For many U. S. Christians, It’s Still “Subdue the Earth”

July 18, 2014

Rank-and-file Christians seem to be less concerned about the environment than other Americans — and also, less concerned than their pastors think they are.

Back in 2008, Free Inquiry ran a cover feature cautiously applauding a trend toward heightened environmental activism in evangelical churches (“The New Creation Stewardship,” FI Apr./May 2008; most articles in the feature are not available online). Earlier leanings toward exploiting the planet and crying “God will provide” had been largely replaced, we reported, by a sense of urgency in tending the world that, as evangelicals see things, God gave us.

Well, we may have spoken too soon. Evangelical church leaders continue to champion a more green perspective, as many of them have for twenty years or more. But a study published by John M. Clements, Chenyang Xiao, and Aaron M. McCright in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion suggests that ministers’ green exhortations have been falling flat in the pews. Self-identified Christians still report significantly “lower levels of environmental concern that did non-Christians and nonreligious individuals.” This metric has held steady since 1993, suggesting that church leaders’ dramatic change of direction on environmental stewardship is being ignored by their flocks, many of whom still seem to think that God really wants them to “subdue the earth.”