By Alan Neuhauser
Hundreds of evangelical Christians gathered across the country Thursday for a “Day of Prayer and Action” on climate change.
The event, made up of vigils, speeches and discussions, was part of a weeklong series being held on 20 Christian college campuses this week, all geared toward spurring churches and local communities to reduce harmful carbon emissions, educate local residents about the effects of climate change, and fight the rise of temperatures and greenhouse gases worldwide.
“This may not be an issue that evangelicals in the U.S. have been known for being out in front on, but there are a lot of evangelicals in this country, and not everybody speaks for everybody,” says Ben Lowe, national spokesman for the event’s organizer, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. “Those of us 30 and younger, we’ve come of age in a world that’s dealing with the reality of global warming.”
The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents evangelical churches, has also called for action on climate change.
A 2013 survey found that while 61 percent of evangelicals agreed that global warming was occurring (compared to 78 percent of non-evangelicals), less than half thought it was being caused by human activities (compared to 69 percent of non-evangelicals).
A Challenge to the Very Work of the Church
Nevertheless, most of the evangelicals surveyed said they supported taking action to fight climate change.
“Despite some stereotypes of evangelical Christians as anti-environmental or dismissive of climate change, it is important to note that majorities of evangelicals do believe global warming is happening, human caused, and are at least somewhat worried about it,” authors Neil Smith and Anthony Leiserowitz, of University College London and Yale University, wrote in their paper, which was published in the journal Global Environmental Change.
As Lowe describes, “This is first and foremost a moral issue and a spiritual issue. The impacts of climate change, we’re starting to understand more and more, are very diverse and very far-reaching. As some of the relief and development organizations we’re working with are telling us, this is a major challenge to the work the church does around the world.”
While “for many other social issues, including fighting AIDS and reducing poverty, evangelicals exhibit widespread agreement with each other,” climate change has become “as divisive within this group as it has among the broader American public,” Smith and Leiserowitz found.
Evangelicals from Many Corners Respond
By the time the study came out, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action had in fact already been active for more than a year. Founded by a group of evangelicals during a February 2012 retreat in Washington, D.C., it achieved a national presence in just a matter of months, and soon won support from the Christian Reformed Church, an evangelical denomination.
“There is a near-consensus in the scientific community that climate change is occurring and very likely is caused by human activity,” the CRC declared at a June 2012 conclave. Delegates there concluded that global warming is “an ethical, social justice, and religious issue,” and therefore “the CRC is compelled to take private and public action to address climate change, especially since those who are already most impacted by it live in poor countries.”
The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents evangelical churches, and David Neff, former editor-in-chief of the Billy Graham-founded magazine Christianity Today, have also called for action on climate change.Φ
Alan Neuhauser is an energy, environment and STEM reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.