Can Christians Change the Climate on Climate Change?

This NASA graph provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution.

Christianity isn’t under attack. But some beliefs of Christians are deserving of attack. Christians who deny climate change in the face of all evidence to the contrary cannot be allowed to wave the flag of religious freedom and force the rest of us to accept the misguided notion that God will somehow rescue us no matter what we do to our planet.

According to NASA statistics, 97% of scientists, after analyzing the evidence, have come to the conclusion that human actions are responsible for global warming. Many of these scientists are Christians. But they are being shouted down by evangelicals, led by a small group of powerful men who believe they have God on their side.

To be fair, some of these climate deniers are women. But for the most part, churches that do not allow women in positions of authority are leading this charge. The doctrine of these churches interprets literally Paul’s command that women should be silent when it comes to church leadership.

In a country that was founded on the notion of religious freedom, these churches certainly have that right. But when their leaders avow that God gave “man” dominion over the earth and preach that God is in control and can take care of such problems, we have a responsibility to confront such thinking.

Based on the example we Christians have in the Gospels, Jesus consistently confronted religious leaders who were wrong. He loved them, sometimes changing their hearts and minds. He reasoned with them, sometimes making them walk away ashamed. And he angered them, ultimately paying the price with his life.

In the short term, he lost the battle. But his voice and his Spirit, when we’re able to hear, ring out to us still, more than 2000 years after his death.

Jesus never said anything about global warming. How could he? According to NASA, the alarming rise in Earth’s temperatures only became a problem after the Industrial Age—and particularly after 1950.

Like so many of the social issues that face us today, we don’t have the literal words of Jesus to guide us in our care of the planet. This is why those who take the Bible literally seldom refer to the Gospels in their arguments on such issues. That man should have dominion over the earth is a belief as old as creation itself, written long before Christ and Christianity were introduced to human beings.

Ironically, evangelical Christians who believe that Jesus changed everything don’t refer to the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels when their beliefs are in conflict. Instead, they refer to the Old Testament, insisting that the Bible is true both historically and literally. On the few occasions when they cite verses from the New Testament, they pull verses from the letters of the apostles out of their historical context. I’ve never once heard an evangelical quote Jesus to defend views that stand in the way of acting on climate change.

As a former evangelical, I can attest that we were consistently told not to question on those few occasions when we were brave enough to admit that we couldn’t wrap our minds around some inconsistency in the Bible. “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Questions dismissed.

Many Christians, as well as people of other faiths, do believe that climate change is real and that we have a responsibility to care for the world God entrusted to us. Religious leaders around the world have issued statements on climate change. Pope Francis has issued an entire encyclical on our duty to care for our common home—a text that contains 172 citations to sources that support his thinking. Even many evangelicals have found their way to reconciling the inconsistences in our holy texts with the science of climate change, and they have banded together to issue an Evangelical Call to Action on climate change.

Why, then, is our public policy based on the views of the minority of Christians who continue to deny the existence of global warming in the face of what scientists say is “extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity”?

American Christians, particularly progressive Christians, are loathe to criticize what others believe. We treasure our religious freedom. We also fervently believe in the separation of church and state. And so we sit silently in the face of the “noisy gongs and clanging cymbals” of our generation. We have allowed a noisy few who share our faith to force an unsound doctrine into the public square.

I am convinced that Christ would not have done so. Just as he brought all his wisdom to bear when questioned by the scribes and Pharisees who tried to trip him up, we must challenge flawed and self-righteous thinking, just as he did.

This will not be easy. How does one argue with a Christian who is convinced that all he sees belongs to him because he has been chosen by God? How does one argue with a Christian who believes that the end times are near and that God will take up the true believers to heaven, leaving the rest of us to suffer as the planet is destroyed?

This will not be easy. How does one call out unsound thinking without implying that the person doing the thinking is stupid? Part of our challenge is that these people are under attack by those who in anger pronounce them “dunces,” “morons,” “fanatics,” and worse. And even those of us who seek to understand their thinking, in our frustration, sometimes resort to labels that make it impossible for the very people to hear us that we most need to convince.

As Jesus did, we must ask questions that will challenge their unreasonable thinking. We must somehow love them, trying to change their hearts and minds. We must reason with them, hoping to make them walk away ashamed. And as a last resort, we must anger them, for if we do not, we will ultimately pay with our lives or our descendants’ lives.

We seem to have lost the battle in the short term, as many evangelical Christians continue to support a president who seems determined to steer our planet to disaster.

But if there were ever a time to put on the whole armor of our faith and to fight the good fight, this is it.

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