Evangelical Christians should reduce their carbon footprints, donate to climate relief efforts and urge their government leaders to support environmental initiatives, according to a Monday report from the National Association of Evangelicals that tells followers to take climate change seriously.
The report urges evangelicals to “support policies that promote responsible care of God’s creation: Urge government leaders to support energy efficiency standards, clean (or low pollution) transportation, low carbon goals, and sustainable agriculture.”
“In your individual life, bring care of creation to the Lord in prayer, in thanksgiving and with intercession for God’s world and for those most affected by its changes,” said the report, “Loving the Least of These: Addressing a Changing Environment.” The paper is a revision of a 2011 document and will be available online at www.NAE.org/lovingtheleast Monday afternoon.
The report, which is set to be introduced at a virtual news conference Monday, comes at a crucial time for America’s evangelicals, a community riven by political differences in recent years. “Creation care,” in which Christians feel a sense of responsibility for environmental action, has not seen the emphasis social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage have received.
The report lays out information that the authors say shows climate change is occurring and includes vignettes demonstrating how shifts in the climate are hurting the world’s poor. The report highlights Kenya’s Turkana County, the “oven of the world,” where months of drought alternate with monsoonlike rains and flash floods.
In places such as Turkana, “poor people are more affected by disasters. Particularly for health outcomes, poor people are going to be feeling those effects of climate events and climate change more acutely,” said Lanre Williams-Ayedun, senior vice president of World Relief, the National Association of Evangelicals’ humanitarian services affiliate.
She said the poor will have to pay more to mitigate or adapt to climate change and are more likely to face displacement from their homes and suffer from conflicts created by displacement and related issues.
The group is asking evangelicals to give to relief efforts and “to think about conserving, what are the changes that they can make in their individual lives to lower their carbon footprints, to buy sustainable products, to think about recycling, composting, those types of things, and then asking them to advocate … to urge their government leaders and their neighbors to think about and to take these issues seriously.”
The association is an umbrella group of 40 evangelical denominations without the authority to impose direction on its members.
But some evangelicals criticized the report, saying the world’s poor wouldn’t benefit from — and in fact, would be harmed by — changes by wealthier nations.
“Those who claim that climate change is an existential threat to the poor look only at the costs, not the benefits, of both fossil fuel-derived energy (roughly 85 % of all energy we use) and the slight warming the CO2 emitted contributes,” E. Calvin Beisner, president of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a longtime skeptic said in an email.
“It’s precisely the policies these folks promote that will harm the world’s poor the most, slowing, stopping or reversing their conquest of poverty by depriving them of the abundant, affordable, reliable energy, and the free-market economies, indispensable to lifting and keeping whole societies out of poverty.”
Anthony J. Sadar, a certified consulting meteorologist and evangelical Christian, said the greater crisis is the lack of better energy alternatives for the global poor.
“More than a billion people still live in poverty with many cooking food indoors using dried dung and wood, exposing families to toxic indoor air pollutants,” Mr. Sadar wrote in an email. “Yet, rather than trusting God to sustain His environment so that the liberating word of Christ can go forth, many Christians have put their trust in their own imaginations of a dire future based on dubious modeling results and cherry-picked climate data.”
And Wayne Grudem, distinguished research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale, Arizona, said he has “never been convinced that our use of coal, oil and natural gas will cause catastrophic global warming. I don’t believe that a good and wise God created fossil fuels with booby-traps in them that will destroy us if we freely use these abundant, safe, reliable sources of energy.”
But Myal Greene, president and CEO of World Relief, said the report is an important call to action for evangelicals.
“What’s really important about this report is it’s a chance and an opportunity to communicate to an audience that historically has not been as open to understanding or accepting or taking action, in relation to climate change, and trying to make the case to them in a fresh and new way to really understand these issues and to take action,” he said in an interview.
In response to the critics, Ms. Williams-Ayedun of World Relief said “there’s a false dichotomy [that] it’s got to be one or the other” between economic development and creation care.
“I think that there needs to be a focus on all of the things,” she added. “We’re calling the emphasis on climate, climate effects, because I think that there is a part that we can play.
“If we as Christians believe that God has called us to care of the created world and that we have a stewardship mandate, then I think that it is important to do something that is in our locus of control, [to] start to make changes that could benefit those that are more vulnerable.”