For Scott Freeman, the findings are a call to action.
Last year the minister in Waco, Texas, was one of 86 religious leaders to sign the Evangelical Climate Initiative, identifying global warming as a spiritual issue and urging the United States government to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Royce Money, president of Abilene Christian University, also signed the statement.
The Paris announcement “continues to reinforce the need we all have to be environmentally conscious,” Freeman said. “To be good stewards, we have to understand that stewardship involves care, not domination.”
Other church members — even some members of the Northside church in Waco, where Freeman preaches — think global warming is a hoax. They point to scientific studies that suggest the big warm-up is a natural trend. The issue’s connection with left-leaning politicians such as Al Gore only intensifies some members’ dislike of the subject.
“I don’t like to spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars on a problem that does not exist,” said Bob Perkins, missions leader for the Northeast church in Taylors, S.C. “I truly don’t believe that ‘man-made global warming’ is anything to worry about; God has seen to that.”
Still other members said they’re unsure about the threat of global warming
“I think it’s too early to tell,” said Scott Fossey, minister for the Chandler, Texas, church and morning weather anchor for TV station CBS-19 in nearby Tyler.
Weather trends come and go, and accurate meteorological records only cover a brief part of the earth’s history, Fossey noted.
As politicians debate the issue, “we’ve got to be mindful to do what we can to appreciate the planet we’ve been blessed with,” said Fossey, who also serves as president of East Texas Christian Academy in Tyler. AN ISSUE OF STEWARDSHIP
Whether or not humans play a role in global warming, the issue can distract Christians from the bigger problem of lost souls, some church members told The Christian Chronicle.
“We are stewards of what God has given us, and we must be responsible stewards,” said Brett Christensen, minister for the South East church in Melbourne, Australia. “Beyond that, we should avoid activities that distract attention from the most pressing issue — reconciliation with, and submission to, God.”
But fighting against pollution and mistreatment of the environment touches on one of the central messages of Jesus’ ministry — helping the poor, Freeman said.
As the earth warms, tropical storms become more violent and frequent, some scientists say. The damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina proves that such storms devastate the lives of the impoverished moreso than those who can afford property insurance, Freeman said.
From tsunamis to tornados, relief ministries have responded to one natural disaster after another in recent years, said David Goolsby, agricultural director for Nashville, Tenn.-based Healing Hands International.
“Like the lady who once said, ‘I am so busy mopping up water, I don’t have time to turn off the faucet,’ now we may be about ready to openly discuss the real, bottom-line causes of some of our greatest self-inflicted problems,” Goolsby said.
Goolsby has worked in farming and agribusiness for 40 years. He’s been involved in agricultural-related church missions in half of the 60-plus countries he’s worked.
Regardless of the precise cause, “the problem is still rooted in rebellious sin,” he said. “We abuse, neglect, rail against and squander God’s blessings … for the betterment of our lives on this earth.” GOING ‘GREEN’
In response, many church members, including Freeman and his family, are recycling what they can and trying to be more energy efficient.
Beth McElwain, a student at Abilene Christian, has started a petition to convert her university to a renewable source of energy that’s plentiful in west Texas — wind.
It’s not an unreasonable goal, said McElwain, who was raised in the Farmersville, Texas, church. A few years ago, Abilene’s Dyess Air Force Base became the first Department of Defense installation to be powered entirely by wind turbines, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Going “green” can also lead to evangelistic opportunities, said McElwain, one of 25 students from across the United States invited to the Evangelical Climate Initiative press conference in Washington last year. Environmental issues are in the public eye, and by taking a stand, Christians can demonstrate their faith to non-believers who share their concerns, she said.
“People not in the faith see it as a contradiction if we do not care about the consequences we have created by being careless and selfish with our blessing,” McElwain said.
The Kirksville, Mo., church recently built a new building with geothermal heating and cooling. It will help the congregation be more energy efficient, elder Barry Poyner said.
Poyner, like many church members, links the issue of global warming to the spiritual issue of stewardship.
But he acknowledges that he’s “not too concerned about the problem,” partly because of the apostle Peter’s prediction that “the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”
“If one believes that the world will be destroyed, then all the efforts to save the planet will eventually end in failure,” Poyner said. “Of course, the same is true with our bodies, and we should keep both in good shape till the end.”