A majority of Protestant pastors somewhat agree that global warming is real and caused by humans, according to polling data released by LifeWay Research this week showing a divide in the beliefs of evangelical and mainline leaders.
From Aug. 30 to Sept. 24, 2019, the Southern Baptist polling firm interviewed over 1,000 pastors from Protestant churches across the U.S. about their views on climate change.
The responses were weighted by region to accurately reflect the population. The research has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.
“Fewer pastors are rejecting global warming and climate change out of hand,” LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said in a statement. “Yet pastors are still split on the subject, likely following along with political divides.”
When presented with the statement “I believe global warming is real and man-made,” 34% of pastors surveyed said they “strongly agree” and 19% said they “somewhat agree” with that statement.
Only 38% of pastors said they disagreed with that statement, with 24% saying they “strongly disagree” and 14% saying they “somewhat disagree.”
About 10% of pastors said they are “not sure.”
The survey’s finding that 53% of pastors agreed in some capacity that human activity is complicit in global warming signals an increase from LifeWay’s earlier survey data on the question.
Only 36% of pastors agreed with the statement that “global warming is real and man-made” in 2010. About 43% of pastors agreed with the statement in 2012.
The percentage of pastors who said they “strongly agreed” that “global warming is real and man-made” shot up 12 percentage points from 2012 to 2019, while the percentage who said they strongly disagreed with the statement decreased 12 percentage points during that period.
The findings show that mainline pastors are more likely than evangelical pastors (71% to 39%) to agree that global warming is “real and man-made.”
The data suggests that 80% of Methodist pastors, 67% of Presbyterian/Reformed pastors and 63% of Lutheran pastors agreed with the statement.
Meanwhile, only 43% of Church of Christ pastors, 37% of Baptist pastors and 32% of Pentecostal pastors also agreed.
When broken down by demographic, African American pastors (78%) were the most likely to agree that global warming is “real and man-made.”
Additionally, female pastors were much more likely than male pastors (83% to 47%) to agree. And 59% of younger pastors (ages 18 to 44) and 47% of pastors 65 and older also agreed.
The LifeWay survey also shows that a majority of pastors now say their churches have taken “tangible steps” to reduce their carbon footprints.
Some 20% of pastors strongly agreed that their churches have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint while 34% somewhat agree.
In 2012, 45% of pastors either somewhat or strongly agreed that their churches had taken such steps.
In 2019, about one-third of pastors (36%) either strongly or somewhat disagreed with the notion that their churches have taken “tangible steps” to reduce their carbon footprints. By comparison, 51% of pastors said the same thing in 2012.
While 67% of mainline pastors surveyed in 2019 said their churches took steps to reduce their carbon footprints, only 47% of evangelical pastors said the same thing.
Some 69% of Presbyterian/Reformed pastors, 67% of Methodist pastors, and 64% of Lutheran pastors say their churches have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprints. But only 39% of Baptist pastors and 41% of Pentecostal pastors said the same.
According to the data, pastors who live in the northeast United States are more likely than those who live in the south (62% to 50%) to say that their churches have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprints.
“Climate change can be a difficult issue to address because the causes and effects are not always easily seen where you live,” McConnell explained. “Much like the current coronavirus pandemic, environmental mitigation efforts require trust in the scientists measuring the problem and finding the best solutions that balance all of the concerns involved.”