Reflecting on Donald Trump and Climate Change by Rev Dr John Weaver

Rev Dr John Weaver

The reports of Donald Trump’s stance on climate change (and indeed other issues) indicate a man who is either easily swayed by the views of others, who does not have a clear appreciation of the issues, or is a very shrewd political operator, who seeks popularity where it is most useful to his own interests, both political and in business.

It appears from statistics gathered from voting patterns that Trump gained a great deal of support from the religious right, in spite of the fact that it is reported that he rarely goes to church.

The Christian right were willing to forgive Trump’s personal transgressions because, in the view of political analysts, he played on their fears that a Clinton administration would have taken away their religious liberties, used their taxes to fund late-term abortions at home and abroad, and expand the rights of gay and transgender people (1).

Although strong majorities in every religious group in the US believe the earth is getting warmer, only 31% of white evangelicals believe the change is caused by human activity, a figure that is out of step with the overall view of the US population where 69% accept human induced climate change (2).

Donald Trump, together with many of his staff team and nominees, has questioned human induced climate change and has expressed the desire to withdraw from the COP 21 Paris Agreement on climate change and repeal America’s Clean Power Plan. His “America-first Energy Plan” released during the campaign also aims to reinvigorate the US’s collapsing coal industry; is in favour of lifting restrictions on fracking and drilling for oil and gas on federal lands. One of his advisors has expressed the view that NASA should substantially reduce its climate change research and concentrate on space research.

They believe that addressing climate change makes US companies less competitive, but environmentalists believe that such policy changes will damage worldwide efforts to reduce global warming.

We should pray that the rhetoric of the campaign trail continues to be moderated in the shaping of good government.

As we begin to address these issues biblically and theologically, we might explore the prophecies of Isaiah, as Ed Brown of the Lausanne/WEA Creation Care Network does in a circular e-mail (received 14.12.16). He asks what Creation Care might look like in ‘the Age of Trump?’

Brown reflects on Isaiah 6:1 ‘In the year that King Uzziah died’, which for the Kingdom of Judah was the end of a stable 52 year political rule. He questions whether we in the West are coming to the end of a relatively stable period of 70 years with no world war. Faced with uncertainty, Isaiah went to the Temple to worship God, from whom he might expect to find comfort, direction, and hope. With Brown we might suggest that this is our starting point: acknowledging that we are part of a broken world running away from God, and being prepared to get involved in God’s mission in caring for God’s creation (Isaiah 6:5, 8).

Brown observes that Isaiah is being called to obedience, but not to results or success. He is to preach to a people who will not listen, offering healing that will not be accepted, and he is to carry on ‘until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged’ (Isaiah 6:11). We may not welcome such a call for our Christian discipleship, but this is also our calling.

The Old Testament prophets criticized the people for breaking the covenant through their unjust treatment of the poor and the vulnerable, and through their failure to care for the land, as Michael Northcott reminds us (3). This is God’s warning given by Isaiah (Isaiah 24:5-6). The exclusion of the poor and the degradation and exhaustion of the environment are seen as the results of ignoring God’s care of creation and God’s justice expressed in the Covenant.

We can also note that Isaiah presents the alternative covenantal way of life (Isaiah 24:4-12; cf. Isaiah 5:1-7; 19:9; 32:14-20; 41:18-19; 55; 58:13-14), which brings peace and fruitfulness as opposed to the destruction that comes through foreign gods, political, economic and military alliances.

In Deutero-Isaiah hope is presented when relationships are restored between God and humanity, and the earth is restored to fruitfulness and harmony (Isaiah 55:10). Ultimately the earth will be full of God’s knowledge and glory (Isaiah 11:9, 6:3) and will be made new (Isaiah 65:17). These are the reverses of the broken relationships brought about by the human rebellion of the Fall (Genesis 3).

In the Book of Revelation, Simon Woodman observes that empires which take dominion over the earth frequently engage in ecological violence (see Rev. 16.2-12). He notes that the environmental judgments of Revelation are not personally targeted punishments aimed at those who deny the Lordship of Christ, but rather are images evoking the inevitable end-results of the human capacity for empire and exploitation. He maintains that the environmental call of Revelation is for the Church to discover its vocation as witness to an alternative, non-exploitative expression of humanity, focused around the lordship of the one on the heavenly throne (4).

This is the tension we face as we work to care for God’s creation in the Trump and post-Brexit age, or in any age for that matter. The basis for our Christian discipleship is:

• to seek God and recognise that we are self-centred sinners in a broken world;
• to seek to be in tune with God’s wisdom – his ways of covenant, reconciliation, redemption and restoration of the world;
• to seek God’s priorities, as Jesus declared: to love God and neighbour (Matthew 22:37-39);
• to seek to influence our neighbours, Christian and other, and our politicians in the urgent need to care for creation.

To be assured that our ultimate hope is always in God. This is hope beyond chaos and catastrophe. It is a hope that includes accountability and judgement. This is hope in God, who is creator and redeemer, and who will ultimately make all things new (Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 21:5).

John Weaver

(1) Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, 11.11.16
(2) poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, reported in the Huffington Post, 22.09.11.
(3) Michael Northcott, ‘Ecology and Christian Ethics’, in Robin Gill (ed), 2001, The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.221-2
(4) Simon Woodman, 2008, The Book of Revelation. SCM Core Text, London: SCM, pp.209-12

Please read JRI Briefing Paper 32 on Donald Trump and the environment by Martin Hodson for a more extensive examination of the environmental policies of the new administration.

John Weaver was born and brought up in Cardiff. After taking degrees in Geology at Swansea, he taught at the University of Derby. John trained for Baptist ministry in Oxford and was then pastor of Highfield Baptist Church from 1981-1991. From 1992-2001 he taught theology at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, and from 2001-2012 served as Principal of South Wales Baptist College. He is a former President of the Baptist Union, and is the Chair of JRI. His main areas of research are: relating faith to life and work; theological reflection; adult education; and the dialogue between science and faith.