Can You Be Evangelical and an Environmentalist? Absolutely

environmentalist

People around the world are joining in marches today to bring awareness to climate change and evangelical Christians are among their ranks. While there is an ongoing debate among evangelicals about the reality of climate change, a growing number of evangelicals not only acknowledge climate change but also feel it is their Christian duty to do something about it. 

“We come at this work not because we’re environmentalist, even though some of us identify that way, and not because we’re Democrats or Republican,” says Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, national organizer and spokesperson at Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA). “We come at this because we’re Christians and we believe that acting on climate change and calling the church to action and it’s just part of what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century,” Meyaard-Schaap told Quartz.  

Members of YECA aren’t the only Christians who are concerned about climate change. Scientist and evangelical Christian Katharine Hayhoe is working to change the mindset surrounding climate change in the church. She speaks to believers about the need to protect God’s creation and the mandate we have to help those who are “less fortunate than ourselves.” Caring for vulnerable populations is a big theme among climate change experts, who argue that the poor are the ones who stand to lose the most as the climate of the earth changes. Some scientists have even drawn a correlation between the rising violence in the Sahel region of Africa to the effects of climate change. 

Hayhoe believes politics keeps many evangelical Christians in the U.S. from acknowledging climate change. She told Quartz she believes there are two types of evangelicals: political evangelicals and theological evangelicals. The political evangelicals’ “statement of faith is written first by their political ideology and only a distant second by what the Bible says,” Hayhoe believes. 

Robin Veldman, the author of The Gospel of Climate Skepticism: Why Evangelical Christians Oppose Action on Climate Change, agrees politics sometimes get in the way of evangelicals engaging in issues of climate change.  Speaking to Newsweek, she says:

Part of being a part of the evangelical community is showing that you keep good theologically conservative company, and environmentalism is associated with being liberal. In America, theological liberalism and political liberalism are kind of viewed as the same thing. So it does raise questions if you become interested in the environment.

Part of the reason evangelicals may be hesitant to either support efforts to address climate change or research the evidence for climate change may be due, in part, to former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Al Gore’s efforts to bring attention to the problem. Also speaking to Newsweek, Katherine Wilkinson, author of God & Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change, says she noticed this connection while surveying focus groups around the time Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006. “There were a lot of Al Gore associations with climate change and the sense that this is part of a part of a broader progressive agenda,” Wilkinson says.

Veldman believes the efforts of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) to bring the climate change movement into a more centrist sphere is a good strategy. Wilkinson believes YECA has a good strategy, too. Part of YECA’s mission is to train the younger generations—Millennials and Gen Z—to speak to their parents and even their pastors about climate change.

For evangelicals who are also politically conservative, YECA believes they have a compelling argument. Meyaard-Schaap says when speaking to conservatives, he emphasizes the economic benefits of moving away from the energy production monopoly the U.S. currently relies on, as well as the benefits of disentangling ourselves from foreign powers who supply oil. YECA also draws a connection between fighting climate change and being pro-life, pointing to the evidence that burning fossil fuels is linked to things like low birth weights and preterm births. 

If you are interested in learning more about the science behind climate change or how you can get involved, the Evangelical Environmental Network has compiled a list of resources on creation care. 

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Megan Briggs
Megan Briggs is a writer and editor for ChurchLeaders.com. Her experience in ministry, an extensive amount of which was garnered overseas, gives her a unique perspective on the global church. She has the longsuffering and altruistic nature of foreign friends and missionaries to humbly thank for this experience. Megan is passionate about seeking and proclaiming the truth. When she’s not writing, Megan likes to explore God’s magnificent creation.