The evangelical divide on global warming

Global warming has moved from a scientific issue to a religious and political debate with the power to influence votes and public policy. The issue  became more prominent when Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth brought the issue to the big screen and as heat waves, cataclysmic storms and the melting of polar ice convinced some former skeptics of the reality of climate change. The vast majority of mainstream scientists and science organizations have accepted the consensus finding that human activity is causing the earth to grow warmer, and that the results will be harmful – even calamitous – in areas affected by rising temperatures and sea levels, the loss of many species’ habitats, changes in disease epidemiology, and many other aspects of life. Despite criticism from a small minority of scientists, the consensus suggests that the evidence warrants steps to slow the warming trend by reducing greenhouse gas emissions on earth.

While liberal and moderate faith groups have long embraced environmental concerns, many conservative Christians have considered the scientific evidence inconclusive and called steps to reduce greenhouse gases unwarranted, detrimental and, in some cases, unrelated to religious obligation. Evangelical leaders’ high-profile campaign against global warming, however, revealed that sharp disagreement still exists among some in this group. Experts say the divided opinions among evangelicals may be key to political action on global warming.

Background

Why it matters

Care for God’s Earth is a shared concern among major religious traditions. The environmental movement, for years, has been drawing an increasing number of religious people from a variety of faith traditions. That suggests that care of the Earth is one issue that could unite people of faith across religious divides.

Questions for reporters

  • What are the attitudes of evangelical Christians in your area regarding the issue of climate change? Are churches taking action on the issue? How? Do churches oppose action? If so, what form does their opposition take?
  • Have houses of worship screened The Great Warming and An Inconvenient Truth in your area? What’s been the reaction?
  • Have congregations in your area become “green”? If so, what sort of policies, programs or activities have they adopted?

Evangelical statements on the environment

Both camps have cited Scripture in defense of their position. Those who support taking action on climate change generally cite God’s intention that humans should “till and keep” the Earth (Genesis 2:15). Some see saving the earth as a pro-life issue because it affects the well-being and, potentially, the survival of members of future generations. Those in opposition refer to God’s instruction that humans should multiply and exercise dominion over all living things on Earth (Genesis 1:28). Some also believe that humanity has entered or is close to entering what they believe is the prophesied End Times, and that the effects of global warming are part of that.
There has also been concern over the funding that supports the various evangelical groups taking positions on the climate issue. Critics of the Evangelical Climate Initiative point to support by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which also underwrites family planning initiatives. According to these critics, this indicates a larger goal of linking the environmentalism to population control and, ultimately, to abortion. Critics of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation point to payments that a number of signers, supporters or their organizations have received from the petroleum industry, including ExxonMobil, which has supported efforts to question or discredit the science supporting the argument that burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to global warming.

Polls and surveys

Articles and publications

  • “Is God Green?”

    Is God Green is a 2006 documentary, one of three produced by journalist Bill Moyers for PBS as part of the series “Moyers on America.” In the documentary, Moyers investigates the role of evangelical Christians in the climate change debate. The website includes the documentary itself as well as links to numerous religion and environment resources.

  • “The Great Warming”

    The Great Warming is a 2006 documentary about climate change narrated by Keanu Reeves and Alanis Morissette. The film was endorsed by religious groups including the Evangelical Environmental Network and includes an interview with Richard Cizik, then-vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals and a major voice supporting “creation care,” a favored Christian term for environmental awareness and action. Cizik wrote a letter on NAE letterhead that urged churches to screen the film and join the campaign to reduce global warming. The producers encouraged congregations of all persuasions to screen the film for their members.

  • “Reversing the trend of teens leaving the church: Using climate change to reengage our youth”

    June 11, 2013, Christian Post column by Deborah Fikes, the World Evangelical Alliance’s permanent representative to the United Nations. Fikes believes that support of efforts to combat climate change could help keep young people from leaving the church.

  • “Fossil fuels are a faith issue”

    June 28, 2013, post in the “On Faith” blog on The Washington Post website by national evangelical leader Richard Cizik. Cizik outlines his conversion to belief in climate change and encourages all evangelical leaders to urge their parishioners to contact their elected representative and ask for action on climate change.

  • “More churches calling for divestment from fossil fuel”

    June 30, 2013, The Boston Globe article about mainline Protestant churches calling on their denominations to divest the assets from their endowments and pension funds from the fossil fuel industry as a symbol of acknowledgment of its role in climate change.

National sources

Scientific

  • Daniel Schrag

    Daniel Schrag is the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology at Harvard University as well as a professor of environmental science and engineering and director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment. Schrag studies climate and climate change over the broadest range of Earth history.

  • Dennis L. Hartmann

    Dennis L. Hartmann is a professor in the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. His research deals with low-frequency variability in the atmosphere and climate system as well as with climate change.

  • Lynne D. Talley

    Lynne D. Talley is a distinguished professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Her research interests include large-scale water mass distributions and circulation of the world ocean including the formation of intermediate water mass, observations useful for understanding useful for understanding large-scale dynamical processes common to most ocean basins and the relations of these to climate.

Religious supporters of the Evangelical Climate Initiative statement

  • Rick Warren

    Rick Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of the best-seller The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?

  • Jim Wallis

    The Rev. Jim Wallis is a Christian author and commentator and the founder of Sojourners magazine, a periodical that tries to promote social change through Christian values. He has served on the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and can comment on public policy issues. Arrange an interview through Meredith Brasher.

  • Leith Anderson

    The Rev. Leith Anderson is president of the National Association of Evangelicals and the former senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn.

    Contact: 202-479-0815.
  • David S. Dockery

    The Rev. David S. Dockery is former chairman of the board of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, a leading association for evangelical-oriented colleges. He is also president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

    Contact: 731-668-1818.
  • David Neff

    David Neff is chief of Christianity Today, the leading evangelical periodical. It is based in Carol Stream, Ill. He continues to explore the relationship between history and current events in his bimonthly column, “Past Imperfect.” Contact through Paulette DePaul.

  • Richard Cizik

    The Rev. Richard Cizik is president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. He seeks to bring evangelical Christians, researchers and policymakers together to work on issues such as climate change, economic justice and national security.

  • Dr. Matthew Sleeth

    Dr. Matthew Sleeth is a former emergency room physician who now preaches and teaches widely on faith and the environment. He is based in Lexington, Ky., and is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action.

Religious opponents of the Evangelical Climate Initiative statement

  • E. Calvin Beisner

    E. Calvin Beisner is founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which describes itself as “committed to bringing a balanced Biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development.” He is more supportive of President Donald Trump’s approach to environmental issues than other faith leaders and has been critical of the value of the Paris climate agreement. The media coordinator for the Cornwall Alliance is Megan Kinard.

  • Richard Land

    Richard Land is president of the nondenominational Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and previously served for 25 years as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

  • Russell Moore

    Russell Moore is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

  • Robert Sirico

    The Rev. Robert Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. He’s also a Catholic priest. He has argued that marijuana legalization could lead to some social benefits, like a reduction in illegal drug trafficking.

    He signed the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship.

  • Lou Sheldon

    Lou Sheldon is chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative group that wants a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, ban same-sex unions and ban gays from receiving benefits of any such unions.

    He signed a letter to National Evangelical Association president Ted Haggard urging that NEA not take “any official position on position” on global warming.

    Contact: 202-547-8570.
  • Robert Royal

    Robert Royal serves as president of the Faith & Reason Institute and editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing. His books include 1492 and All That: Political Manipulations of History and Reinventing the American People: Unity and Diversity Today.

    He signed the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship.

  • James Dobson

    James Dobson is founder and former president and chairman of the board of Focus on the Family. In 2010, he founded a new ministry called Family Talk.

    He signed the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship.

  • Richard Roberts

    Richard Roberts is the chairman and CEO of Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association.

    He signed a letter to National Evangelical Association president Ted Haggard urging that NEA not take “any official position on position” on global warming.

    Contact: 918-591-2000.
  • Donald E. Wildmon

    Donald E. Wildmon is founder and chairman of the American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss. Wildmon is an outspoken figure who is frequently in the news. Contact through Diane O’Neal.

    He signed the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship.

    Contact: 662-680-3886.

National organizations and sources

Evangelical

Other Christian

  • Creation Justice Ministries

    Creation Justice Ministries (formerly the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program) works in cooperation with national bodies of Protestant denominations, Orthodox communions, regional faith groups and congregants to protect and restore God’s creation.

    One of their many campaigns is focused on combating climate change.

Interfaith

Jewish

  • Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

    The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life concentrates on addressing climate change and encouraging sustainable congregations. Its national partners are the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

Muslim

  • Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences

    The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences is an international organization that highlights a Muslim perspective on environmental issues. It is based in Birmingham, England. Fazlun Khalid is founder and director.

  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr

    Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a world-renowned scholar on Islam who teaches Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. His writings include Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man and The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. Much of his work focuses on Islamic spiritual values, but he has also written about the religious and spiritual dimensions of the environmental crisis.

Buddhist

  • Stephanie Kaza

    Stephanie Kaza is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont in Burlington, where she teaches courses on religion and ecology, eco-feminism and “unlearning consumerism.” She is a practicing Soto Zen Buddhist and is co-editor of Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism.

  • Kenneth Kraft

    Kenneth Kraft is a professor emeritus of religious studies at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., and an expert on socially engaged Buddhism. His books include The Wheel of Engaged Buddhism: A New Map of the Path, on spiritual responses to social and environmental issues, and, as co-editor, Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism.

Hindu

Secular

  • Center for Environmental Philosophy

    The Center for Environmental Philosophy was created by the board of directors of Environmental Philosophy, Inc., a nonprofit corporation of the State of New Mexico. It is the product of a number of activities begun with the creation of the journal Environmental Ethics. It is based at the University of North Texas in Denton.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • David F. Wells

    David F. Wells is an ordained Congregationalist minister and is the Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. He is an expert on religion and postmodernism and can discuss how the Christian faith is adjusting to a new culture. He wrote Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005).

  • David Legates

    David Legates is a professor in the geography department at the University of Delaware. His expertise includes hydroclimatology, computational methods and precipitation and climate change. He is a former director of the university’s Center for Climatic Research and a former Delaware state climatologist. Legates is a noted denier of human contribution to climate change.

     

  • Clive Calver

    The Rev. Clive Calver is senior pastor at Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel, Conn., and former president of World Relief.

    He signed the statement on climate change by the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

    • Paul de Vries

      Paul de Vries is a speaker, author and president of New York Divinity School in New York City and an at-large member of the governing board of the National Association of Evangelicals.

      He signed the statement on climate change by the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

    In the South

    • Timothy D. Terrell

      Timothy D. Terrell is an associate professor of economics at Wofford College in South Carolina. He is a senior fellow with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

    • J. Ligon Duncan

      J. Ligon Duncan is minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss. He was professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) and was responsible for teaching courses such as Systematic Theology, Ethics, Apologetics, History of Philosophy and Christian Thought, Covenant Theology, Patristics, Evangelism, and Theology of the Westminster Standards

    • Joseph A. Pipa, Jr.

      Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. is president of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Taylors, S.C., as well as a professor of historic and systematic theology.

      He signed the Cornwall Alliance’s “Open Letter” refuting the claims of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

    • Gregory Hall

      Gregory Hall is president and CEO of Warner Southern College in Lake Wales, Fla.

      He signed the statement on climate change by the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

    • Timothy George

      The Rev. Timothy George is the founding dean and professor of divinity history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He is a senior theological adviser for Christianity Today.

      He signed the statement on climate change by the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

    • Dan Boone

      The Rev. Dan Boone is president and professor of pastoral theology and preaching at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tenn.

      He signed the statement on climate change by the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

    • Marvin Olasky

      Marvin Olasky is editor of World magazine, based in Asheville, N.C. He is credited with coining the phrase “compassionate conservatism” and has been a proponent of the government’s faith-based initiatives. He is the author of Renewing American Compassion: How Compassion for the Needy Can Turn Ordinary Citizens Into Heroes (The Free Press, 1996).

      He signed the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship

      Contact: 800-951-4974.
    • Kent A. Chambers

      Kent A. Chambers is an associate professor of chemistry and environmental management at Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.

      He signed the Cornwall Alliance’s “Open Letter” refuting the claims of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

    In the Midwest

    • Chad Cooper

      The Rev. Chad Cooper is executive director of the Sustainability Sanctuary Coalition, an interfaith nonprofit that assists congregations with strategies, tools and resources to protect the planet. The organization is based in Mission, Kan.

    • James B. Martin-Schramm

      James B. Martin-Schramm is an associate professor of religion and head of the department of religion and philosophy at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He attended the 1994 U.N. International Conference on Population and Development as a delegate for a nongovernmental organization. He also served on the Population and Consumption Task Force of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. He is the author of Population Perils and the Churches’ Response (World Council of Churches, 1997). His interests in Christian ethics include population policy and environmental issues.

    • Lisa Sideris

      Lisa Sideris is an associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. Her research interests include religion and nature; environmental and animal ethics; science and religion; evolution controversies; religion and bioethic; and environmental history and literature. She wrote Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology and Natural Selection, which looks at Christian environmental ethics and its relationship to Darwinian theory.

    • Sara Shady

      Sara Shady is an assistant professor of philosophy at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. She has worked on research involving environmental ethics.

      In May 2006, she gave a presentation titled “Ethical Response to Global Warming” (see above) as part of the college’s “Christian Responses to Global Warming Forum.”

    • Darren E. Sherkat

      Darren E. Sherkat is a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He studies the intersection of religion, family and politics, and he’s working on a book about marijuana legalization.

      He has written on religious influence on environmental concern and activism including a paper that appeared in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

    In the West

    • Gary Chamberlain

      Gary Chamberlain is professor emeritus of Christian ethics in the theology and religious studies department at Seattle University. He has written about the religious response to the global water crisis, including in his book Troubled Waters: Religion, Ethics and the Global Water Crisis.

    • Tri Robinson

      Tri Robinson is founding pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church in Boise, Idaho. He is the author, with Jason Chatraw, of Saving God’s Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church’s Responsibility to Environmental Stewardship.

      Contact: 208-377-1477.
    • Alan Gomes

      Alan Gomes is professor of historical theology at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif.

      He signed the Cornwall Alliance’s “Open Letter” refuting the claims of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

    • Kevin Alan Lewis

      Kevin Alan Lewis is an associate professor of theology and law at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif.

      He signed the Cornwall Alliance’s “Open Letter” refuting the claims of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

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