Look, if climate change gets really bad, God will make it go away.
At least, that was the message Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) preached last Friday at a town hall in his home state.
The topic of the Almighty came up when Walberg, who attended conservative evangelical Christian schools such as Wheaton College and the Moody Bible Institute, was asked by a constituent whether he believes in climate change. Walberg responded by espousing a form of climate denial that downplays the severity of global warming, likening the historic rise in carbon emissions and surging ocean temperatures to past climate shifts.
“I believe there’s climate change. I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time,” Walberg, who served as a pastor for several years, said. “Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No.”
It’s unclear if Walberg believes an increase in carbon emissions during industrialization constitutes altering the “entire universe.” But he went on to articulate an unusual theological argument for his position, arguing that if climate change becomes a “real problem,” God — not humanity — will fix it.
“Why do I believe that? Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us,” he said. “And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”
There is broad scientific consensus that climate change is, in fact, already a “real problem.” From rising sea levels that swallow up islands and force American communities to move to increasingly powerful superstorms that devastate homes, millions of people all over the world are already grappling with the effects of global warming.
But it’s also worth noting that despite Walberg’s religious background, his theology appears to be inconsistent with several strains of Christian teaching regarding the responsibility of believers. As many faith-based environmental activists have noted, the biblical authors specifically implore Christians to care for the earth and its inhabitants, including the sea, birds, and “every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Moreover, Walberg’s admission that humans have “some impact” on climate change would, in many theological schools of thought, necessitate that believers try and mitigate global warming’s negative impacts.
In fact, those who preach s0-called “creation care” — or theology that, among other things, urges believers to combat climate change — represent a sizable portion of Christianity. According to a 2014 survey from PRRI, majorities of several major American religious groups express concern about climate change, with only three outliers — white mainline Christians, white Catholics, and white evangelical Protestants.
Despite Walberg’s religious background, his theology appears to be inconsistent with several strains of Christian teaching regarding the responsibility of believers.
But even the religious holdouts appear to be changing their tune. Entire mainline Christian denominations such as the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ have divested from fossil fuels in recent years, and Pope Francis — whose Catholic Church claims roughly a billion adherents — published a nearly 200-page encyclical in 2015 calling on Catholics and others to protect the environment.
Francis even implicitly addressed claims like Walberg’s in his writings, dismissing the notion that humans should expect God to act on climate change in their stead.
“The environment is a common patrimony of all humanity and is everyone’s responsibility,” reads a translated passage from Francis’ encyclical. “Whoever possesses a part of it should merely administer it for the common good. If we do not do this, our conscience is burdened with the weight of denying the existence of others.”
Even as Walberg’s views become increasingly fringe, the idea that God will fix climate change — or that trying to curb its impact is an affront to the divine — is a common refrain among Republican politicians. In 2011, for instance, North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx lamented that environmentalists “think that we, human beings, have more impact on the climate and the world than God does.”
And in 2013, GOP Texas Rep. Joe Barton articulated a somewhat confusing theological position when he compared climate change to a biblical flood.
“I would point out if you’re a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change,” he said. “And that certainly wasn’t because mankind overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.”
Meanwhile, prominent evangelical leader Ralph Reed celebrated President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw from the historic Paris climate agreement, and conservative Christian pundits such as Erick Erickson have made religious arguments to explain why they “don’t care” about climate change.
Here again, however, many of their fellow Christians do not agree. Evangelical Christian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, for example, dismissed such commentators this week as “political evangelicals.” Instead, she pointed to “theological evangelicals” such as the National Association of Evangelicals, which published a statement calling believers to “action on Creation Care” in 2015.