Global Warming
Global Warming

Protestant Pastors Not Convinced of Global Warming

| by Lifeway
NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- Though many people insist global warming is real and man-made, Protestant pastors aren’t entirely convinced, according to a new study from LifeWay Research.

The telephone survey of 1,002 randomly selected Protestant pastors, conducted in October 2008, discovered that pastors are evenly split about whether global warming is real and man-made. It also found that views of pastors vary widely by denomination, location and even the individual pastor’s ideologies.

Asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statement, "I believe global warming is real and man-made," pastors split down the middle: 47 percent agree either strongly or somewhat, while 47 percent disagree either strongly or somewhat. The remainder indicate "don’t know."

The differences of opinion, however, are seen more sharply when analyzed in relation to a pastor’s denominational affiliation and geographic location. Fully 75 percent of pastors in mainline denominations agree global warming is real and man-made, but only 32 percent of pastors in evangelical denominations agree. Pastors in rural areas are less convinced than large-city pastors. Forty-three percent of rural pastors and 55 percent of large-city pastors agree. Pastors in the Eastern and Western United States are more persuaded, 60 percent and 53 percent respectively, than pastors in the South (45 percent) and Midwest (40 percent).

When the pastors’ personal beliefs are factored in, the differences grow even more pronounced. Among pastors who consider their political ideology liberal or very liberal, 93 percent agree that global warming is real and man-made, and 79 percent of self-perceived moderates agree. Among those who identify themselves as conservative or very conservative politically, however, agreement is only 37 percent and 16 percent respectively.

Additionally, while 75 percent of pastors in churches affiliated with mainline denominations agree global warming is real and man-made, only 67 percent of those who consider themselves mainline agree. In comparison, 32 percent of pastors in evangelical-affiliated congregations agree, but 41 percent of those who consider themselves evangelical agree.

"Not all pastors who consider themselves mainline serve in churches in denominations that are traditionally considered mainline," explained Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. "Similarly, not all pastors who consider themselves evangelical serve in denominations that are traditionally considered evangelical. Yet these denominational roots provide a strong indication of what a church’s pastor believes about global warming."

Addressing the environment

The majority of Protestant pastors (52 percent) address environmental issues once a year or less, according to the research, but 25 percent say they speak on the subject several times a year. Eleven percent say they never speak to their church members about the environment, but 12 percent say they address the issue at least once a month.

These differences in frequency are also seen more sharply when analyzed in relation to a pastor’s denominational affiliation and geographic location. In mainline denominations, 61 percent of pastors speak on the environment several times a year or more, but only 23 percent of evangelical pastors say they address it that often. Fewer rural-area pastors (34 percent) than large-city pastors (45 percent) speak on the subject that often. Forty-eight percent of pastors in the Eastern United States and 41 percent in the West say they address the environment several times a year or more, while pastors in the South and Midwest speak about it less often, 32 percent and 35 percent respectively.

Again, when the pastors’ personal beliefs are factored in, the differences are more pronounced. Among pastors who see their own political ideology as liberal or very liberal, 75 percent say they speak to their congregations about the environment at least several times a year, and 62 percent of moderates say they address the subject that often. Among those who identify themselves as conservative or very conservative politically, however, only 25 percent and 18 percent respectively indicate they speak about it that often.

Sixty-one percent of pastors in churches affiliated with mainline denominations say they speak on the environment several times a year or more, but only 53 percent of those who consider themselves mainline say they do so. In another reverse twist, while 23 percent of pastors in evangelical-affiliated congregations indicate they speak that often on the environment, 32 percent of those who consider themselves evangelical say they address the issue at least several times a year.

Perhaps not surprisingly, pastors speak to their congregations about the environment more frequently if they are convinced global warming is a real and man-made danger.

Sixty-nine percent of pastors who strongly agree that global warming is real and man-made speak to their churches about the environment several times a year or more. Far fewer pastors who are less inclined to agree global warming is a real and man-made issue speak about the environment frequently. Speaking to their church on the environment several times a year or more occurs among 36 percent of pastors who somewhat agree that global warming is real and man-made and among fewer pastors who somewhat disagree (26 percent) or strongly disagree (17 percent).

"Protestant pastors are split on the issue of man-made global warming and their views impact their communication," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. "Mainline clergy answer the question with similar numbers to self-identified Democrats and liberals in surveys of the general public. Evangelical clergy answer the question in similar percents to Republicans and conservatives. At the end of the day, Protestant pastors are as divided as Americans are on the issue of global warming."

The phone survey sampled randomly selected Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called and responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches. The completed sample of 1,002 phone interviews provides a 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.