Conservatives often have a bad reputation when it comes to environmental activism, but a surprising group in the U.S. is reaffirming its allegiance to the deterrence of global climate change while maintaining its conservative and religious principles — a new generation of evangelical Christians.
In recent years, the evangelical community in the U.S. has experienced a rift, largely along generational lines, on social and political issues. The result has been the emergence of a new generation of evangelical leaders committed to “creation care” and the preservation of the environment because it is “God’s creation.”
In 2007 over one-quarter of Americans identified themselves as evangelical Christians. This group represented a significant base for the GOP in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. By virtue of their numbers, evangelicals wield a significant amount of influence in determining policy, particularly on social issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and climate change. A new generation of evangelicals have increasingly emphasized different viewpoints from their parents and grandparents, particularly on the issue of climate change.
In April, this new generation helped to successfully oppose the Senate’s ratification of a bill that would remove or delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. As more evangelical leaders commit to this movement, many organizations, such as the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and Renewal coordinate initiatives to combat climate change. For example, online action alerts, student video contests, and creation care study abroad opportunities have been designed to increase student participation in the creation care movement. As such, it is not surprising that the spirit of the movement is increasingly celebrated by a younger generation.
The split within the community regarding environmentalism and climate change has been gradually widening for years, but intensified in the lead-up to the 2008 elections. Since then, two distinct evangelical perspectives have emerged regarding the human obligation to deter climate change. Both perspectives point to Stewardship — the responsibility to care for God’s creations — and to a commitment towards social justice. However, their interpretations regarding Stewardship and the best methods to aid the poor remain different.
Many evangelicals point to Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 2:15 to explain their religious understanding of Stewardship. Due to multiple translations and selective readings, the interpretation of these passages by pastors and parishioners alike has been applied differently to support opposing understandings of individual Stewardship responsibilities.
Additionally, the evangelical community heartily supports social justice initiatives. The older generation of evangelicals argues that economic development will offer developing countries a stronger infrastructure to prepare for natural disasters produced by climate change, regardless of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with achieving economic growth. Today’s generation of evangelicals rally behind legislation aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to deter future natural disasters that would affect developing countries more heavily. Although both perspectives are consistent with evangelical scripture and morality, their approaches remain decidedly different, and may impact the environmental dialogue of next year’s presidential elections in unprecedented ways.
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