Panelists tackle climate change from a Christian perspective

The Segerstrom Perry Lecture Hall was filled to maximum capacity on Jan. 23 as Azusa Pacific faculty, students and visitors observed the “Shalom in a Changing Climate” panel. The panel, hosted by APU’s Center for Research in Science (CRIS), featured prominent guest speakers Katharine Hayhoe, Annie MacAulay and Steven Bouma-Prediger. Together, the three discussed different approaches to climate change from a Christian perspective.

Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist, was the first to present. She is regarded as one of the most influential scientists on climate change in recent years, especially because of her Christological approach to science.

“If faith is what we don’t see, then science is what we do see,” Hayhoe said. “They are two sides of the same coin.”

According to Hayhoe, climate change is something all people should care about. However, in her experience not everyone treats it the same. She has found her secular colleagues to be more embracive of her research as a Christian scientist than the general Christians public has. Hayhoe said some Christians tend to disregard or mock what she presents on the basis of it being scientific. This, she said, is misguided, as the Bible confirms what she presents.

“I let my faith inform my science,” Hayhoe said. “What can science say about God that isn’t true? Nothing.”

MacAulay and Bouma-Prediger doubled down on this point in their segments as well. Both emphasized Christians must acknowledge climate change is real and be willing to discuss it if there is ever hope of solving the issue.

“One of the first commandments God gave was for us to steward and take care of the earth,” said MacAulay, founder of Mountain and Sea, a non-profit organization which tries to stop and reverse the effects of climate change on nature. “I believe the church has done a very poor job even discussing it … I think it’s dishonoring to God to not be taking care of His creation.”

Hayhoe continued the discussion by providing statistics that show how climate change has gotten worse with each passing year. From 2017-18 there were back-to-back breaking records for wildfires in California, a state already known for being prone to natural disasters.

However, the people who suffer most, she said, are disenfranchised or “marginalized” people. This includes many Hispanic/Latino workers in California who are exposed to pollution and heat at higher rates than anyone else in the state. This is also true for those who live outside of the U.S, in places like Africa and the Middle East. In these cases, the disenfranchised populus start out with limited resources, which climate change only exacerbates.

“If it were only about the earth getting a few degrees hotter, I wouldn’t care,” Hayhoe said. “But it’s more than that … It affects real people today.”

Bouma-Prediger, an author and professor at Hope College, has molded his career around Christian theology, climate change and sustainability. He sees earth’s climate as being directly linked to God’s gift in Genesis. While the first book of the Bible commands people to “steward” the earth, Bouma-Prediger said he often hears Christians dispute climate change with the book of Revelation.

These critics, he said, focus on the destruction in Revelation, when they should instead focus on the holier aspects when God makes the world anew.

“We do not go to Heaven,” Bouma-Prediger said. “Heaven comes to us.”

He added that the rebirth of Jesus and life in Heaven and on Earth depict a more beautiful picture than the critics would showcase; bookending the Bible from Genesis to Revelations with imagery of trees and greenery.

The panel ended with a Q&A session. Most audience members wanted solutions to climate change, while others wondered why so many Christians were opposed to climate change.

The panelists covered each question suggesting, whether from ignorance or “bad theology,” Christians have been complacent in the fight against climate change for too long. While there is no singular solution to climate change, they agreed Christians can all start the healing process by acknowledging the scientific truth, as well as individually and communally acting to make a positive difference.