Last week, 200 self-identified evangelical scientists from secular and religious universities sent a letter to Congress calling for legislation to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment. The signatories, all of whom hold master’s or doctorate degrees in scientific fields, cited the biblical teachings of charity and compassion for the poor and the scientific evidence of increased extreme weather events to make the case for climate legislation:
The Bible tells us that “love does no harm to its neighbor” (Romans 13:10), yet the way we live now harms our neighbors, both locally and globally. For the world’s poorest people, climate change means dried-up wells in Africa, floods in Asia that wash away crops and homes, wildfires in the U.S. and Russia, loss of villages and food species in the Arctic, environmental refugees, and disease. Our changing climate threatens the health, security, and well-being of millions of people who are made in God’s image. The threat to future generations and global prosperity means we can no longer afford complacency and endless debate. We as a society risk being counted among “those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18).
The scientists are bucking a trend of skepticism about climate change among devout Christians — especially those in politics and the media. A LifeWay Research report released in April found that 54 percent of Protestant pastors don’t think climate change is real, and some of politics’ most outspoken Christians — Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, for example — virulently deny climate change is occurring. In order to accept climate science, evangelicals must find a way to unravel some of the bonds they’ve formed with the Tea Party mentality of climate skepticism, and also to address a widely-held belief among American evangelicals that contributes to their doubt of climate science: that God is the only one powerful enough to change something as major as the climate.
Jim Ball, executive vice president for policy and climate change at the Evangelical Environmental Network, told E&E Publishing that the evangelical community’s culture of climate skepticism also comes down to a matter of trust in science — something some Christians have historically struggled with. “There is a suspicion about science because of the debate in creation and evolution theory,” Ball said. “To have evangelical scientists, people of faith, saying to the evangelical community that you can trust this science is quite important. It’s all a matter of trust.”
It may be difficult for evangelicals to embrace a culture that accepts climate science — though as the scientists’ letter shows, it isn’t impossible (and they’ve done it before). But numerous religious people and organizations around the world have been waking up to the realities of climate change. The United Church of Christ, a Christian group known for its progressive stances on social issues, recently unveiled a climate change strategy that includes possibly divesting from fossil fuel companies. Bill McKibben, a well-known environmental activist, is vocal about his Methodist faith. And in March, the new pope was the first to adopt the name Francis, after the patron saint of animals and the environment, and his call for people to be “protectors of creation” in his inaugural address could serve as inspiration for Catholics around the world.