For generations of Black Americans, the church was the place to go if you had a problem.
“Any issue that we had was most often brought to the church first for a solution,” is how Gloria Ricks, President and CEO of Mount Zion Community Outreach in Augusta, Georgia, put it to FastCompany last October. “As a Black woman who grew up in Black churches, that’s all we knew.”
To this day, even as religion is on the wane in the United States, that relationship remains very strong: almost 75% of Black Americans go to church, higher than any other demographic group. But when it comes to the climate crisis — one of the chief problems facing Black communities today — the Black church is not generally fulfilling that long-standing role as the first stop for solutions.
In fact, according to a new survey on climate and religion from The Public Religion Research Institute, the majority of Black Christians in particular do not believe in human-caused climate change.
The survey, which looked at various religious groups of all races and racial groups on the whole, found that 60% of Black Americans believe that human activity is driving climate change, slightly more than the 56% of white Americans (and significant less than the 78 and 73% of AAPI and Latinx Americans, respectively, who believe the same).
The survey also found that only 56% of Black Protestants agree that most days they feel a deep spiritual connection with nature and earth. No wonder given that Black folks are more likely to live in urban areas that lack tree cover or green space and more likely to live in close proximity to highways and factories.
But within specific Black religious groups, concerning opinions about the causes of climate change are held by large majorities: nearly 75% of Black Protestants believe that the increase in flooding and other natural disasters show we are living in biblical end times, and perhaps unsurprisingly, just 19% of Black Protestants view climate change as a crisis. Among white evangelicals 62% see natural disasters as a sign of end times.
These views persist despite the fact the Black communities are on the frontlines of climate change — suffering disproportionately from both environmental pollution and the effects of sustained greenhouse-gas emissions, like heat waves, floods, and violent storms.
Because of that, many Black clergy members who understand both the realities of climate change and the disconnect within some communities are working to bring more talk about environmental justice into the Black church.
Ricks of Mount Zion is part of The Black Church-The Green Movement coalition, which provides training to pastors across the country to help bring climate concerns into their preaching — and hopefully helping to turn some of these numbers around, one congregation at a time.