Back to Top

Collective action is a Christian (not pagan) Response to the Climate Crisis

On September 27th, hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets to urge governments and corporate leaders to take action on climate change. In Montreal, where the protests were led by teenage climate activist Greta Thurnberg, over 500,000 protesters (many of whom were children and youth), took the day off from school or work to join the protest. In Halifax a ‘mere’ 10 000 people showed up for the protest. One of those protesters was a certain busy and unprepared management professor. After seeing some of my students walk by, I decided to grab a whiteboard and join in.

Most young people I speak to do not associate Christians with advocacy for climate action.

Most young people I speak to do not associate Christians with advocacy for climate action and their beliefs are not unfounded. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Christians found that only 28% of white evangelicals agree with the scientific consensus that climate change is human caused, compared to 50% of all US adults. Given such a contrast between white evangelicals and everyone else, it is not surprising that new academic literature has started to focus on the relationship between religion and climate change denial specifically. 

One theme that emerged is how conservative Christians often see climate action as rooted in pagan spirituality, rather than traditional Christianity. A review paper published in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists highlighted how many conservative Christians perceive attempts to ‘green’ the evangelical movement as an attempt to bring foreign influences into Christianty. I found this explanation interesting. If we believe that a tribulation and apocalypse is upon us, why take action on climate change? If these are the end times, it would seem plausible that climate action is a distraction from what matters most: personal salvation.

Why, then, were Reformed Chrstians not taking the lead at last month’s climate protests?

However, the Reformed view is different from the evangelical view. Traditionally, Reformed denominations are amillennialist and do not ascribe to the notion that a tribulation is imminent. We affirm the unity of the church of all ages and in the kingship of Christ in all times. We also uphold the centrality of God’s word and God’s grace. Why, then, were Reformed Chrstians not taking the lead at last month’s climate protests?

In a recent article in The Conversation, Dr. Emma Frances Bloomfield discussed evidence that Christians hold a diverse range of views on the environment that might be better described socially, rather than theologically. Her research brought her to divide Chrstians into three categories based climate views:

  • Separators who believe that faith and climate action are at odds;

  • Bargainers who adopt some aspects of environmentalism but not others;

  • Harmonizers who see environmental action as a part of being a good Christian. 

Separators and bargainers tend to reject the scientific consensus on climate change in some form, either because environmental action is opposed to Christianity or because of a lack of trust in the scientific consensus. Harmonizers, however, may believe that climate action starts at the individual level and might not call for public or collective climate action. 

We may... believe that political climate action is an abuse of taxpayer’s money.

I find it plausible that many people in the Christian Reformed Church fit the description of harmonizers. We may very well believe climate science, but also believe that political climate action is an abuse of taxpayer’s money or an abuse of democracy. After all, Anglo-American liberal democracy was originally created specifically to protect individuals from abuses of state power. Yet, there is overwhelming evidence that only “rapid and far-reaching” collective and political action and prevent catastrophic climate change. 

I believe that Reformed Christians have a critical role to play in the climate struggle. We are called to create a good life for future generations and are called to glorify God’s creation. We are also equipped to show that Christians care and to convince or work with other Christians to take action. 

So what’s next? I don’t think we are called to disrupt traffic, but I do think we are called to act.  This election season, tell your candidates creation care is important. After the election, continue to be engaged! Make personal changes where you can, such as making your home more energy efficient, flying less, or by taking the train to work. Encourage your congregation to join the CRCNA’s Climate Witness Project and start a community project with your church family. Climate action is a part of our journey together; let’s work together and act.  

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.