The Trump administration has used a variety of excuses to legitimize its record-setting rollbacks on environmental protections: calling global warming a hoax, or arguing that the economic consequences of increased regulation would outweigh their benefit.
The latest justification? The Bible.
In an interview with the
“The biblical world view with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind,” Pruitt told CBN’s David Brody.
In that same interview, Pruitt condemned the “weaponization” of the EPA and criticized the “environmental left” for “tell[ing] us that, though we have natural resources like natural gas and oil and coal, and though we can feed the world, we should keep those things in the ground, put up fences and be about prohibition.”
Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA has been controversial. He was involved in persuading Donald Trump to leave the Paris climate accords and has spearheaded a number of rollbacks of Obama-era initiatives, including reversing the Clean Power Plan, as well as smaller repeals like on a ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has been shown to cause developmental problems in children. He’s also drastically reduced the number of fines the EPA has collected on businesses that break the law by making use of toxic or dangerous chemicals.
But as far as his biblical assertion goes, Pruitt’s words reflect a wider trend among American evangelicals, who largely have not embraced scientific thought on environmentalism or global warming.
While environmental advocacy is central to Pope Francis’s papacy and the Church of England has recently launched a “Shrinking the Footprint” initiative (including a Lent Plastic Challenge encouraging parishioners to recycle more for Lent), American evangelicals in particular have long been wary of environmental causes. For example, a 2011 Lifeway survey found that 41 percent of Protestant pastors did not believe in global warming.
As I wrote in 2014 for the Atlantic, much of this stance is rooted in a very particular reading of Genesis 1:28 in the Bible. Referring to the creation of Adam and Eve, the Bible says: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
For many evangelicals, this idea of “dominion” is about mastery: Human beings have the right to take what they want from the earth, in terms of natural resources, without regards to how it might affect other species.
Likewise, many evangelicals interpret Genesis 3:16 — in which Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, and God tells them, “Cursed is the ground because of you [Adam]; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life” — as a sign that the relationship between man and nature is supposed to be combative, not conciliatory.
That’s why evangelical groups have, therefore, been historically resistant to environmentalist causes. Creationist lobbying groups frequently fund initiatives like the Louisiana Science Education Act, which mandates a “balanced” (and climate change-denying) approach to teaching environmental issues in public schools.
Pruitt’s words on CBN, therefore, are in one sense entirely normal. They play into a long history of evangelical rejection of environmentalism.
The difference is those evangelicals aren’t usually in charge of the EPA.