How Evangelicals from Two Churches in the American Southwest Frame Their Relationship with the Environment

Abstract

In this article, we analyze the ways in which Evangelicals frame a rhetoric of environmental concern and environmental apathy, with a larger focus on the latter. Heeding calls to further explore within-Evangelical differences, we compare environmental narratives of 20 leaders and laity of a predominantly white Southern Baptist congregation and 20 leaders and laity from an African American Baptist church, both located in a Southwestern American city. We find, especially on the topic of climate change, that most Evangelicals in our study readily evince environmental apathy, which we explore in depth. In particular, we find a belief in a rigid hierarchy of God, humans, and then the environment; a belief in the sovereignty of God; and evangelical eschatological beliefs help generate narratives of environmental apathy. There are different environmental narratives, between the two congregations, that are framed in terms of political affiliation and socioeconomic status. But we find little evidence to suggest that religious beliefs foster different environmental attitudes across the two congregations. We conclude with future research directions and implications for those who wish to foster environmental concern among Evangelicals.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    AAB_Int2, administrative assistant, conducted 6/12/11.

  2. 2.

    SBC_Int9, oil company employee, conducted 07/29/11.

  3. 3.

    SBC_Int17, college lecturer, conducted 12/13/11.

  4. 4.

    SBC_Int9, oil company employee, conducted 07/29/11.

  5. 5.

    AAB_Int11, printing company employee, conducted 07/24/11.

  6. 6.

    SBC_Int12, undergraduate student, conducted 10/14/11.

  7. 7.

    SBC_Int1, church leader, conducted 05/14/11.

  8. 8.

    SBC_Int11, student in medical field, conducted 10/06/11.

  9. 9.

    SBC_Int15, teacher, conducted 12/10/11.

  10. 10.

    SBC_Int9, oil company employee, conducted 07/28/11.

  11. 11.

    SBC_Int4, church leader, 06/22/11.

  12. 12.

    SBC_Int9, oil company employee, conducted 07/29/11.

  13. 13.

    AAB_Int11, printing company employee, conducted 07/24/11.

  14. 14.

    SBC_Int11, student in medical field, conducted 10/06/11.

  15. 15.

    SBC_Int7, marketing, conducted 07/27/11.

  16. 16.

    AAB_Int3, retired, conducted 06,24/11.

  17. 17.

    SBC_Int16, administrative assistant, conducted 12/08/11.

  18. 18.

    SBC_Int3, church leader, conducted 06/08/11.

  19. 19.

    SBC_Int6, teacher, conducted 07/14/11.

  20. 20.

    SBC_Int17, teacher, conducted 12/13/11.

  21. 21.

    SBC_Int7, marketing, conducted 07/27/11.

  22. 22.

    SBC_Int4, church leader, 06/22/11.

  23. 23.

    SBC_Int1, church leader, conducted 05/14/11.

  24. 24.

    AAB_Int20, retired, conducted 02/16/12.

  25. 25.

    AAB_Int19, church leader, conducted 08/11/11.

  26. 26.

    AAB_Int17, church leader, 08/09/11.

  27. 27.

    AAB_Int5, nurse, conducted 07/6/11.

  28. 28.

    AAB_Int6, medical field, conducted 07/8/11.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Henry Hancock, Sally Huang and Virginia White for providing valuable feedback on early versions of the manuscript. We also thank Rice University Religion and Public Life Program (RPLP) research fellows for their indispensable care and careful attention to the study. This research was supported by the Jack Shand fund of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion as well as the Rice University Shell Center for Sustainability.

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Correspondence to Jared L. Peifer.

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Peifer, J.L., Ecklund, E.H. & Fullerton, C. How Evangelicals from Two Churches in the American Southwest Frame Their Relationship with the Environment. Rev Relig Res 56, 373–397 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-014-0153-6

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Keywords

  • Environmentalism
  • Evangelicals
  • Religion
  • Race
  • Stewardship