Could The Environment Be The Issue On Which Christians Break Ranks With Donald Trump?


A man wearing a mask depicting U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump protests during a demonstration against climate change outside of the US Embassy in London, Britain, Novemberc18, 2016.Reuters

If some people laughed when Donald Trump famously claimed that climate change is a Chinese hoax to keep American companies uncompetitive, they are not laughing now.

Just days into his presidency, Trump has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to delete all material related to climate change from its website.

"If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear," one official told Reuters soon after the order to shut down the website was sent yesterday.

Meanwhile, Trump has drawn protests from Christian and Native American groups over his executive orders signed on the same day advancing the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, to extend from the oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois, amid claims that it violates both US law and tribal treaties.

Shantha Ready Alonso, the executive director of the Christian group Creation Justice Ministries, said she was "shocked" by the move. "As Christians we are committed to responsible stewardship of the gifts of God's creation and to justice for our indigenous brothers and sisters," Alonso told the Religion News Service. "We call on the administration to respect indigenous rights and the safety of drinking water for millions."

And the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action group issued a statement saying its members were "deeply disappointed" by the president's action. "As evangelical Christians, we are committed to a vision of the gospel that understands that all things are under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and that the entire creation is being reconciled back to God through Jesus. This commitment will always lead us to advocate for the well-being of all people and for the protection of God's good creation," the statement said. "We will continue to stand with those around the world who are made most vulnerable by a changing climate. We will continue to stand with Native peoples asserting their right to clean air, water, and a stable climate."

Trump, it turns out, owned stock in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access pipeline, until at least mid-2016, according to Reuters. His nominee for US energy secretary, Rick Perry was until recently a member of its board. And its chief executive, Kelcy Warren had donated $100,000 to the Trump presidential campaign.

As Trump pursues profit – and, as he would argue, jobs – ahead of the environment, could the latter be the issue on which some Christians break ranks with their president?

After all, for groups like Christians and Climate, "The same love for God and neighbour that compels us to preach salvation through Jesus Christ, protect the unborn, preserve the family and the sanctity of marriage, and take the whole Gospel to a hurting world, also compels us to recognise that human-induced climate change is a serious Christian issue requiring action now."

Today, anti-environmentalists and climate change deniers have a hero in the US president, who in turn enjoys the widespread support of US evangelicals: Trump has pledged to abandon the US commitment to the Paris climate agreement and payments to the UN climate fund, which helps developing countries tackle global warming.

But this unholy alliance was not always in place: the relationship between American Christians and the environment is more complicated and messy than that.

As Newsweek explained last year, in a lengthy article titled 'An Evangelical Movement Takes On Climate Change' religious and environmental groups began to converge after 1986, when Prince Philip, then president of the World Wildlife Fund, organised a summit with leaders of the five major world religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.

By the 1990s, groups such as the World Council of Churches were participating in international climate debates and conferences.

In 2002, the Evangelical Environmental Network launched a publicity-friendly 'What Would Jesus Drive?' campaign to call attention to fuel efficiency. In 2006, the same group organised the Evangelical Climate Initiative, which released a statement making a moral argument for climate action. Dozens of evangelical megachurch leaders signed, including Rick Warren, Leith Anderson and Joel Hunter.

Now, however, the environment has slipped far down the agenda of the evangelical movement – and of the government.

The most recent major Pew survey on the topic last year showed that only just over a third of Americans said that they care a great deal about climate change, while Americans remained divided on party lines: nearly seven out of 10 Democrats believe climate change is mainly a result of human activity, and fewer than a quarter of Republicans believed the same.

With a closer look at religion and the environment, a 2010 Pew survey found that 81 per cent of all adults, including strong majorities of all major religious traditions, favoured "stronger laws and regulations to protect the environment", while 14 per cent opposed them.

Hispanic Catholics, like Hispanics in general, are more likely to say the Earth is warming due to human activity, while white evangelical Protestants stand out as least likely to have this view.

Which may be why Trump feels he can press on with his apparent assault on the environment.

Whether those Christian groups who do not fall into the white evangelical category can protest loudly enough to stop him, remains to be seen.