During the summer of 2012, Tedder Family Doctoral Fellow Robin Globus Veldman conducted three months of research exploring the philosophical differences between environmentalists’ claims regarding the phenomenon of climate change and the traditional, Biblical worldview held among many Southern Baptists. The research was part of her dissertation project—titled “An Inconvenient Faith? Christianity, Climate Change and the End of the World”—which examines how conservative Christians view climate change, the environment and environmentalism. By exploring the viewpoint of the one of the most skeptical religious segments in the country on climate change, her project sheds new light on how religious beliefs shape and inform adherents’ social and political opinions, with an emphasis on how religions both encourage and resist transformation of belief.
In order to conduct her research, Veldman travelled to a small town in the southeast, located in the heart of the greatest concentration of Southern Baptist churches in the United States. From there, she reached out to all the Southern Baptist congregations in the state whose pastors had signed “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change,” a 2008 document that had been hailed as signaling a shift in Southern Baptists’ position from skepticism toward acceptance and readiness to take action on climate change. After contacting and interviewing thirteen of the signatory pastors, Veldman realized that these pastors took their signature to mean something very different than what the national news media understood it to mean: by signing, they intended to affirm that they approved of principles of Christian environmental stewardship. They did not acknowledge that they believed climate change was real and caused by humanity. Veldman’s findings among Southern Baptists paralleled findings from focus groups she conducted at theologically conservative churches of other denominations. By and large, most participants were skeptical that climate change was occurring, and many expressed concern about the motives of climate scientists. At the same time, they affirmed Christians’ responsibility to care for creation. Her dissertation argues that rather than interpreting Southern Baptists’ and other conservative Christians’ engagement with climate change as an example of the “greening of religion,” scholars would do well to attend to how their perspective differs from a “green” trajectory. In her view, conservative Christian engagement with climate change should be more accurately understood as representing the “evangelicalization” of environmental concern, in which environmental concerns are transformed into Christian ones. This process creates a discourse that is superficially similar to environmental ones, but whose moral landscape is quite different. Understanding these differences helps explain why it has been so difficult for environmentalists to build alliances with conservative Christian churches.
The research that Veldman pursued with the assistance of the Tedder Fellowship provided two chapters of her dissertation, one focusing specifically on Southern Baptists and a second examining more broadly what conservative Christians understand care of creation to mean. Her summer research also yielded valuable information that contributed to the rest of her dissertation. Veldman’s research on this topic, with its particular focus on the Southern Baptist Convention members and their views on climate change, helps us understand the opinions of this influential group within the United States. Her work helps to highlight the important role that religion plays in the expression of environmental concerns, as well as what steps could be and have been taken to try to reconcile the philosophical divide between these deeply religious people and those who advocate action on climate change.
Veldman has published an article drawing upon her research as a Tedder Doctoral Fellow:
"Does End Time Belief Really Cause Climate Change Apathy?" Religion Dispatches, July 5, 2013.
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