It was widely reported last week that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented new research that says we humans have just over decade to change the way we consume energy or the detrimental effects will be irreversible. In an era where apocalyptic-style news is commonplace, this story has not received the space that it is due.

Indeed, we must ask ourselves some questions. First, why do so many people of faith, particularly Pentecostals, continue to refute the reality of climate change? Second, do we have a moral obligation to fix the ecological problem that we created? And third, what can we, as individuals, even do?

1 Climate Change

According to surveys, disbelief in climate change rose 7% between 2013 and 2014, and for those that can at least acknowledge that temperatures and sea levels are rising, white Evangelicals are the least likely among their Christian sisters and brothers to claim that it has anything to do with human activity.

What is perhaps most disheartening is that the more people go to church the less likely they are to take responsibility for this planetary crisis. How can that be?

In 2011, only 30% of white Evangelicals believed that politicians’ immoral private lives could still produce ethical actions in their governmental role. Fast-forward to 2016 and that number jumped up to 72%.

Another recent study tells a similar story:

Do not ignore how men from both parties reported. Unacceptable.

By now we are all well aware that white Evangelicals align with the Republican party. Growing up in the conservative South, I was always taught that Christians vote for Republicans because Republicans stand for Christian values. The implication was that Christians just happened to be voting Republican because of the shared moral understanding.

Well, in 2016 an unabashedly immoral Republican candidate ran for President and 81% of white Evangelicals proved that arguments about morals are only done in the service of the party. Once the party changes its stance on values, so do the Christians.

This political alignment has infiltrated ecological issues, where Trump’s administration has actively worked to remove all restrictions to companies bent on destroying the Earth for profit. For example, a couple months ago the EPA rolled back policies that required car manufacturers to produce more fuel efficient vehicles, claiming that cars can be made safer if they get worse gas mileage (what?!), potentially saving a 1,000 lives a year. Even if that statement was somehow true, the fact is that the added pollution caused by less fuel efficient automobiles will lead to pre-mature deaths for an estimated 30,000 people.

The Earth is crying out because of humanity’s reckless way of living, and those of us in the U.S. are particularly to blame, finishing 2nd in the race for “worst polluter in the world.” Constituting just 4% of the world’s population, the U.S. is responsible for 15% of the pollution.

It is time for white Evangelicals in particular and Christians in general to repent of our alignment with political power. We can no longer allow our morality to be guided by political parties.

2 Moral Obligation

Jesus summarized the entire Law in two points: love God and love neighbor. If this is our moral guideline, then it is clear that Christians have a moral obligation to care for the planet.

Genesis 1 is clear: God created the world and declared it good. Included in that “goodness” was humanity, who was encouraged to multiply and take advantage of all the goodness creation has to offer.

At this point, however, some Christians want to point out words like “subdue” and “dominion over” the Earth. In other words, God ordained us from the beginning to destroy the Earth if we so desire.

Instead of fighting an interpretation battle, though, I’m going to suggest another angle. And let’s just ignore the fact that God spoke this message before sin entered, too.

Up to modern times, human survival wasn’t a certainty.

Assuming Genesis 1 was not written directly to humans living in 2018, we can easily see how God encouraging humanity to enter the wide, unknown world with confidence is reasonable.

Yet, with theological advancement came a new reality. Theologian Sallie McFague explains that something significant changed with the advent of nuclear weapons. For the first time humans had the ability to destroy the Earth and everything on it. In other words, the balance had shifted and so did the responsibility. “Dominion Over” must transition to “Care For.”

And for the second part –– loving our neighbors –– the sad reality is that as the environment continues to diminish, our poorest and most vulnerable neighbors will suffer the most.

Here’s the truth that American Christians need to accept:

because of our immoral consumption and pollution, we are the very cause of billions of people’s suffering.

We have a moral obligation to our neighbors to care for the planet. Because while it might not affect us in the immediate future, it is devastating the lives of our neighbors around the world today.

3 Action

The first action is to repent and turn from our wicked ways. That is a pentecostal value and one that we must reclaim. It is unacceptable for us to go to church weekly and somehow feel less responsible for our ecological failures. God has only given us one Earth and we are responsible to steward it to God’s glory.

Second, we need to be advocates for the planet and the people who suffer because of our careless living.

Third, we must demand better from our politicians. We are not fundamentally political; nevertheless, to save the planet, we need our officials to champion the same cause. As a Christian, we must hold Trump’s administration accountable regarding ecological issues. We do not support eliminating restrictions on pollution so a few companies can extract a few billion dollars at the cost of billions of lives.

Fourth, we should start trying to reuse, recycle, and reduce. Consumerism has ensnared us and it is now destroying us in a very real way. Notice how many plastic bags are included in one simple trip to the store –– everything is wrapped in plastic!?! How can we do better?

I am not advocating for people to switch political parties. I’m saying either hold your party more accountable or simply stop committing your vote to one political power. Neither party embodies Christian values and the sooner we can let go of that idol, the better politicians we’ll elect.

There’s still time to avoid ecological catastrophe. Our neighbors, children, and grandchildren do not have to suffer for our mistakes so long as we change now.

Love God. Love neighbor.

Note from the Editorial Team:
Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.

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Joel Daniels

Author: Joel Daniels

Joel is a professor and ordained minister in the DC area.