The ‘Greening’ of Christianity Is Not Actually Happening

Over the past two decades, much has been written about the “greening” of Christianity. The leaders of many denominations, including Pope Francis and his predecessor, have forcefully articulated the view that as the “custodians of creation,” protecting the Earth is a duty of Christians.

Unfortunately, new research suggests this message has not filtered down to the rank and file.

A research team led by Michigan State University sociologist John Clements reports attitudes about the environment among American Christians have remained fundamentally unchanged between 1993, the year the “green Christianity” movement began, and 2010.

“The patterns of our results are quite similar to those from earlier decades, which documented that self-identified Christians identified with lower levels of environmental concern than did non-Christians and nonreligious individuals,” the researchers write in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Expanding on a study they released last year, the researchers compared data from the 1993 and 2010 editions of the General Social Survey, an ongoing, large-scale measure of societal trends. They found that, at both points in time, self-identified Christians were less likely to engage in environmentally friendly behaviors than other Americans.

“There has been no statistically significant change in this divide about two decades after the first wave of mobilization to greet U.S. Christianity,” they report.

A few differences did emerge over the decades, with evangelical Protestants becoming more environmentally aware compared to those in mainline Protestant religions. But that wasn’t enough to create a significant overall shift in attitudes or behavior.

While these findings are disappointing, another study in that same journal offers some potentially good news. It finds a link between a belief in “the inherent unity of all phenomena” with pro-environmental attitudes.

“Spiritual oneness also predicted donating to a pro-environment group,” reports a research team led by University of Wisconsin psychologist Andrew Garfield.

Given the increase in the number of Americans who consider themselves spiritual but not religious, this could be an omen of more enlightened environmental attitudes to come.