Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Surprising Evangelical Consensus on Climate

A growing chorus of evangelical leaders is calling Christians and churches today to deal seriously with creation care.  Their core message is that caring for God’s world is an essential element of allegiance to Christ, the author and heir of creation; and that the world’s poor suffer the most from environmental degradation and climate change.  As such, they tell us that caring for the earth is essential to loving both the Creator and our neighbors who depend on creation’s bounty.

Many Christians will be surprised at this, because of the prevailing assumption that creation care and climate change are controversial topics among evangelicals.  In fact, however, the evangelical community has spoken with notable consistency.  The following list of major declarations on creation stewardship bears this out:

  • Evangelical Declaration on Care of Creation (1994, Evangelical Environmental Network, adopted by many evangelical leaders in the 1990s) [i]
  • Oxford Declaration on Global Warming (2002; issued by 70 leading climate scientists, policy-makers and Christian leaders from 6 continents) [ii]
  • Micah Declaration on Creation Stewardship and Climate Change (2009, The Micah Network, representing churches in 83 countries) [iii]
  • Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action (2006, Evangelical Climate Initiative, signed by more than 330 presidents of Christian colleges , leaders of Christian service agencies, authors and pastors) [iv]
  • African Church Leaders’ Statement on Climate Change & Water (2008, issued by All-Africa Council of Churches) [v]
  • Christians and Climate Change (Australian Evangelical Alliance, national affiliate of World Evangelical Alliance) [vi]
  • Christian Reformed Church Creation Stewardship Report (2012, denomination of more than 1,000 congregations in the U.S. and Canada) [vii]
  • National Association of Evangelicals; Loving the Least of These (2011, representing 45,000 local U.S. churches in 40 denominations) [viii]
  • Cape Town Commitment; Lausanne Global Conversation (2010, Lausanne Movement, founded by Billy Graham, John Stott and others to direct global evangelization, with delegates representing more than 190 countries) [ix]
  • Prominent mainline Christian declarations, including the Vatican [x], the World Council of Churches ,[xi] and the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  [xii]
Each of these declarations has its own unique voice. The Lausanne Cape Town Commitment addresses world evangelization, and incorporates creation care as a core element of Christian mercy and witness in the world, calling on all Christians to repent of complicity in the exploitation of the creation:

The burden affects the poor most of all
“We lament over the widespread abuse and destruction of the earth’s resources, including its bio-diversity. Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change. This will disproportionately affect those in poorer countries, for it is there that climate extremes will be most severe and where there is little capability to adapt to them. World poverty and climate change need to be addressed together and with equal urgency.” [xiii]

The Micah Declaration and the National Association of Evangelicals highlight justice to the world’s poor, who are most vulnerable to drought, disease and flooding from climate disruptions.

“If the things we have been reading are true, that we are called to love God and to love our neighbor, that our climate is changing, and this change will affect the poor most of all,” writes the NEA, “then we, the evangelical family, have no choice but to act on this problem.” [xiv]

The African Church Leaders and the Australian Evangelical Alliance bring the unique perspectives of Christians in those regions: with the African sensitivity to the suffering of the developing world because of the actions of the industrialized North; and the Australians seeking repentance as one of the leading per capita greenhouse gas emitters.

The Christian Reformed Church brings a scholarly tradition and rigorous review of science and theology, leaving no stone unturned in reaching their assessment:

“Human-induced climate change is a moral, ethical, and religious issue… [and] poses a significant threat to future generations, the poor, and the vulnerable. Future generations will inherit climate change, driven by emissions of today….  Poor societies will have fewer options and resources than wealthier societies to adapt to these changes….  Urgent action is required to address climate change.”

Add to these declarations the voices of the Vatican, the Orthodox Church and numerous protestant churches affiliated with the World Council of Churches, and the testimony of Christians worldwide is almost unanimous: the gospel commands and empowers us to care for our Father’s creation, and for the poor who are most vulnerable to its misuse.

There is, however, one voice that stands in contrast to these evangelical declarations.  In 2009, a group called the Cornwall Alliance issued “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.”  Although it names its declaration “evangelical,” the Cornwall Alliance was formed under another name in 2000 by 25 Jewish, Catholic and Protestant leaders.  The Cornwall Declaration’s principal author is E. Calvin Beisner, a Presbyterian elder.  [xv]

Contrary to the evangelical declarations listed above, Cornwall declares that: (1) there is no convincing evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases contributes to global warming; (2) the cost of greenhouse gas reductions would far exceed any related benefits; and (3) the earth’s ecosystems are self-correcting.  The CRC Creation Stewardship Task Force states that these Cornwall statements are  unsupported, and at odds with both consensus climate science and the evangelical declarations cited above.  The CRC goes further, however, rebutting Cornwall’s claim to represent evangelicals: “Considering the limited number of authors and their lack of religious credentials, it is somewhat disingenuous to label these as evangelical documents.” [xvi]

Sincere Christians hold varying opinions about creation care, and about global climate change. But regardless of individual opinions, the overwhelming testimony of Christian and evangelical declarations today affirms that human-caused climate change is real; that creation stewardship is a core element of gospel living; and that loving the least of the brothers and sisters of Christ calls for the church to seriously confront the causes of environmental degradation.

Leaders as disparate as the Pope, the worldwide Lausanne evangelistic movement, the Orthodox Patriarch, and the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals have urged Christians to act on climate change.  And while the tally is not unanimous, the growing consensus should certainly cause all Christians to carefully consider the call they have sounded.

What should Christians do, if they are unsure about these issues? The National Association of Evangelicals offers some excellent advice:
  • Examine the wealth of evidence that exists regarding climate science, and especially ask for input from scientists within our churches and denominations;
  • Place little reliance on the assertions of angry people and conspiracy-theorists, most notably those who disparage others and use careless speech; and
  • Pay particular regard to the joint statements of scientific societies like the National Academies of Science, which represent the conclusions of thousands of scientists; these statements effectively eliminate any bias that might be held by an individual researcher. [xvii]

He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.  Prov. 13:20
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry….  James 1:19-20.

Appendix: Summary of Major Evangelical Declarations

Evangelical Declaration on Care of Creation [xviii]

This declaration was developed in 1994 by a conference of leaders of the evangelical community under the auspices of the Evangelical Environmental Network. It is a powerful statement calling God’s people to renewal and commitment to care of creation. The declaration begins with a statement of worship for the Creator and acknowledgment of our sin and, in particular, that “we have failed in our stewardship of creation.” It then describes the degradation of creation and the finite limits for creation against which we are pressing, and it asserts that “human poverty is both a cause and a consequence of environmental degradation.” It follows with a call for confession and repentance and states that all humans have responsibility for creation. It concludes with several statements of purpose, among them:
  • Therefore we call upon all Christians to reaffirm that all creation is God’s; that God created it good; and that God is renewing it in Christ. We seek a deeper reflection on the wonders of God’s creation and the principles by which creation works. We also urge a careful consideration of how our corporate and individual actions respect and comply with God’s ordinances for creation.
  • We recall Jesus’ words that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions, and therefore we urge followers of Jesus to resist the allure of wastefulness and overconsumption by making personal lifestyle choices that express humility, forbearance, self-restraint and frugality.
  • We call on all Christians to work for godly, just, and sustainable economies which reflect God’s sovereign economy and enable men, women and children to flourish along with all the diversity of creation. We recognize that poverty forces people to degrade creation in order to survive; therefore we support the development of just, free economies which empower the poor and create abundance without diminishing creation’s bounty.
  • We commit ourselves to work for responsible public policies which embody the principles of biblical stewardship of creation. [xix]

Oxford Declaration on Global Warming [xx]

The Oxford Declaration arose from a meeting held by 70 leading climate scientists, policy-makers and Christian leaders from across 6 continents in 2002 in Oxford, England. This meeting brought together climate scientists and evangelical leaders for mutual scientific and theological education at St. Anne’s College. The outcome of this unprecedented gathering of leading scientists and evangelicals was the Oxford Declaration on Global Warming. This declaration is well rooted in biblical, theological, and scientific scholarship. Its three main points are:
  • Human-induced climate change is a moral, ethical, and religious issue.
  • The earth’s climate is changing, with adverse effects on people, communities, and ecosystems.
  • Action is needed now, both to arrest climate change and to adapt to its effects.
It then goes on to recommend actions by Christian denominations, churches, and organizations to increase awareness of climate change, set an example through our own actions, and urge action by national governments. [xxi]

Micah Declaration on Creation Stewardship and Climate Change [xxii]

The Micah Declaration on Creation Stewardship and Climate Change synthesizes the findings of the Fourth Triennial Global Consultation held in Kenya by the Micah Network from July 13-18, 2009. The meeting attracted members of the Micah Network from 38 countries, and the declaration arose from their deliberations. It recognizes that God established just relationships among all of creation, including the establishment of women and men as stewards. It acknowledges that through our sin we have failed to be faithful stewards, but that God “is already at work to renew all things.” It specifically identifies global warming as a result of human activity and enumerates the potential impacts of that warming. It then challenges individuals to “teach and model care of creation” and calls on “local, national, and global leaders to meet their responsibility to address climate change and environmental degradation.” It concludes with the statement “We will labor with passion, persistence, prayer and creativity to protect the integrity of all creation, and hand on a safe environment and climate to our children and theirs.” [xxiii]

Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action [xxiv]

The Evangelical Call to Action was produced by the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) in January 2006. The ECI is “a group of senior evangelical leaders in the United States who are convinced it is time for our country to help solve the problem of global warming.” The Call to Action has four main claims:
  • Human-induced climate change is real.
  • The consequences of climate change will be significant and will hit the poor the hardest.
  • Christian moral convictions demand our response to the climate change problem.
  • The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change—starting now. [xxv]
The Call to Action has been signed by Christian college and ministry leaders, pastors and authors. A partial list of its 330 signatories can be found at the ECI website.

African Church Leaders’ Statement on Climate Change & Water  [xxvi]

The African Church Leaders’ Statement was developed by the All Africa Council of Churches at a meeting held in Kenya in 2008. The Statement affirms “the reality and urgency of climate change and the adverse negative impact it has on entire humanity and particularly on poor and vulnerable communities in Africa.” It goes on to state that greenhouse gas emissions have arisen and continue to arise largely from industrialized countries while the negative consequences of [global warming] are felt largely in the global south. It calls upon the governments of the global north to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support adaptation in the global south, offer financial and technological support, promote and implement low carbon strategies, and compensate developing countries for damage already done. The statement also appreciates “the efforts of churches and faith-based organizations in advocating for the rights of the poor and vulnerable communities in the continent [of Africa]” and further challenges them to “recognize the reality of climate change” and to “stand in solidarity with communities that are currently suffering from the negative impacts of climate change.” It also challenges churches and faith-based organizations to develop curricula and training modules that help integrate climate change issues into educational material and to establish “eco-congregations” that have a focus on “checking consumerism through behavior change.” [xxvii]

Christians and Climate Change (Australian Evangelical Alliance)  [xxviii]

The Australian Evangelical Alliance’s declaration brings the voice of Christians in “a developed nation whose way of life has benefited most from the causes of global warming.”  It notes that Australia is perhaps the world’s biggest per capita contributor to greenhouse gas pollution. It seeks forgiveness for treating “the world as ours and not God’s,” and offers repentance into “a lifestyle and a way of relating to others and the world which is most caring for both people and the world and honoring to God.”

It asserts that there is now no reputable science which denies either that climate change is happening or that a large part of global warming is human-induced; and states that climate change will affect everyone, but will cause the greatest suffering among the poor.  It calls for developed nations to reduce greenhouse gases from 2000 levels by 60% by 2050.

Christian Reformed Church Creation Stewardship Report  [xxix]

In 2012, the Christian Reformed Church adopted an exhaustively-researched response to global climate change.  Its 121 pages contain thorough treatments of environmental and climate science, as well as the theological foundations for creation care.

 “Human-induced climate change," said the CRC report “is an ethical, social justice, and religious issue.”  The CRC affirmed that care for the creation is inseparable from loving God and our neighbors. They went much further, however, honing in on the issues of Christian justice: “Climate change poses a significant threat to future generations, the poor, and the vulnerable.” They called on all CRC churches to promote stewardship and to seek justice for the victims of climate change, notably the poor and future generations.

The CRC declaration extends its call to care for all species that God has made.  “We are called to commit ourselves to honor all God’s creatures, and to protect them from abuse and extinction, for our world belongs to God.”

“Thus our ultimate motivation in creation care is not any secular notion of ‘saving the planet’; salvation is through Christ alone. The Christian’s ultimate motivation for creation care is love for God and neighbor. This love for our neighbor includes both this generation and generations to come because we do not know the time of Christ’s return.”

In addition to the core findings regarding climate change, the declaration called for specific actions by churches and members. These include:

  • to live sustainably within God-given resources;
  • to seek justice for the poor and vulnerable, and for future generations;
  • to reduce individual and collective carbon emissions to the atmosphere;
  • to advocate for public strategies that reduce carbon emissions; and
  • to advocate for an effective global framework to assist populations that are bearing the brunt of the negative effects of climate change.

National Association of Evangelicals: Loving the Least of These [xxx]

The National Association of Evangelicals claims to represent 45,000 local churches in 40 denominations in the U.S.  In 2011, the NAE published Loving the Least of These, a 56-page document addressing global climate change, its impact on the poor of the world, and the implications for Christian discipleship.  The NAE’s publication brought together the perspectives of pastors, scientists, development agencies and pro-life advocates.

The NAE urges Christians to examine the wealth of evidence that exists regarding climate science; to disregard the assertions of angry people and conspiracy-theorists; and pay particular regard to the joint findings of scientific societies like the National Academies of Science (NAS). They cite the NAS in observing that “most of the warming over the last several decades can be attributed to human activities that release carbon dioxide,”  and warn of global temperature increases of “between 3.5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.”

They note that thousands of Christians are engaged in relieving the suffering of millions around the world. “Unfortunately, the realities of climate change mean that those suffering millions may become billions. All of us who follow Jesus will need to respond.” Specifically, they urge the following measures for Christians:
  • Actively reject materialism and live more simply;
  • Use energy more efficiently, both in our homes and churches;
  • Switch to renewable energy – wind, solar, hydroelectric or geothermal power;
  • Consider supporting policy reforms which build into the price of energy its fuller costs to the world; and
  • Contribute generously to evangelical agencies that are helping the poor adapt to the effects of climate change.

Cape Town Commitment; Lausanne Global Conversation  [xxxi]

In 2010, delegates from more than 190 countries gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, for the third Lausanne Conference on global evangelization.  Since its founding in 1974 by Billy Graham, John Stott and others, the Lausanne Movement has provided a forum for global evangelical leaders to set the agenda for the spread of the gospel to the whole world. In Cape Town, the Lausanne Movement incorporated the visions of evangelicals from every region, and incorporated a truly global perspective on the kingdom of God.

Perhaps for the first time, the worldwide evangelical church of Christ named “care for God’s world” as a foundational component of Christian faith in action. “We cannot claim to love God while abusing what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance…. Love for God’s creation demands that we repent of our part in the destruction, waste and pollution of the earth’s resources and our collusion in the toxic idolatry of consumerism.”

In seeking to extend Christ’s peace to his suffering creation, the Cape Town Commitment laments “the widespread abuse and destruction of the earth’s resources.  It notes that “probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change,” and that this threat will fall most heavily on the poor.  It calls on Christians to:
  • Renounce polluting and destructive habits of consumption;
  • Persuade their governments to take moral action on climate and environmental issues; and
  • Encourage the missional calling of those who seek to protect or properly develop the earth’s habitats and creatures.

Prominent mainline Christian declarations
  • The Vatican
Pope Benedict, the Conference of Bishops, and various pontifical institutions have issues repeated urgent calls for the church to seriously address human-caused climate change. [xxxii]  Typical of these is the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which in 2010 issued the following statement:

“Failure to mitigate climate change will violate our duty to the vulnerable of the Earth, including those dependent on the water supply of mountain glaciers, and those facing rising sea level and stronger storm surges. Our duty includes the duty to help vulnerable communities adapt to changes that cannot be mitigated. All nations must ensure that their actions are strong enough and prompt enough to address the increasing impacts and growing risk of climate change and to avoid catastrophic irreversible consequences.” [xxxiii]

  • World Council of Churches
The WCC website lists at least 49 denominational and ecumenical declarations regarding climate change and related issues of water access, drought, flooding and hunger.  While these are too numerous to discuss here, we refer readers to the WCC website for further review.  [xxxiv]

  • Eastern Orthodox Church
Under the leadership of Patriarch Bartholomew, the Orthodox Christian Church has long been a leading voice for environmental justice and creation care. In 2009, the Patriarch issued the following message:  “The ecological crisis, and particularly the reality of climate change, constitutes the greatest threat for every form of life in our world…. According to the theological understanding of the Orthodox Christian Church, the natural environment is part of Creation and is characterized by sacredness. This is why its abuse and destruction is a sacrilegious and sinful act, revealing prideful despise toward the work of God the Creator.” [xxxv]

Addressing a global climate change conference in Durban, South Africa in 2011, the Patriarch said:

“Climate change is a global problem. We share one world and the same resources, one atmosphere and the same habitat.  We are all inseparably interconnected….   When will we face the inevitable truth that all ecological activity is ultimately judged by its impact on the poor? When will we sense the painful reality that the continent that has scarcely contributed to global warming [Africa] is bearing the most detrimental repercussions, even while being the least equipped to cope with its consequences?” [xxxvi]

End Notes:

[i] Evangelical Environmental Network; On the Care of Creation;

[ii] Climate Forum 2002; Oxford, England;

[iv] Climate Change; An Evangelical Call to Action;

[vi] Christians and Climate Change: A statement from the Australian Evangelical Alliance;

[vii] Creation Stewardship Task Force Report, Christian Reformed Church;

[viii] National Association of Evangelicals;

[ix] Cape Town Commitment, Lausanne Global Conversation - Part 2, Section IIB, 6;

[x] Statements by Pope Benedict and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops;

[xii] The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, 9/01/2006;

[xiii] Cape Town Commitment Call to Action, The Lausanne Movement, Sec. II.B.6;

[xiv] Loving the Least of These, NAE, p. 37;

[xvi] Creation Stewardship Task Force, Christian Reformed Church, 2012, p. 108;

[xvii] National Association of Evangelicals, p. 24-25;

[xviii] Evangelical Environmental Network; On the Care of Creation;

[xix] Creation Stewardship Task Force, Christian Reformed Church, 2012, p. 49;

[xx] Climate Forum 2002; Oxford, England;

[xxi] Creation Stewardship Task Force, p. 50

[xxiii] Creation Stewardship Task Force, p. 51

[xxiv] Climate Change; An Evangelical Call to Action;

[xxv] Creation Stewardship Task Force, p. 50

[xxvii] Creation Stewardship Task Force, p. 52

[xxviii] Christians and Climate Change: A statement from the Australian Evangelical Alliance;

[xxix] [vii] Creation Stewardship Task Force Report, Christian Reformed Church;

[xxx] National Association of Evangelicals;

[xxxi] Cape Town Commitment, Lausanne Global Conversation - Part 2, Section IIB, 6;

[xxxvi] Message by Patriarch Bartholomew to the UN Climate Change Conference, Durban, SA;

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