is "mostly because of" while the chart just says "because of." Also, it would have been interesting if they had added an option that said something like, "I believe that both natural factors and human activity play a generally significant role."

Chad Crawford
Chad Crawford

Brandn! Excellent points. You've done your research. I didn't include the question in the post, which was, "From what you've read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, or not? [If "yes," ask]: Do you believe that the earth is getting warmer... 1 - Mostly because of human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, OR 2 - Mostly because of natural patterns in the earth's environment?" [options rotated] If the first clause was left out, do you think that white evangelicals would have had different percentages?

Brandn G
Brandn G

Good post Chad. A few thoughts: One - I think some of the issue in this study may relate to the wording of the question, which asks a questions related to "what you have read or heard." I think some of the evangelical issue is related to sources of authority for moral reasoning. The question itself allows for people who do not rely upon the news for authoritative information to dismiss the question, although I accept this may be a small number. However, the overall idea that authority as it relates to evangalicals is potentially one piece of the puzzle. Two- Other studies have concluded that there is no significant relationship between fundamentalism and anti-environmentalism. I think it often, like I mention in point one, relates heavily to the questions being asked more than these results are very good reflections of exactly what fundies think about global climate change. Three - The interrelationships between political affiliation and being a conservative evangelical are pretty significant. So, some of this may also be related to politics more than religion. The challenge, of course, is to sort that business out. Okay, that's all. Keep it up friend, I like reading things you write. B

Chad Crawford
Chad Crawford

@Andrew Good question. I can't find how they asked what religious group they belong to. I imagine though they just had a list and told them to put themselves in one of them. I don't think there was a distinction between conservative evangelical and other evangelicals though. I actually think the 34% sounds about right. I think you and I, most of our younger evangelical friends (statistically), the Southern Baptist Climate Change Initiative folks, the EEN, Flourish, etc. ALL fit into that 34%.

Andrew Tatum
Andrew Tatum

Does the "White evangelical protestants" include only those who identify themselves as "conservative evangelicals?" I know many evangelicals - and I consider myself one of these - who would agree that, Yes, there is global warming and, yes, humans are the cause of it. Consider the Southern Baptist Climate Change initiative, Evangelical Environmental Network and the Restoring Eden initiative - all undertaken by self-identified "conservatives." NOW, I'm not saying that I would consider myself "conservative" but I wonder what categories were used to define "white protestant evangelical" beyond the name of the group itself. It seems to me that the category itself is problematic given the fact that "evangelical" isn't really a monolithic group.

Chad Crawford
Chad Crawford

@jhimm There certainly is that gut reaction among the evangelicals that overlap with the conservative political base, but it's not that easy to articulate their answer to this question in religious language, like it is with evolution. So in this situation, they are caught just going along with whatever the conservative talk show hosts are saying. I agree – it's hard to separate religious belief from a political party, especially when one party is viewed as an extension of a particular religious ethos.

Chad Crawford
Chad Crawford

@Studious, Good to hear from you. I do think evolution is a piece of this. I almost included it but I could quite figure out where to put that puzzle piece. But I think it goes like this, based on what I've heard. The science of global warming presents data on the climate that goes back to prehistory, which is a touchy subject for fundegelicals. So that could be a fourth category: gobal warming comes from the same people that brought us evolution, which goes against a literal reading of Genesis. If this were a major reason for the results of the survey then I would say maybe it is their religious beliefs that lead them to answer this way, and not their political beliefs. But disbelief in evolution by itself doesn't keep someone from believing in anthropogenic climate change; that is, that we could harm Creation with carbon emissions. So I left that out. There is a growing number of Christians in conservative evangelical churches who don't believe in evolution, but believe in the threat of human-caused global warming. On the race piece of this - I'm not sure what to make of it. I've heard people of color say that they do not care about global warming because it's something only rich white people talk about. So that might have something to do with it. But that's changing too. A guy named Van Jones (I recommend looking him up) the Green Jobs Czar in the Obama administration, is telling his community that global warming effects them more and that they should be more vocal about regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

jhimm
jhimm

i would say it is both the theology and the politics. because for too many evangelicals, their theology leads them to conservative politics. and i think the correlation from that point is much simpler. "global warming" is the cause-of-the-moment for the Left, and as good conservatives Evangelicals stand in opposition to it, just like abortion, euthanasia and war (oops, i always forget they -aren't- pro-life when it comes to war, my mistake). basically, if Leftist hippies say its true, evangelicals will say it isn't simply because they feel obligated to stand in opposition against Leftists, whether they have a theological (or even a political) -reason- for opposing it or not.

Studious
Studious

Oh yeah, and so why is it that African Americans (or at least those who identified themselves as "Protestant") are the most accepting of global warming, yet almost half of them think that it is due to natural patterns and not human activity? I can't get my mind around that one. Any ideas on that?

Studious
Studious

Chad, This is a perceptive commentary, and I agree that many people use circumstantial ad hominem arguments ("crazy environmentalists with agendas believe this") or slippery-slope arguments ("first a hybrid car, then druidism") instead of focusing on data, which is much more tedious. Charles Colson comes to mind here. On question, though: Do you think the subject of evolution might also be an important piece in this puzzle? Perhaps the fact that evolution is accepted by the general scientific community has led to a certain distrust in creationist Christians, who make up a good percentage of evangelicals (and all of fundamentalists). If the majority of scientists could be so wrong about evolution, then why not global warming? The Discovery Institute, if I am not mistaken, is also dedicated to debunking global warming theories. It would also be interesting to read the statistics concerning convinced atheists and global warming. My hunch is that there would also be a group of deniers here, particularly in America, due to certain "sceptic societies" which take pride in their being, well, sceptical about lots of things. John Stossel, the TV commentator, would be an example here perhaps, or the late Michael Chrichton, although I don't know how truly atheistic they are/were.

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