The link between abortion and environmentalism is one that the environmental movement has been unable to shake because some groups continue to reinforce it, which biases some evangelicals against environmental activism. In reality, there is no necessary connection between environmental concern and abortion. A beautifully orthodox evangelicalism should have room for opposing abortion and caring for creation.
3. Leftward Drift of Environmentalist Evangelicals
A third factor in the resistance of some conservative Christians to environmental activism is the apparent leftward drift of Christians who are also environmentalists. As Mark Stoll notes in his recent volume, Inherit the Holy Mountain, “A high proportion of leading figures in environmental history had religious childhoods. A surprisingly large contingent had ministers or preachers as close relatives or had even considered the ministry themselves. Curiously, few (and after 1900, hardly any) were churchgoers as adults.” This apparent pattern, combined with fears of young Christians abandoning their faith, tends to raise resistance to environmentalism as a perceived cause of the decay of faith.
Adding fuel to the fire, popular pleas for the environment often use explicitly religious, often Christianesque language. John Muir, who was raised in the Disciples of Christ movement, used language about conversion and religious experience, and wrote of experiencing God in nature. In Muir’s apologetics for national parks and environmental preservation, the religious language served to raise concerns of paganization among many conservative Christians. At a time when fundamentalism and evangelicalism were developing in response to the modernist controversy, Muir’s choice of language may have alienated otherwise sympathetic Christians.
The pattern of leftward drift among evangelicals who engage in environmental activism still continues, with some notable figures who argued for evangelical engagement with the environment also becoming proponents of sexual revisionism. The recent popularity of ecotheology, a brand of highly revisionist liberation theology that focuses on freeing the oppressed environment, also contributes to the association of liberalism with environmentalism.
Additionally, many well-intentioned environmentalists, in part because of their acceptance of the Lynn White thesis, insist that revision of orthodox Christianity is necessary for environmental engagement. For example, in a 2015 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Bernard Zaleha and Andrew Szasz argue that the best hope for conservative Christian belief in climate change is to have theological liberals take over denominational structures and incorporate panentheism (the belief that God is greater than the universe and all of reality exists within and as a part of God) into Christianity. Statements like this increase resistance to the issue of environmental concern because of legitimate theological concerns.