Nearly 50 evangelical Christian leaders are praising President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arguing he isn’t a climate denier because he called for more “debate” on the issue—even though many of their fellow Christians don’t agree.
The letter, which was published in the Baptist Press on Friday, contends that Pruitt has been “misrepresented” as a denier of climate change. Signers say he has only called for continued “debate” on the subject.
“We reject any ideology that sees human beings as a blight upon the planet and would harm human flourishing by restricting or preventing the rightful use and enjoyment of creation,” the petition reads. “We do not deny the existence of climate change nor the urgency of this concern … We believe that Attorney General Pruitt has been misrepresented as denying ‘settled science,’ when he has actually called for a continuing debate.”
“We believe that Attorney General Pruitt has been misrepresented as denying ‘settled science,’ when he has actually called for a continuing debate.”
But as environmentalists have long argued, the letter does not acknowledge that calling for “debate” on climate change is itself a rejection of the overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue. Moreover, Pruitt has a long track record of dismissing environmental concerns: Among other instances, the New York Times reported that Pruitt once accused the EPA of overestimating the air pollution caused by fracking by sending a letter pre-written by an Oklahoma-based oil company.
The petition acknowledges the need for humans to be “good stewards” of the earth, but appears to echo Pruit’s business-focused ethic.
“We reject any ideology that sees human beings as a blight upon the planet and would harm human flourishing by restricting or preventing the rightful use and enjoyment of creation,” it reads.
Yet evangelicals who deny climate change may be a dying breed within American Christianity.
Signers of the letter include 12 former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) presidents, current SBC President Steve Gaines, and 17 state Baptist convention executive directors. Pruitt is a Southern Baptist himself: He serves as a deacon at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, is a trustee at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and graduated from Georgetown College, an evangelical school in Kentucky. And as the Religion News Service points out, he also has a long history of upholding policies popular among conservative evangelical Christians, such as opposing marriage equality and abortion.
But while a 2014 PRRI poll found that white evangelical Protestants are less concerned about climate change than any other major American religious group, American Christians who deny climate change may be a dying breed. To wit, the SBC petition appears to be a direct challenge to a much larger petition from December 15, which was signed by more than 500 evangelical and Catholic leaders and demands Trump rescind his nomination of Pruitt.
“The EPA Administrator plays a crucial role in defending all of us from the health consequences of pollution, especially vulnerable populations like the unborn, children, the elderly, those with heart and lung conditions, and others with special susceptibilities,” that letter, which was promoted by Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, reads. “Mr. Pruitt’s past actions suggest he would not defend the vulnerable from pollution.”
Meanwhile, various evangelical groups continue to rally for climate action. In April, more than 15,000 self-identified evangelicals in North Carolina signed a petition demanding the state switch to renewable energy sources by 2030. A similar group also convened a “creation care” prayer breakfast at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, that same month, where attendees sought to rebranded climate change as a “pro-life” concern. Among them was Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a leading climate scientist and activist who also happens to be a devout evangelical Christian.