White conservative evangelicals, who make up most of the religious right movement, largely oppose government regulation to protect the environmental initiatives, including efforts to curb human-caused climate change. Contrary to popular perception, however, this hasn’t always been the case.
... white conservative evangelicals supported an environmentally friendly position from the late 1960s to the early 1990s.
In 1967, the idea of environmental protection became an issue for the wider Christian community after historian Lynn White Jr. published “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis.” The article argued that growing environmental degradation was the result of Christian philosophies that encourage society to regard nature as a simple resource for the sole benefit of humanity.
Christian thinkers responding to White included popular conservative evangelical author Francis Schaeffer (who) took to the lecture circuit to convince audiences of the importance of Christian environmental stewardship. According to this perspective, all of creation needed to be treated with respect and not abused for economic benefit. He argued that humans must value the nonhuman natural world because it was created by and owned by God. Consequently, humans were only caretakers, custodians or stewards of the natural environment.
In 1970, the same year as the first Earth Day observance, Schaeffer’s perspectives were published in his book “Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology.” Subsequently, Schaeffer’s environmental views became the standard environmental position among many conservative evangelicals for roughly the next 20 years.
After bowing out of the presidential race in 1988, well-known televangelist Pat Robertson addressed the GOP National Convention in New Orleans. On a politically charged national stage, Robertson reprised Schaeffer’s views of Christian environmental stewardship, emphasizing how all creation should be respected.
While Christian environmental stewardship became an accepted environmental perspective within the religious right, it existed only as an idea or philosophy – not as part of organized activism.
In the early 1990s, segments of the religious right tried turning eco-friendly philosophies into action. The Southern Baptist Convention held an environmental seminar in 1991 at which Schaeffer’s Christian environmental stewardship views were repeated. This effort, however, faced an insurmountable obstacle.
In an attempt to crush increasing international cooperation to address human-caused climate change, U.S. political conservatives launched an anti-environmental campaign. Conservative think tanks and special advocacy groups denied the reality of human-caused global warming, and some even supported conspiracy theories alleging that environmentalists wanted to create a one-world government.
... these outreach attempts found a home among the traditionally politically conservative religious right supporters.
Anti-environmental messages increasingly relied on ridicule, which some leading pastors endorsed. Jerry Falwell, one of the founders of the religious right movement, for instance, began calling environmentalists “tree huggers” as early as 1992. At Pat Robertson’s Regent University’s newspaper, political cartoons mocked sympathy for the environment as left-wing extremism.
By 1993, the idea of Christian environmental stewardship had all but disappeared from the rhetoric of the religious right. In its place emerged firm opposition to environmental protection effort ...
Although religious right supporters largely reject Schaeffer’s Christian environmental stewardship today, a small but noticeable number of voices within the community are keeping it alive. Perhaps the largest eco-friendly organization is the Evangelical Environmental Network, which originated in 1993. Other notable developments include the signing of the Evangelical Climate Initiative in 2006 by well-known religious leaders.
These are remarkable developments that often employ theological arguments to support environmental activism. But they are largely overshadowed by the continuing nontheological anti-environmental arguments founded in misinformation.
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