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Conservative Evangelicals embrace God and green

Why some right-leaning evangelical Christians have become true believers in climate change. God and green go together, these conservatives say.

By / Staff writer / March 25, 2010

Capitol workers cleared snow after an early-February snowstorm that shut down the federal government. Unusual weather patterns have fueled debate over global warming – including among those whose religious beliefs inform their positions.

Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa Press/Newscom

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The cultural revolution of the 1960s and '70s included the birth of the environmental movement. That's when "there was a deep split, and the right stole God and the left stole green," says Jonathan Merritt, a 20-something evangelical Christian who sees himself as a political conservative but also as an environmentalist. "I think God and green go together, and I think they belong together."

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While many Chris­t­ian denominations enthusiastically support efforts to combat climate change, evangelical Christians, who tend to be both theologically and politically conservative, have been caught up in an internal tussle over the issue in which skeptics seem to hold the upper hand.

But a new generation of Evangelicals such as Mr. Mer­ritt – who, he argues, carry less "baggage" from the 20th-century's cultural wars – are making a spirited effort to show that their religious beliefs and their environmental concerns are not only compatible but inextricably linked.

"I'm an environmentalist because I'm a Christian and not in spite of that fact," says Merritt, an author and speaker whose book, "Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet," will be published on Earth Day, April 21.

Conservative US Protes­tants are among those Chris­tians most likely to be skeptical that human-induced climate change is taking place. In a poll last year, only 34 percent of white Evangelicals agreed there is solid evidence that Earth is warming because of human activity. In contrast, 48 percent of white mainline Protestants agreed, according to the survey, released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Green evangelicalism

On the other hand, the students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who tend to come from conservative Christian backgrounds, are "definitely" more likely to accept human-induced climate change, says Susan Bratton, chair of the environmental science department at Baylor.

They've grown up hearing the environmental message and are "probably the greenest generation we've ever had here," adds Dr. Bratton, who has had seminary training and teaches a course on Christian environmental ethics.

Whether this "green evangelicalism" will continue to gain followers may depend on people like Merritt and Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley, a married couple who are evangelical Christians and teach at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

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