Christians Making the Climate Discussion Their Own

By Liz Schmitt 10-21-2013
Cross in front of a wind farm, BESTWEB /
Cross in front of a wind farm, BESTWEB /

There’s a debate happening on The Christian Post, and we’re hearing more and more evangelical voices expressing concern over climate change.

Over the summer, talk radio pundit Rush Limbaugh made a comment about people believing in God and manmade global warming: he said it was “intellectually impossible.” It is not, of course, impossible to have faith in God and to agree with 97 percent of scientists that we are harming God’s creation with climate change. And in response to Rush’s comments, Sojourners sent Mr. Limbaugh a letter signed by more than 9,000 people of faith asking him to correct the record (which he has not yet done).

But Rush Limbaugh’s comments also sparked a conversation on the popular evangelical website, The Christian Post. Two prominent climate scientists who are also evangelical Christians, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe and Dr. Tom Ackerman, responded to Rush in an open letter on site. They told Rush that, contrary to his assumptions, they are compelled to work in their field by both their faith in God and their expertise in atmospheric science.

And it wasn’t long before the usual suspects started to respond – people associated with the Cornwall Alliance, a group that formed in response to the Evangelical Climate Initiative (a coalition of more than 300 senior evangelical leaders declaring Christians’ moral responsibility to care for God’s creation and respond to the threat of climate change). First David Legates and Roy Spencer responded with some charts and some attempts to discredit Dr. Hayhoe and Dr. Ackerman. They said that they, too, are evangelical climate scientists and they, too, know climate change is real, but they disagree that humans play a part in the problem or the solution, making the familiar argument that solving climate change would cost the poor. This argument glosses over the reality of climate change, which is that the poor – who pollute less than the rest of us – are forced to bear the burden most as our climate changes. Legates and Spencer ignore the wide range of solutions we have – and the human ingenuity that can create more solutions – preferring to keep things as they are. Next in line was E. Calvin Beisner, who started Cornwall, telling us that Rush Limbaugh was right. He quotes a couple of Bible verses to justify his position.

This weekend, however, there was a new response from David Jenkins, a conservative and evangelical who in an opinion piece debunked Beisner’s argument with Scripture. Jenkins works with ConservAmerica and the website, which argues for a conservative response to climate change. The voices for creation care that we hear on The Christian Post all speak the same language – a language of moral conviction to do the right thing for God’s earth, and to interpret Scripture not as an excuse for doing nothing about the climate crisis, but as a call to action.

In his earlier piece, Beisner says “it is difficult to reconcile belief in the infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and infinitely faithful God of the Bible with belief that a minuscule change in atmospheric chemistry-raising CO2 … is likely to cause catastrophic harm to human and other ecosystems.”

But Jenkins points out that “From the beginning, man’s actions have had a profound impact on the earth, both good and bad,” referencing Adam and Eve as an example of humankind’s role in God’s world. Yes, he says, God made an amazing world. But the idea that we can do as we please without consequences, according to Jenkins, sounds not like God, but “a lot more like something the snake in the garden of Eden would say.” He makes the case that in the face of our current scientific knowledge – which tells us that climate change is real, humans are causing it, and it’s a problem – we must change course. Scientists like Katharine Hayhoe and Tom Ackerman, Jenkins says, “are taking their cues directly from the study of God’s own handiwork.”

This discussion differs from the debates voiced on Huffington Post, Time, and other secular media outlets. By having the debate within an evangelical forum, and hearing not only from the usual (and well-funded) climate skeptics but also from some unique voices like evangelical climate scientists and a political conservative, we as Christians can make the discussion our own, without having to explain to non-Christians how the entire bloc of evangelicals feels about an issue. The evangelical community is too rich and diverse for us all to fall in lock-step with the same opinion, and it’s also one where it’s urgent that we have this debate.

The conversation unfolding on The Christian Post uses not only the science – which 97 percent of scientists tell us means climate change is real – but also Scripture, which we can’t expect to find in mainstream media. God made the world and called it good, and when we are presented with the facts of climate change, we must have the discussion now, and take action now. As Hayhoe and Ackerman said, the community of faith is a critical space “where education happens, where this issue is understood in relation to our deepest values, and where constructive activity is inspired.”

Liz Schmitt is Creation Care Campaign Associate for Sojourners.

Image: Cross in front of a wind farm, BESTWEB /

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