Climate Change For Evangelical Christians: Actions Have Consequences

Those of us who accept the scientific consensus know there will be consequences of inaction on climate change. But instead of our inaction, what about the consequences of our actions? What we don’t consider is the consequences of our actions in a faith-based sense, that might speak to the evangelical Christians who reject climate change. Let me explain.

Christians, and well, religious people of all faiths, usually put a high value on the idea that actions have consequences. If you commit certain unrepentant acts, you may pay the ultimate price of divine punishment, eternal damnation.

So if Christians preach that actions have consequences, and that a possible result is that you may not go to heaven, why do they not have greater concern for human actions that have caused climate change?

It’s too convenient for those of faith to dismiss the climate as something only God can control. The climate is not an independent entity, it is intrinsically linked to the planet we call Earth. And if most people of faith believe God gave us dominion over the Earth, that means God also gave us dominion over the climate. And if God judges our actions, why would God not judge how we practice our sovereignty over this planet?

This is where we need someone with both scientific and Christian credentials to step in and challenge evangelical Christians on their assumptions and beliefs, and that person is Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist. In a recent episode of Moyers & Company, Hayhoe explains why she sees “faith and science as two sides of the same coin.” I know the non-religious among us, myself included, have problems going down this path as we see science as chipping away at faith over time, as we gain a better understanding of the world. But we are never going to speak the same language as evangelical Christians, and so we must set aside fundamental disagreements when we have very important common ground to traverse.

BILL MOYERS: The Christians who show up in the film [Years of Living Dangerously] think drought is an act of God. Are they counting on faith to save them?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Oh yes. I mean, there are signs everywhere saying, pray for rain. During a drought, every church has a sign out front saying, pray for rain. They have prayer rallies, they have prayer walks.

We believe that God has the ability to do things like that, but as Christians I think we also believe that God set up the world such that there are these types of natural events, good and bad, and there are consequences to our actions.

And so in this case, first of all we have developed an agricultural society in a semi-arid environment. One that depends on an aquifer that is going one way fast. So as we become more and more vulnerable to rain fall, that’s just when climate change is coming along and altering that rainfall. So it’s a series of choices that we’ve made as a civilization, a society, at the local scale, national, and global, often not knowing what the result or the impact of those choices would be.

BILL MOYERS: Well, this is the puzzling thing. You know, why so many conservatives in leadership positions, Republicans I’m talking about, why do they dismiss the science? What do they have to gain, except the satisfaction that they’re limiting the growth of government?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: That’s, oh that’s a great question. And honestly, trying to figure out that question is one of the main reasons why I am now in the department of political science. My background’s originally in physics, and then atmospheric science. And then just a couple of years ago, I actually moved departments for multiple reasons, as all of us do. But one of the reasons is because I feel like the science is there.

We have all the information we need to take precautionary steps on this issue. It’s not a scientific issue, it’s not a matter of one more report will do it. One more national climate assessment, that’s what will solve the problem. One more new analogy, and people will get it. Information is not the answer. The answer has much more to do with who we are as humans, and how we function politically.

BILL MOYERS: So why is it that two Christians walking down the same road of faith suddenly turn in exactly the opposite directions of belief about this issue of global warming?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: I think it relates to the fact that we often look to leaders we trust and respect to tell us what to think about it. And especially in the more evangelical parts of the Christian community, we have a leadership vacuum. I mean, aside from Billy Graham, it’s hard to name a conservative Christian leader who’s been around for decades. People come and go. We don’t have a Pope Francis. We don’t have, you know, John Paul, who has written very extensively and eloquently on the environment.

So in that leadership vacuum, especially in the more conservative parts of the church, our political leaders step in. People who share values with us. The media steps in, people who will say the things that we agree with in terms of you know, abortion, gun control, immigration, things like that. So I think it’s a matter of we are being told things by people who don’t like the solutions to climate change, and have decided that it’s a lot better and it’s a lot smarter to deny the reality of the problem than to acknowledge it exists, but say you don’t want do anything about it.

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