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Poll: Pastors skeptical of global warming

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Protestant pastors are more skeptical about global warming today than they were two years ago.

That is the finding of a LifeWay Research telephone survey of 1,000 randomly selected Protestant pastors. The survey also found that pastors’ views on the subject vary widely by denomination, education, location and political ideology.

When asked to respond to the statement, “I believe global warming is real and manmade,” 41 percent of pastors strongly disagree, up from 27 percent in a similar survey conducted in 2008. That marks an increase of more than 50 percent.

According to the new survey — which is based on data collected in October — 19 percent of pastors somewhat disagree with the statement, 13 percent somewhat agree and 23 percent strongly agree. Combining the answers, 60 percent disagree and 36 percent agree.

Twenty-five percent strongly agreed in 2008 that global warming is real and manmade.

According to the Pew Research Center, this trend among pastors parallels a trend among Americans in general. Between 2008 and 2010, the percentage of Americans who said there is no solid evidence that the earth is warming increased from 21 percent to 32 percent, Pew said. In addition, in 2010, 34 percent said the earth is warming because of human activity, down from 47 percent in 2008.

“Pastors’ sentiments on global warming have shifted right in step with Americans in general,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. “The number of pastors who are firmly convinced global warming is manmade has not changed much, but many who were beginning to agree during the 2008 election cycle now strongly disagree.”

Evangelical and mainline pastors are divided on global warming:

— 68 percent of evangelicals disagree strongly or somewhat that global warming is real and manmade, compared with 45 percent of mainline pastors. Forty-four percent of evangelicals strongly disagree, but only 30 percent of mainline pastors feel the same.

— 39 percent of mainline pastors strongly agree that global warming is real and manmade, but only 14 percent of evangelical pastors strongly agree.

The survey also found a deep political divide on the issue among pastors.

A full 65 percent of pastors who are Democrats strongly agree, along with 24 percent of Independents and 6 percent of Republicans that global warming is real and manmade. But 57 percent of pastors who are Republicans strongly disagree, along with 36 percent of Independents and 6 percent of Democrats.

Among pastors who describe their political ideology as progressive or liberal, 78 percent strongly agree that global warming is real and manmade. Yet only 7 percent of conservative pastors and 6 percent of very conservative pastors strongly agree.

Sixty-nine percent of those labeling themselves very conservative strongly disagree with the statement. Forty-seven percent of conservatives and 3 percent of progressives and liberals strongly disagree.

Half of Protestant pastors (52 percent) address the issue of the environment to their churches once a year or less — virtually unchanged compared to 2008 (50 percent).

Pastors who consider themselves evangelical speak to their churches on the environment less often than mainline pastors. While 49 percent of evangelicals address the environment once a year or more, 67 percent of mainline pastors address it once a year or more.
David Roach is a pastor and writer in Shelbyville, Ky.