Survey: Evangelicals Greener, but Still Skeptical

More evangelical Christians are boarding the green bandwagon, but they do so with a dose of skepticism about popular beliefs concerning global warming, a new survey found.

Ninety percent of evangelicals say they would like Christians to take a more active role in caring for creation, the Barna study released on Monday found, with 67 percent strongly agreeing with this statement.

The evangelical percentage surpasses that of self-identified Christians, among which 78 percent agrees they would like to see fellow Christians more engaged on caring for the environment.

In terms of lifestyle changes, a surprisingly large segment of evangelicals said they have made changes in the past year to be more environmentally friendly, despite their prior reluctance to embrace the green movement.

Nearly half of evangelicals (45 percent) say they adopted a greener lifestyle, compared to 50 percent of American adults, and a slim majority of each churchgoing segment – Protestant and Catholic.

While many evangelicals have come to accept the green message, they are still among the segments that are most skeptical about global warming.

Only 27 percent firmly believe global warming is occurring, compared to 63 percent of the general American population.

In particular, a majority of evangelicals are concerned that global warming has been hyped up by the media (65 percent), that current warming is part of a cyclical climate change and not caused primarily by human activity (62 percent), and that proposed solutions would hurt the poor, especially in other countries (60 percent).

Less than half of the general American population shared the same reasons to be skeptical about global warming as evangelicals.

"[T]he Christian community is in tension about environmental engagement, being surprisingly active and engaged, but unsure about what to do next or whom to believe," commented David Kinnaman, who directed the research.

"There is a void in Christian leadership on environmental issues, as well as an inability to articulate clearly and confidently a biblical understanding of creation care," he diagnosed.

Many churches, he said, have avoided dealing with the topic of climate change because it is controversial. But Kinnaman believes that although it won't be easy, the Christian community is "ready for balanced, thoughtful, non-partisan and engaged leadership on this crucial issue."

The survey also found that despite the popularity of the green movement, the majority of Americans do not place these issues as among the top challenges facing the nation.

Only a minority of Americas identify issues such as energy (6 percent), the environment (3 percent), or global warming (3 percent) as crucial problems.

Rather, Americans rank the economy (50 percent), fuel costs (30 percent), the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (27 percent), health care (11 percent), unemployment (9 percent), moral concerns (8 percent), and education (8 percent) as the most pressing issues facing the nation.

For evangelicals, their concern list is topped by social issues commonly tied by this group to moral values. But the survey found that their priority of environmental issues mirrors that of the national norms, which suggests that Christians are as open to environmental concerns as most Americans.

Survey results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,003 adults nationwide in August 2008.