A majority of pastors doubt the existence of manmade global warming, according to a new study from LifeWay Research, yet most churches have some type of recycling program in place.
Researchers surveyed 1,000 Protestant pastors in October 2012 and found that just 43 percent of them agreed with the statement: "I believe global warming is real and manmade." But while a majority (54 percent) of ministers did not agree with the statement, 63 percent said their church has a recycling program and 45 percent said their church has made tangible steps toward reducing its carbon footprint.
"'Saving the world' may mean different things to an environmentalist than to a pastor," Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said in a statement on the organization's website. "Yet many churches are actively engaged in proclaiming spiritual salvation at the same time they are being environmentally conscious and engaged in creation care."
The pastors most likely to strongly agree with the idea of global warming were those who were ages 65 and over (32 percent), ministered in large cities (32 percent), lived in the Northeast (30 percent) and West (25 percent) and considered themselves mainline pastors (35 percent).
The biggest contrast of opinions among pastors was between political party lines. Among those surveyed, 76 percent of Democrats said they strongly agreed that global warming is real and manmade, while only seven percent of Republican ministers agreed. Nearly half (49 percent) of Republican pastors strongly disagreed that the problem exists, while just five percent of Democrats felt the same way.
"Pastor opinions on global warming reflect their own political beliefs," said McConnell. "The pendulum of public and pastor opinions on man-made global warming is swinging back toward agreement but still lacks a majority. For some, the terminology has shifted, and environmentalists now speak of 'climate change.' However, for consistency and comparison, we have asked the same question multiple times – and pastors are split on the issue – along most Americans."
The study also found that 39 percent of pastors speak on the environment "once or several times a year," and 11 percent said they do so once per month or more. Another 34 percent said they "rarely" speak on the topic, and 15 percent said they never do.
The Earth Day Network has created a list of ways for interested churches to participate in Earth Day 2013, which will take place next Monday, April 22. The list, which can be found on the group's website, suggests activities such as having the pastor preach an Earth Day sermon, organizing a "faith march" to express concerns about environmental issues, finding ways to make the church more eco-friendly or planting a garden on the church grounds.
Earth Day, an annual environmental awareness and action event, first took place in the 1970s. The theme of this year's event is "The Face of Climate Change."