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Young Eavangelicals lead climate change advocacy within faith communities

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As the U.N. General Assembly looms in New York City this September, a wave of youth activists, including Elsa Barron, 24, a devout Evangelical Christian, have surged onto the streets of Manhattan, demanding an end to fossil fuel usage.

Barron, a climate research fellow at the Center for Climate and Security, an independent institute under the Council on Strategic Risks, is on a mission to sway opinions within her church community.

A 2022 Pew Research Center poll revealed a stark divide within the Evangelical Christian community, with only 32% acknowledging human activity’s role in climate change compared to 53% of Americans at large. Among Christians, 45% attributed climate change to human actions, while 50% of Catholics shared this view. Evangelical Christians, as a group, exhibited the highest degree of skepticism toward climate change.

Barron, in her efforts to bridge this divide, employs scripture, referencing passages such as Genesis 2:15, which implores humanity to “cultivate and keep” the Earth. By grounding her arguments in the Bible, she aims to compel fellow church members to seriously consider the consequences of climate change.

“What does loving our neighbors really look like in a world where these decisions directly impact people’s homes, crops, and access to food and water?” Barron asked.

Elsa Barron is not alone in her quest to make a difference within the Evangelical community. In November 2022, Galen Carey, the Vice President of Government Relations at the National Association of Evangelicals, released a comprehensive report urging members to engage with climate change through a biblical lens. Carey posits that skepticism within Evangelical circles became prominent when the issue became entangled in politics. In the 1970s, Evangelical Christians were pioneers in environmental concerns, but by the 1990s, conservative politics shifted the focus towards economic growth, sowing doubts about climate science.

“This whole issue has regrettably become politicized in an unhelpful manner,” Carey lamented. “People feel compelled to take a side based on their political affiliations. But the Bible remains unchanged, and we continue to call people back to it.”

Barron acknowledges the skepticism, having once grappled with it herself. Raised in Wheaton, Illinois, a bastion of Evangelical Christianity, she earned the moniker “Creation Girl” for her staunch biblical beliefs, including a literal interpretation. However, her passion for science led her to question some of these beliefs, particularly on topics like evolution.

“I began to see the evidence behind concepts like evolution and climate change,” noted Barron, who now resides in Washington, D.C., working at the Center for Climate and Security. “It was a moment of crisis for me, where I had to decide whether to hold onto my faith. I didn’t know if I should stay or seek out a faith community more aligned with my values. It was a turning point where I decided to engage in these difficult conversations in the hope of inspiring the change we need.”

Barron’s efforts to reshape her church’s stance on climate change have caused friction with peers and family members, including her father, who recognizes a duty to care for the planet but harbors doubts about extreme weather causation. Nonetheless, she remains committed to “creating spaces for conversation” and approaching those who doubt her message with compassion and kindness.

In her view, “We can solve this case in multiple ways.”

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