This is an article that was inspired by visiting Glacier National Park in Montana recently. Amidst the majesty of the crown jewel of the National Park Service a thought popped in my head. Why don’t evangelicals care about the environment? Why do many reject climate change? Is it due to anti-intellectualism or a desire to bring about global warming to usher in the end-times? Where do evangelicals stand on this topic as compared to more mainstream Protestants and Catholics?
“World peace is threatened not only by the arms race, regional conflicts, and continued injustices among peoples and nations, but also by a lack of due respect for nature.”
Pope John Paul II
“Here is the place where clouds are made…a fairy land, where dreams of fantastic things come true, and where interest and wonder never cease.”
Dr. Morton J Elrod Glacier National Park Biologist in 1911
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him.
2 For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas
and built it on the ocean depths.
Psalm 24:1-2 NLT
Pictures of Glacier, entrance and Logan’s Pass after climbing the “Going to the Sun Highway.”
This is a post that I have wanted to do for the past couple of months. This came about in my mind after visiting Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana with my family in August of 2017. My family has deep roots in Montana especially with my great-uncle being Montana’s governor from 1948 until 1952. When I was in Montana I learned from relatives that he influenced the construction of the roads to the park. The last time I had been to Glacier National Park I was quite young. When I was there I remember a lot more to the glaciers than what exist today. There was a time when I was skeptical to the idea of global warming. I once thought it unsubstantiated, however in time I slowly came around to accept the idea. It made sense and as someone committed to science it became important as well. For me the strongest indicator of global warming was what I saw in Glacier National Park. I couldn’t believe how much some of the glaciers have melted. While Glacier is majestic and beautiful I could not believe how much of the glaciers were gone. Personally for me it was a deep shock and re-enforced my concerns about global warming being a serious issue.
Great Northern Railroad advertisement for Glacier National Park
History of Glacier National Park
Glacier has long been important to Native Americans. To the east of the park the Blackfeet Confederacy lived. The Blackfeet had a presence in Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and Montana. To the west of the park lived the Flathead Indian Tribe, or technically the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation. When Lewis and Clark undertook their historic expedition they came within 50 miles of Glacier. George Bird Grinnel who viewed the park in a hunting trip in 1885 became convinced that the park should be preserved for its sheer majesty. He referred to Glacier as being “the crown of the continent” which is how this famed national park is known today. In the late 19th century James J Hill was building his railroad to the Pacific Northwest. What drove Hill was his desire to connect a railroad that could enable trade with Asia. The question that James had was how to cross the mountain range to get to the Pacific Northwest? It had stumped people who wanted to build a railroad since 1853. By 1889 Hill had driven his railroad into western Montana. In trying to find a direct route to the Pacific Northwest an engineer named John F Stevens met with Hill in Montana’s capitol Helena in 1889. A direct route could shave 100 miles off the construction of the railroad and have saved quite a bit of money. Here is how the Great Northern railroad described John F Stevens discovering Marias Pass.
“His [John Stevens] small party consisting of a mule team, a driver and a saddle horse proceeded for a distance when members refused to continue. Colonel Stevens induced a Flathead Indian to accompany him from that point. They fashioned snowshoes from frames and cowhide for easier movement through the deep snow. Shortly after, the Indian dropped out and made camp, a few miles from the true summit.
Colonel Stevens later reported he finally walked directly into what now is known as Marias Pass after a few futile attempts. In order to determine if the pass was the lowest passage between the mountains and the top of the Divide, he continued West until he discovered a creek draining West into the Pacific watershed.
Quoting from a letter Colonel Stevens wrote years later:
“The short days of winter made a rapid move necessary, and after a terrifically hard and exhausting struggle, I managed to get back to the summit where I remained all night…It was almost impossible to build and keep a fire going, so I tramped a track about 100 yards in length and walked it back and forth until enough daylight broke to make it safe for travel.”
Constant motion prevented him from sleeping and freezing to death. One advantage of the extreme cold on the summit, Colonel Stevens said, was “that the mosquitoes didn’t bother me”
Upon returning to the sleeping Indian, he found him half frozen. They made it back to their party and learned the temperature there was 40 degrees below zero [actually the thermometer reading was -36º]”
With that discovery the railroad built through to Seattle. The Great Northern railway is also responsible for creating Glacier National Park, here is how that happened. James J Hill saw an incredible business opportunity in providing transportation for people who would visit the park. The railroad lobbied Congress in 1897 to preserve it as a park. Later on legislation to protect Glacier was introduced in Congress and pushed by the George Bird Grinnell and Henry Stimson. Stimson was a well known figure in American Political history. He was a Republican who served both Republican and Democrat Administrations. He served William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover, and during WW II he served as Secretary of War under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman. After years of lobbying on May 11, 1910 Taft signed the bill into law and Glacier became a national park. Preservation of Glacier was important to the Republican Party at the time. After Glacier became a park James J Hill’s son Louis Hill built lodges and promoted the newly established park as “America’s Switzerland.” The railroad boostered for the park and even got its corporate logo from the unique Rocky Mountain Goats. Its motto “See America First” came from Glacier and for decades its passenger trains allowed people access into the park. From 1921 until 1932 the famed Going to the Sun road was constructed. It was dedicated in 1932. During the Great Depression, in the era of Alphabet Soup politics, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) did a lot of work in Glacier. As the 20th century moved forward I would also argue that Glacier became the jewel and probably one of the top parks in the National Park system.
Evangelicals and Global Warming
There have been many evangelicals who have dismissed climate change and strongly support Donald Trump on this issue. I go into the reasons below. But over the course of time many evangelicals have been skeptical to climate change. Some believe that the reason why evangelicals oppose global warming is a legacy of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. After being embarrassed many evangelicals respond towards science with hate and skepticism. Some evangelicals have also created their own “institutions” that “rebuke” the facts about climate change. After all even Ken Ham has weighed into the issue of climate change saying that it has been ongoing for the last 4,300 years. Other reasons appear to be that people believe that God will deal with the issue of climate change. That point of view came forward in this Washington Post article. Here is what Yale says about why evangelicals reject climate change. Finally earlier this year the Religion News Service wrestled with this very question that I am writing about today. You can read that article here.
Mainstream Protestants and Catholics on Global Warming
In contrast mainstream Protestants and Catholics are deeply concerned about climate change and have incorporated those concerns in their theology. The United Methodist Church has made climate change a serious issue. When the United States pulled out of the Paris Agreement the Methodist Church condemned the move. Other mainstream Protestants have also been firm on this issue. Here is how the Episcopal Church reacted, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), United Church of Christ, and The Quakers all reacted to this issue. The Catholics have also been pushing the climate change issue.In 2015 the newest encyclical from Pope Francis was leaked online ahead of its formal release. It was a strong condemnation of how humans are abusing the environment. It is Pope Francis’ belief that climate change is adversely affecting the poor, marginalized and especially those in third world countries. Humans have ruined the earth, and that has happened because sin has ruined humans. In his papacy Pope Francis has made environmental issues a priority believing they go along with the preservation of life. And the Pope built upon the work of previous Popes. For example Pope John Paul II at the World Earth Day in 1990 made the environment a moral priority for the Catholic church. This is what Pope John Paul II said, “world peace is threatened not only by the arms race, regional conflicts, and continued injustices among peoples and nations, but also by a lack of due respect for nature. Pope Benedict XVI went green even having a vehicle that was hybrid and ahead of his time. He was known as the “Green Pope” Pope Francis encyclical is called Laudato Si. You can read about how it came to be in the following Atlantic article called “The Pope’s Moral Case for Taking On Climate Change.” In 2015 when Pope Francis spoke to a Joint session of Congress he raised and took on the issue of climate change. When Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement the Vatican responded with difficult words. Many top Catholic leaders in the United States rebuked Trump for leaving the Paris Agreement, including Cardinal Cupich of Chicago. Another Catholic organization that swiftly rebuked Trump for leaving the Paris Agreement is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In September Pope Francis took another dig at Donald Trump over climate change.
Are Evangelicals Rejecting Global Warming due to Being Against Science? Or Does End-Times Theology Influence Their Thinking?
I wrote what other people suspect as to why evangelicals land on this topic. Is the reason why evangelicals reject global warming due to the fact many also reject science? Many evangelicals today are fighting the wars that the Catholic church fought in the 1500’s. All you have to do is look at Ken Ham and see what is being done with evolution. After all evolution is a well accepted and sound explanation for how the human race came to be. Its accepted by scientists and academics the world over. The evangelical position which often rejects science creates unnecessary hardship in many ways. In this case is this the reason why many evangelicals reject a well established and proven issue? And yet when evangelicals come to science they pick and choose what they reject. For example they don’t reject science and medicine when it comes to basic and accepted medical procedures. When they have an issue they have no problem going to the doctor and starting that prescription for antibiotics. So why is it that many evangelicals will accept science in a personal way, but not go the greater good?
Here is another possible reason why evangelicals don’t care about climate change. Is it due to many people’s embrace of end-times theology? Why care about the destruction or loss of places like Glacier National Park if you believe in being raptured and sucked up into Heaven? Why care about being a good steward of the earth if you believe you are going to be gone? But there is also this aspect as well. Does the embrace by some evangelicals of end times theology result in many evangelicals wanting to bring about global warming to hasten end times prophecy and bring about the destruction of the earth? Could it fulfill some interpretation of the Books of Daniel and Revelation? These are questions that I am asking aloud as I try and figure out how many parts of the evangelical movement function?
Why I Believe its a Sin To Neglect the Environment
My mind came around on this topic over time. But part of my mind is strongly influenced by my Catholic past, and on this issue the Catholic church is pretty clear on this topic. What also alarms me is watching the news recently. I remember Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew when I was young, but I am stunned by the size and scope of storms like Irma, Marie and Harvey. The pictures out of Houston and Puerto Rico are deeply troubling. Now I don’t believe global warming caused those storms, but I believe the issue made them worse. I don’t think Harvey would have hit Houston as hard if the ocean temperatures were at the 1990 levels. Read the linked article that looks at the changes of the ocean temperatures or the rising ocean levels. But there is also another issue as well that can’t be ignored. I am a native Californian transplanted in the Washington, D.C. area. In the news recently have been the devastating fires that took place in Napa Valley and various parts of California. The other day I was speaking to my family in California and they said that the smoke from the coast has carried into the San Joaquin Valley and that the air control in the Central Valley is not good. I was stunned, after all when I lived in California for 25 years I only recall one fire doing that when I was a kid, and it was from outside of Fresno! Not hundreds of miles away? The extremely dry conditions that help set off the fires in California were triggered by the issue of climate change which exacerbated the situation. That is the reason why the lead editorial in Sunday’s Washington Post precedes this section. It brilliantly captures my sentiments. Plus I would think that if you are a conservative you would care about this issue as it will also affect our military readiness as well. What will this issue mean for key locations for the US Navy? Or will we be drawn into conflicts in the future that will be sparked by issues such as water access or claims? So I deeply believe this issue and I have thought about it quite a bit.
I also have come to the conclusion that the current evangelical stances on this issue is reprehensible. Saying God is in control and choosing to do nothing I liken to the following situation. Imagine if your kid takes you 2015 Honda Accord and he regularly gets it into serious accidents. His belief? “I don’t have to be responsible for the car, Mom and Dad can take care of it, after all…it’s their car.” That is how I believe that many evangelicals are acting toward this issue. Its childish, foolish and irresponsible. The truth of the matter is that you can be conservative in your theology and still care about the environment. This is a topic that is too important to ignore and be silent. Not only that but I am embarrassed that the rest of the Christian faith believes seriously in this issue but evangelicals do not? I think the way forward comes from an evangelical Christian scientist down in Texas who has taken on this issue and speaks to this problem set. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe who is the husband of an evangelical pastor and employed by Texas Tech University is on a mission to raise the alarm on this topic of climate change. Being a scientist, and a conservative evangelical and being passionate about the environment is not hard. Dr. Hayhoe gets most of her problems from evangelicals. She and I should grab a coffee one day and compare emails, we could have fun! But its time evangelicals come around on this topic. It is long overdue. Let’s join our Christian brothers and sisters and join them in helping to resolve this issue. To not tackle this issue I believe would be sinful in the end. We are to be stewards of this earth and to live in it responsibly. It is our home, and our place that we will pass off to other generations. Let’s not be selfish but let’s think of the generations to come as well. Will you join me in that endeavor? That’s it for the day, please know that I love you guys!