In Mark Stoll's investigation on the role of environmentalism in the Baptists tradition (or lack thereof), he focused on the cohort's wavered anti-environmental past. While his examples are compelling they remain oriented in the direction Stoll is facing; toward the past. However, when Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech Climate Scientists and Evangelical Christian, was asked what role the Pope's Climate Encyclical will play in the global network of Evangelicals, she responded, “Evangelical or Catholic, Episcopal or Apostolic, we all believe God created the world…God gave us humans responsibility for every living thing. Not just plants and animals, but people, too.”
Hayhoe's sentiment is echoed widely as organizations such as The Lausanne Movement, which represents evangelical Christians in almost 200 countries, announced their acceptance and excitement over Laudato Si, Pope Francis' Climate Encyclical. Perhaps, Evangelicals are more inclined to address climate change than Stoll thought.
Pope Francis is releasing an unprecedented encyclical this Thursday. For those in the know, it's a big deal. In Catholic terms, a papal encyclical is a formal letter that is intended to end theological debate on a given question. An encyclical itself is not so unusual. What's unprecedented is the topic of this one: climate change.
Over the past year, as the buzz in climate circles built around the encyclical, one of the most frequent and hopeful questions I've been asked is: what will this mean to U.S. evangelicals? Will this finally turn the climate issue around?
The first time I was asked, I honestly didn't know what to say.
Pope Francis is certainly more popular than his predecessor. Evangelicals' approval of the pope has risen to 60 percent over the last year or so, but it's still among the lowest of any group surveyed.
Evangelicals also take bottom place on the science of climate change. Depending on which poll we use, somewhere between 35 percent to 45 percent of evangelicals would say that human activities are affecting the Earth's climate. The rest would say we are not.
It's safe to assume that most who agree with the science also approve of the pope. So that leaves around 15 to 25 percent of U.S. evangelicals — out of the 60 percent who approve of the pope — who don't already agree with the science, but might be open to listening to what Pope Francis will say on climate change.
Just because someone approves of the pope, though, doesn't mean they'll buy what he says on such a politically polarized issue as climate. Republican politicians, led by Catholic Rick Santorum, have already begun to back away from the pope's upcoming statement. Even U.S. bishops are uneasy, perhaps picturing the hate mail that's about to flood their inboxes — the same hate mail any of us climate scientists get, when we tell people climate change is real and important, too.