LifeWay Research: Increase in Pastors’ Skepticism About Global Warming

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LifeWay Research survey reveals Protestant pastors are more skeptical about global warming today than they were two years ago.

Protestant pastors are more skeptical about global warming today than they were two years ago.

That is the finding of a LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 randomly selected Protestant pastors conducted in October 2010. 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 2010 survey, 19 percent of pastors somewhat disagree with the statement, 13 percent somewhat agree and 23 percent strongly 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. 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,” noted 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. A majority of evangelicals (68 percent) 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. In contrast, more than a third (39 percent) of mainline pastors strongly agree that global warming is real and manmade, but only 14 percent of evangelical pastors strongly agree.

Pastors who are Democrats are most likely to strongly agree that global warming is real and manmade. Republicans are most likely to strongly disagree and Independents are in the middle.

A full 65 percent of 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 Republicans strongly disagree, along with 36 percent of Independents and 6 percent of Democrats.

Republicans (21 percent) and Independents (22 percent) are more likely to somewhat disagree than Democrats (12 percent).

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. Forty-seven percent of conservatives and 3 percent of progressives and liberals strongly disagree.

Pastors in the South (17 percent) are least likely to strongly agree that global warming is real and manmade. Pastors in the Northeast (26 percent) are least likely to strongly disagree.

Level of education also corresponds to pastors’ opinions of global warming. Those who have earned at least a master’s degree are more likely to strongly agree and less likely to strongly disagree that global warming is both real and manmade.

Twenty-eight percent of pastors with at least a master’s degree strongly agree, and 36 percent strongly disagree. In comparison 14 percent with a bachelor’s degree or less strongly agree, and 50 percent strongly disagree.

Addressing the environment

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 with a master’s degree or higher speak on the environment more often than those with a bachelor’s degree or less. Fully 60 percent of those with graduate degrees speak on the environment at least once a year.

That includes 30 percent who speak on it several times a year, 14 percent who speak about once a year, 9 percent who speak about once a month and 7 percent who speak several times a month about the environment.

Forty-three percent of pastors with a bachelor’s degree or less rarely speak on the environment, and 19 percent never speak about it. That compares with 31 percent of those with graduate degrees who rarely speak on it and 8 percent who never speak on the environment.

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.

Methodology: The phone survey sampled randomly selected Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called and responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches. The completed sample of 1,000 phone interviews provides a 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed ±3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Comparisons were made to a telephone survey of 1,002 Protestant pastors conducted Oct. 13-29, 2008, using the same methodology.

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Jon D. Wilke
Lifeway Christian Resources
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