Fewer Protestant Pastors Believe in Global Warming, Poll Reveals

Fewer Protestant pastors believe global warming is real and that humans are responsible for the phenomena, a faith-based research organization reported.

“Pastors’ sentiments on global warming have shifted right in step with Americans in general,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, in a statement released Monday.

A thousand randomly-selected pastors with different denominational backgrounds and political ideologies were interviewed in a survey conducted by LifeWay Research in October last year. Participants were asked if they “believe global warming is real and manmade” and told to answer either “strongly disagree,” “somewhat disagree,” “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree.”

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Results revealed that 13 percent “somewhat agree” and 23 percent “strongly agree” with global warming warnings. On the other side, 41 percent of interviewees “strongly disagree,” up from 27 percent in 2008, while 19 percent “somewhat disagree.”

Pastors aren’t alone in their skepticism. A 2010 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed growing skepticism among the general American public. While in 2008, 47 percent of Americans said the earth is warming because of human activity, that percentage dropped to 34 in 2010. Also, 32 percent of Americans said they feel there is no solid evidence supporting global warming, up from 21 percent in 2008.

In late 2009, a series of leaked e-mails by the world’s top climate scientists suggested that they may have manipulated data to support their claim of the threat of global warming. This is believed by some analysts as damaging to global warming advocates among the American general public.

Following that incident, a group of evangelical scholars have questioned the way mainstream scientists measure and interpret the data in climate change.

“I think people think that science is as simple as making measurements,” said Dr. Roy Spencer, climatologist and principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Ala., at The Heritage Foundation-hosted event in Washington, D.C., in Dec. 2009.

“[But] believe it or not most scientists – probably all the scientists I know that work in climate change – do have religious views about the earth and how fragile it is and that colors their research and how they interpret data.”

From a scientific perspective, Spencer stressed that the earth’s feedbacks to increased CO2 in the atmosphere has always been the “biggest missing piece” in the climate change puzzle.

According to the newly released survey, evangelicals are most skeptical to global warming. LifeWay’s report found that 68 percent of evangelical pastors “strongly disagree” or “somewhat disagree” with the statement that global warming is real and manmade. Among mainline pastors, less than half (45 percent) disagree with that notion.

Only 14 percent of evangelical pastors strongly agree that global warming is real and manmade.

The LifeWay Research poll also revealed that pastors with a more liberal political leaning tend to be convinced that global warming is real and manmade. Among pastors who describe themselves as progressive or liberal, 78 percent strongly agree with that notion. Yet only seven percent of conservative pastors and six percent of very conservative pastors strongly agree.

Protestant pastors rarely address environmental issues to their congregation, the survey also found.

Only half of Protestant pastors (52 percent) do so once a year or less. Pastors who consider themselves evangelical speak to their churches on the environment less often than mainline pastors. While 49 percent of evangelicals address the environment once a year or more, 67 percent of mainline pastors address it once a year or more.

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