Climate change is a contentious topic within Christianity. At one end, conservative Christians see the issue of climate change as a “fairy tale”. At the other, less conservative and liberal Christians seek to protect the Earth from zealous climate change deniers. We, as Christians, hold a diverse range of attitudes towards the issues which affect our world today. It would be impossible to gather all Christians on one side of the climate change debate.
Recently, Dr. Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist pastor, and a member of President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, stated, when referring to Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations, that:
“This president is brilliant for deciding to skip attending a session on an imaginary crisis — climate change — and instead he chose to lead his own conference on a very real problem, global religious persecution.”Dr. Robert Jeffress
Dr. Jeffress is a devout Trump follower. His views on climate change couldn’t be more in line with Trump’s, who once described the issue as a “hoax”. But it is simply absurd to suggest that a sideline meeting regarding our religious freedoms is more important than the UN session on climate change. Additionally, Dr. Jeffress shockingly describes the issue of climate change as an “imaginary crisis”.
The futures of our religious freedoms are deeply important to Christians, as well as Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and more. But the statistics are clear on conservative Evangelical views — they simply don’t care about Climate Change.
A Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists feature describes this: “A study in 2007 found that only one third of evangelicals were concerned about global warming and investing in environmental protection. The 2014 Public Religion Research Institute survey showed that the situation had not changed: only 35 percent of white evangelicals said they were either ‘very concerned’ or ‘somewhat concerned’ about climate change, the lowest number of any of the faith groups surveyed.
“The feature also describes the possible reasoning behind the general conservative Christian stance on climate change. Conservative Christians, especially Southern Baptists, strongly believe that the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol would be disastrous, with widespread job losses and increased poverty. “
Although Christians who are concerned about the environment are not heard of as frequently as those who deny climate change, this movement exists within the religion. The ‘care for creation’ is at the heart of the Christian environmental movement. A Rocha is an international network of environmental organisations with a Christian ethos. The organisation sees Climate Change as an existential threat to creation.
“Underlying all we do is our biblical faith in the living God, who made the world, loves it and entrusts it to the care of human society.“A Rocha
A Rocha aims to combat climate change on multiple fronts, working to protect and restore tropical forests, undertake climate-related research and educate people about climate change. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has taken a different approach. Welby has called on investors to remove fossil fuel firms from their portfolios, while pushing those companies which they have invested in, to drastically lower their environmental impact. In his recent speech made to mark the UN Climate Summit, Welby says:
“We know it’s unquestionable that investors acting together can influence outcomes on everything, including climate change.”Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Whether or not Christian clerics should involve themselves in mainstream politics and business affairs is cause for yet another debate. Welby worked in the oil industry in his younger days, and considering the pressure on that industry now, his views couldn’t be any more relevant. This is an issue that cannot be ignored by Christians- indeed anyone- but is one that will cause only further divisions among the religion.
Arguably, the cause for this division among Christians is the very definition of “stewardship”. According to Hebrew Bible scholar Richard Elliot Friedman, the ancient Israelites produced “the first enduring monotheism”. The beliefs at that time were not of one god, but of many. The forces of nature each had a specific god. The Israelite God (the Christian God) was placed above these forces of nature.
The problem for Christians today is how the biblical idea of stewardship should be interpreted. Psalm 115:16 describes: “The heavens belong to the Lord, but he has given the earth to all humanity”. Conservative Christians find their beliefs in early Christianity of “human superiority to…the rest of nonhuman nature”.
Personally, I think it is absurd to place humans in a superior position over all creation. To destroy the place which was created for us, would be to go entirely against God’s purpose for us. When we destroy the earth, we destroy humanity. The Christian mission is to serve humankind and guide them in the faith. If we catalyze the demise of the earth, there is no way for us to achieve our mission. Thus, we are failing God.
The Climate situation should not have such an effect on Christianity – but it does. The issue does not affect Christianity physically – yet, but it threatens to tear the faith apart at its very core. No longer do we see entire congregations agreeing with each other on certain issues; climate change included. The outright politicization of Christianity, which is beginning to happen, would be the end of Christianity as we know it. However, the disagreements among Christians could create progress towards protecting creation. Perhaps the debate needs to go deeper and find solutions to the Climate Change crisis which accounts for the beliefs of all Christians.
As John Hamby, a Baptist Pastor, rightly puts it: “As Christians we may be called upon to act as the “comrade” to assist in reconciliation and when we do the objective is threefold. The ultimate goal – is Restoration, the overall attitude – is Grace, and the common ground – is Christ. Part of Christian service is the willingness to negotiation, conflict resolution and peacemaking”. Christians can disagree on any number of issues, and cause divisions, but we all know that we are united by one belief, one book and one god. That is what is most important to the Christian – conservative or liberal.
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