Pew: Religious Americans Distrust Clergy Advice on Climate Change

Pope Francis looks on as he arrives on stage for the weekly general audience on October 9, 2019 at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP) (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

Americans who go to church think the clergy can be very helpful in providing guidance on growing closer to God, but distrust their advice on issues such as climate change, the Pew Research Center reveals in a new study.

A full 68 percent of U.S. adults who attend religious services at least a few times a year say they have “a lot” of confidence in the advice of their clergy on growing closer to God, yet just a small fraction of this number (13 percent) say they have this confidence when the topic is climate change, Pew found.

When expanded to include those who have “a lot or some” confidence in the ability of their clergy to guide them, 92 percent of religious Americans say they have confidence in this for growing closer to God, yet fewer than half (49 percent) say they have a lot or even some confidence when the topic is climate change.

In fact, of all the issues surveyed by Pew, climate change garnered the greatest amount of distrust regarding pastors’ ability to offer sound advice. Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) said they had not much or no confidence at all in their clergy’s counsel in this field.

When it comes to issues with political resonance, significantly more U.S. adults appreciate their pastors’ counsel on the question of abortion than on the question of global warming.

Pew found that a substantial majority (69 percent) of religious Americans say they have “a lot or some” confidence in their clergy’s advice on the matter of abortion, which represents a full 20 percent more than those who have this confidence in clerics’ opinions regarding climate change.

Three times the number of U.S. adults who practice their faith say they have a lot of confidence in the wisdom of their pastors to guide them regarding abortion as compared with climate change.

In the matter of immigration, just twenty percent of Americans who attend services at least several times a year have a lot of confidence that their clergy offers trustworthy guidance — significantly less than those who have a lot of confidence in their shepherds to guide them in interpreting scripture, marriage and relationship issues, and parenting.

Although Pope Francis has been a vocal advocate of combating climate change, he has declared that the Church has no business trying to speak authoritatively on scientific questions.

In 2015, Francis published a controversial encyclical letter on the environment called Laudato Si, urging nations and individuals to exercise more responsible stewardship of the created world.

At the same time, Francis said that he was encouraging debate rather than trying to impose his own understanding of environmental concerns.

“On many concrete questions,” he wrote, “the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.”

“Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics,” Francis said. “But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”

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