(RNS) — For years, the majority of pastors surveyed about global warming continued to question whether it was real and whether it was caused by humans.
But, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a new LifeWay Research survey shows that, for the first time since the company started asking, a majority of U.S. Protestant pastors (53%) agrees with the statement “I believe global warming is real and man-made.” About a third — 34% — strongly agree.
Sentiments of denial among the country’s clergy remain, with 38% disagreeing, including almost a quarter who disagree strongly.
Another 10% say they are not sure.
“Fewer pastors are rejecting global warming and climate change out of hand,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of the research firm based in Nashville, Tennessee. “Yet pastors are still split on the subject, likely following along with political divides.”
The latest survey, conducted in the late summer and early fall of 2019, involved 1,000 Protestant pastors.
In previous studies of similar size, researchers found pastors were more skeptical or evenly split. In 2012, 43% agreed that global warming was real. That compared with 36% in 2010 and 47% in 2008.
The latest research showed striking demographic differences in views about climate change. For example, African Americans were most likely — more than three-quarters of them — to agree global warming is a reality.
Mainline pastors (71%) are much more likely to agree than evangelical pastors (39%).
Clergy from Methodist (80%), Presbyterian/Reformed (67%) or Lutheran churches (63%) are more likely to agree than their counterparts from Restorationist movement (43%) — who consider their churches to be restorations of New Testament congregations — or Baptist (37%) or Pentecostal churches (32%).
Among pastors who agree global warming is caused by humans and is real, 70% say their church has worked to reduce its carbon footprint.
“Climate change can be a difficult issue to address because the causes and effects are not always easily seen where you live,” said McConnell.
“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.”
The latest LifeWay survey has a margin of error that does not exceed plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.