Evangelicals In Brazil See Abuse Of God's Earth As A Sin – But Will They Fight To Save The Amazon?

Evangelicals In Brazil See Abuse Of God's Earth As A Sin – But Will They Fight To Save The Amazon? Trees that survived a forest fire stand amid smoldering smoke in the Vila Nova Samuel region of Brazil, Aug. 25, 2019. AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

When the Brazilian city of São Paulo abruptly went dark at midday on Aug. 19, there was talk of the Apocalypsenot all of it in jest.

In fact, meteorologists explained, unusual wind patterns had carried smoke hundreds of miles from the burning Amazon rainforest. The smoky fog blanketing São Paulo in darkness forced 21 million city-dwellers to confront the deforestation under way in remote reaches of South America.

For some conservative Protestants, however, São Paulo’s sudden eclipse illustrated something they already believed to be true: Humans have violated God’s plan for the Earth by abusing the environment – and climate change is the result.

Christians and the climate

Christian movements like evangelicalism and Pentecostalism aren’t often associated with environmental protection.

In a famous 1967 article in the journal Science, the historian Lynn White argued that Christianity hurts the environment because the Bible teaches believers that God gave them “dominion” over the world. Therefore, White wrote, many Christians feel they may treat the Earth as they please.

Among Christians in the United States, evangelicals are least likely to believe that climate change is real and human caused, according to public opinion polls and academic research.

This is not the case in Brazil. There, evangelicals and Pentecostals – who make up about 30% of the Brazilian population – are just as environmentally concerned as other religious groups, public opinion surveys show. In fact, some surveys find that church attendance actually boosts Brazilian evangelicals’ environmental concern.

My own research on politics, religion and public opinion in Latin America reveals that many conservative Protestants in Brazil don’t just believe in climate change and think of it as sin. Some even see environmental destruction as a sign of the coming Apocalypse.

“God put everything in our hands perfect,” one evangelical pastor from the Brazilian state of Pernambuco told me during an interview in March. “We’re destroying it.”

I cannot name the pastor, as under the terms of the academic ethics boards overseeing my research, all names must remain protected.

Another pastor from the Assembly of God, Brazil’s largest Pentecostal church, explained to me in 2014, “God made the universe. He put fish of all colors … trees, all sorts of little birds. Every year,” he continued, God “sends flowers. Now man in his sinfulness destroys it all. He kills the little birds, he burns down the forests.”

Rightists but not anti-environment

This faith-based distress at humanity’s poor stewardship of God’s creation has some powerful and outspoken proponents in Brazil.

The Catholic Church recently held a global meeting addressing the climate crisis in the Amazon. And Brazil’s former environment minister, Marina Silva, a member of the Pentecostal Assembly of God, has voiced horror at the recent fires consuming the Amazon.

Silva leans left, but most Brazilian evangelicals are politically conservative. So their environmental beliefs aren’t necessarily reflected in their voting records.

Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, won 68% of evangelical and Pentecostal voters in last year’s presidential election. Bolsonaro, a climate skeptic whose policies have dramatically accelerated the rate of deforestation in the Amazon, appealed to evangelicals and Pentecostals with his deeply conservative views on gender, sexuality and religion’s role in society.

A survey I conducted after Brazil’s 2018 election found that voter attitudes toward environmental protection had no bearing on their candidate preference.

Bolsonaro did not hide his disregard for environmental protections on the campaign trail. But many evangelicals I’ve interviewed had no idea Bolsonaro was planning to remove restrictions on fires for tree-clearing in the Amazon. They supported him because he opposes gay marriage and supports school prayer, they said.

Evangelicals In Brazil See Abuse Of God's Earth As A Sin – But Will They Fight To Save The Amazon? Marina Silva, second from left, at a rally for indigenous rights, Sept. 13, 2018. Silva ran for president of Brazil as the candidate of the Sustainability Network Party. AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

Evangelical environmentalists?

The outbreak of human-made fires in the Amazon, which spurred a global reaction, has suddenly made the environment much more politically salient in Brazil.

Surveys in August found that 96% of Brazilians thought President Bolsonaro should do more to combat deforestation. There was no difference between the views of people who had voted for Bolsonaro and those who had not.

Bolsonaro’s support among evangelicals has fallen substantially since he took office in January, according to the polling firm Datafolha. Just 37% of evangelicals now think Bolsonaro is doing a “good” or “great” job.

This trend isn’t limited to evangelicals. Bolsonaro’s popularity has dropped in virtually every demographic group. The decline began well before the crisis in the Amazon, but Bolsonaro’s handling of the fires may have shaved five points off his approval rating.

This scenario creates the possibility that right-wing evangelicals and traditional environmental groups in Brazil could unite to push the Bolsonaro administration to better protect Brazil’s rich natural resources.

Coalitions for creation care

Bringing Brazilian evangelicals into the environmentalist movement would require, among other changes, a shift in language.

“A religious leader’s discussion with his followers is totally different from a scientist or an environmentalist,” Paulo Barreto, Director of the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment, told the Brazilian newspaper Estadão in 2007. “It’s more emotional.”

Talking about “God’s creation” might feel uncomfortable to scientists and some progressives. But research shows that emphasizing the common values between Christians and environmentalists can foster more productive engagement.

The Canadian evangelical climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe recently made a similar case in the New York Times.

“By beginning with what we share and then connecting the dots between that value and a changing climate,” she wrote, “it becomes clear how caring about this planet and every living thing on it is not somehow antithetical to who we are as Christians, but rather central to it.”

New environmental coalitions are already forming around the endangered Amazon.

Domestic and international pressure has led Bolsonaro to impose a 60-day ban on all burning in the region and to authorize Brazil’s armed forces to fight fires. This October, the Brazilian Amazon had fewer forest fires than any October since 1998.

About The Author

Amy Erica Smith, Associate Professor of Political Science as well as Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean's Professor, Iowa State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

POLITICS

India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
by Nivedita Khandekar
With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last…
Russia Moves To Exploit Arctic Riches
Russia Moves To Exploit Arctic Riches
by Paul Brown
As the polar sea ice vanishes faster, Russia unveils plans to exploit Arctic riches: fossil fuel deposits, minerals and…
Will Billionaire Climate Philanthropists Always Be Part Of The Problem
Will Billionaire Climate Philanthropists Always Be Part Of The Problem
by Heather Alberro
Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and the richest man alive, recently made headlines after pledging to donate $10 billion to a new…
Schools For Girls Can Help To Answer Climate Crisis
Schools For Girls Can Help To Answer Climate Crisis
by Alex Kirby
Educating both halves of humankind seems a no-brainer. Schools for girls could transform climate protection − and so…
To Prepare Climate Strikers For The Future, We Need To Rewrite The History Books
To Prepare Climate Strikers For The Future, We Need To Rewrite The History Books
by Amanda Power
If radical action to reduce emissions isn’t taken in the next decade or so, many of today’s schoolchildren could live…
Why The Whitest Communities Most Benefit From Flood Buyouts
Why The Whitest Communities Most Benefit From Flood Buyouts
by Amy McCaig
The federal flood buyout program disproportionally benefits at-risk homes in the whitest communities of America’s…
Why Australian Labor’s Climate Policy Is Too Little, Too Late
Why Australian Labor’s Climate Policy Is Too Little, Too Late
by Will Steffen
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s announcement on Friday that a Labor government would adopt a target of net-zero…
Stories Of When Your Kids Make You Feel Old! | The Curls
Old Conservative White Men: Pass The Football To Someone Who Will Try To Score
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
We have had important US elections but this one in November 2020 is undoubtedly the most important. Why? America and…

LATEST VIDEOS

To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…
Majority of US Adults Believe Climate Change Is Most Important Issue Today
by American Psychological Association
As the effects of climate change become more evident, more than half of U.S. adults (56%) say climate change is the…
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
by Mangulina Jan Fichtner, et al
A silent revolution is happening in investing. It is a paradigm shift that will have a profound impact on corporations,…
Investing In Climate Change
by Goldman Sachs
“Top of Mind at Goldman Sachs” Podcast – In this episode, we dig into what may be the most important issue of our time:…
Climate Change: Briefings from Southern Africa
by SABC Digital News
Climate change affects us all, but it can be a confusing business. Three leading South African scientists who have…

LATEST ARTICLES

How Plants And Animals Share Response To Climate Change
How Plants And Animals Share Response To Climate Change
by Daniel Stolte
Plants and animals are remarkably similar in their responses to changing environmental conditions across the globe,…
Why Poorer Suburbs Are More At Risk In Warming Cities
Why Poorer Suburbs Are More At Risk In Warming Cities
by Jason Byrne and Tony Matthews
The many reasons for this include urban densification policies, climate change and social trends such as bigger houses…
Why A Better World Needs Better Economics
Why A Better World Needs Better Economics
by David Korten
Science warns us that the 2020s will be humanity’s last opportunity to save itself from a climate catastrophe.
A Second Us Dust Bowl Would Hit World Food Stocks
A Second Us Dust Bowl Would Hit World Food Stocks
by Tim Radford
When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.
Rising Seas: To Keep Humans Safe, Let Nature Shape The Coast
Rising Seas: To Keep Humans Safe, Let Nature Shape The Coast
by Iris Möller
Even under the most conservative climate change scenarios, sea levels 30cm higher than at present seem all but certain…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Huge Ecosystems Could Collapse In Less Than 50 Years
Huge Ecosystems Could Collapse In Less Than 50 Years
by John Dearing et al
We know that ecosystems under stress can reach a point where they rapidly collapse into something very different.
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
by Nivedita Khandekar
With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last…