Evangelicals release climate change report, say Bible demands action

The National Association of Evangelicals has unveiled a far-reaching report on global climate change, laying out what its authors call the “biblical basis” for environmental activism to help inspire other evangelicals to address the planetary crisis.

“Creation, though groaning under the fall, is still meant to bless us. However, for too many people in this world, the beach is not about sunscreen and bodysurfing, but a daily reminder of rising tides and failed fishing,” reads the report’s introduction, written by the president. of the NAE, Walter Kim. “Instead of a sip of fresh air from a lush forest, too many children breathe deeply to gasp with the toxic air that has irritated their lungs.”

But the authors admit that winning over evangelicals is no small task, given that the religious group has historically been one of the most resistant demographics to action on the issue.

The nearly 50-page report, released on Monday and titled “Love the Least of These: Coping with a Changing Environment,” opens with a section that insists that protecting the environment is a mandate biblical.

“The Bible tells us nothing directly about how to evaluate scientific reports or how to respond to a changing environment, but it does give several helpful principles: care for creation, love our neighbors, and witness to the world,” indicates the report.

Deforesters plunder the Amazon. Brazil let them off the hook.

The authors go on to quote passages such as Genesis 2:15 (“So God took the man and set him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate it and care for it”), Matthew 22 (“Love your neighbor as yourself”) and Deuteronomy 15 (“Give to them generously and do it without a reluctant heart”).

“We worship God by caring for creation,” he says.

Another section describes the basic science behind climate change, but the report – produced in partnership with the NAE’s humanitarian arm, World Relief – often returns to the real impacts, such as how the air pollution created by fossil fuels can have negative effects on the health of children. or disproportionately affect the poor.

Kim suggested that the focus on lived experiences, which are often tied to churches or evangelical organizations, is intentional.

“One of the things you will see in this document is not just scientific information, although it is there, or biblical arguments, although it is there, but you also hear stories of real impact about communities,” he said in an interview. . Concrete examples help readers “understand the human dimension of the impact of climate change”.

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“I think people of faith have reacted very deeply, because we’re wired to follow in Jesus’ footsteps of loving God and loving our neighbor,” Kim said.

Dorothy Boorse, professor of biology at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., and lead author of the report, agreed.

“One of the things that may be true for evangelicals is that they have a very deep desire to care for others, and they often have a deep spirit of hospitality,” she said. Appealing to concerns about health and childcare, Boorse said, can ‘ignite the imagination’ of evangelicals that climate change is ‘no different from other issues in the world that we feel committed to. to care about, such as education, food availability or disaster relief.”

The emphasis on persuasion may be the result of necessity. The NAE has already spoken out on environmental issues – the new report functions as an update to a similar document published in 2011 – but while major Protestant Christian groups and Pope Francis have repeatedly signaled the urgency to fight climate change, many prominent evangelical leaders have suggested the opposite. Last year, Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, dismissed climate change as “nothing new” in a Facebook post and compared it to biblical cases of extreme weather, such as the flood in Genesis or the years of famine and drought in Egypt. , which are portrayed as acts of God.

The result has often been a religious community unwilling to recognize the source of the problem, let alone act to prevent it. In a Pew Research survey conducted in January, white evangelicals were the religious group least likely to agree that human activity contributes to climate change, with just 54% saying humanity has a lot or partially contributed to this trend. In comparison, 72% of white non-evangelicals, 73% of white Catholics, 81% of black Protestants and 86% of Hispanic Catholics said so.

But as Boorse points out in the report, there has been some movement since the 2011 report was published, particularly among young evangelicals: A year after its publication, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action was founded.

“A huge pattern I’ve seen is that young evangelicals are very concerned about the environment,” said Boorse, who serves on YECA’s advisory board. “There’s an ingrained set of certain ways of thinking that just takes a long time to change.”

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Activists say change cannot come soon enough. In addition to ongoing droughts in various parts of the world, the NAE report was unveiled on the same day that news broke that, given the current rate of climate change, 3.3% of Greenland’s ice sheet – about 110 trillion tons of ice – expected to melt into the sea, raising global sea levels nearly a foot by 2100.

Asked if she hopes the report and similar efforts could inspire evangelicals to pool their resources and help prevent further climate calamities, Boorse acknowledged that she is often frustrated by her followers who espouse theories. groundless conspiracy about climate change or express open hostility to science in general.

“It’s been very difficult for me in my professional life,” she said. “But I feel that God has given me the task of talking to a group of people that I know and love, and trying, constantly, to talk about it as a real phenomenon – and that requires our Warning.”

For Boorse, the necessity of the job — and the tenets of her faith — sustain her for the fight ahead.

“I decided to hope,” she said. “I think everyone has to do it, otherwise you’ll never get anything.”

— Religious News Service

Teresa H. Sadler