Why did conservative evangelicals turn against the environment?
It was mostly politics, argues historian Neall Pogue.
Among the many issues that separate conservative evangelicals from progressive Christians, few may be as perplexing to the latter as conservative opposition to environmentalism. It is almost second nature to liberal Christians that human beings have a responsibility to “care for our common home,” as Pope Francis put it in his 2015 encyclical on climate change, or that Christians are called “to steward God’s creation,” as the National Council of Churches declared in 2006.
Mike Pence, on the other hand, perhaps the most prominent conservative evangelical among recent American politicians, “spent his time in the House [of Representatives] representing the view that polluters should have few restrictions and clean energy should get less support,” according to the Environmental Defense Fund, and these priorities guided his actions as governor of Indiana and as vice president. Jerry Falwell Sr. summarized the reigning view among conservative evangelicals about climate change in a well-publicized 2007 sermon, dismissing it as a fraud.
In The Nature of the Religious Right, historian Neall Pogue delves deeply into the ideology and actions of conservative evangelicals on these issues in order to understand their antipathy to “Christian environmental stewardship.” Tracing such ideas and actions from the 1960s to the 2010s, Pogue finds not only fissures in their stance but a significant shift, beginning in the late 1970s and culminating in 1993–1994.