Views on the environment

Views and actions of churchgoers and leaders in caring for the environment

How do Australian church attenders and leaders view issues related to the environment and caring for the earth? What actions do they take in response?

Results from the 2016 NCLS reveal very strong convictions about caring for the earth. Some 93% of churchgoers and 96% of leaders felt that they had a Christian responsibility to care for the environment. Over half of churchgoers and leaders agreed that care of the earth should be part of the mission of the Church. Attitudes towards the sacredness of nature, spiritual connection to land, along with exploitation of plants and animals yielded a range of views. 

Nine in ten churchgoers believe they have a Christian responsibility to care for the environment 

A vast majority of churchgoers, 93% agreed that we have a Christian responsibility to care for the environment. This included 22% who said they were very active in caring for the environment, 40% who were a little active and 31% who were not active.

While a majority of churchgoers were actively involved in caring for the environment, there was a gap between attitude and action for around three in ten churchgoers. 

Nearly all church leaders - 96% - believe they have a Christian responsibility to care for the environment

Strong levels of conviction and action in caring for the environment, were evident amongst church leaders. Some 96% of leaders surveyed agreed that we have a Christian responsibility to care for the environment. Some 2% were unsure and only 1% disagreed.

Levels of environmental action were higher amongst leaders than attenders. Of leaders surveyed, 27% said they were very active in caring for the environment, 57% said they were a little active and 13% were not active.

Care of the earth should be part of the mission of the Church 

Over half of churchgoers and leaders agreed that care of the earth should be part of the mission of the Church. Some 59% of church attenders affirmed the statement along with 52% of local church leaders. Leaders were more likely than churchgoers to indicate that caring for the earth should be understood as a responsibility of the Church, not as mission (39% of leaders, 26% of attenders).

Seven in ten churchgoers agree that nature is sacred

When asked their views on whether nature was sacred, nearly seven in ten (69%) of churchgoers affirmed the idea. Around two in ten (21%) were unsure and one in ten (10%) did not affirm that nature was sacred.

Creation has its own way of praising God 

A majority of attenders (57%) affirmed the view that non human creation has its own way of praising God, of which 21% strongly agreed and 36% agreed. Around three in ten (31%) were unsure or neutral about the concept.

Exploitation of plants and animals for human use 

On the issue of the purpose and worth of other species, our research found that around four in ten (41%) of churchgoers agreed that plants and animals exist primarily to be used by humans, whereas around three in ten (32%) disagreed.

A spiritual connection to land 

When it came to feeling a sense of connection to land, almost six in ten (59%) attenders said they felt a strong spiritual connection to the land. Three in ten (31%) were unsure or neutral and one in ten (10%) said they did not feel such a connection to the land.

Laudato Si: Care for our common home 

Pope Francis released an encyclical on the environment, 'Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home in 2015. Australian churchgoers were asked whether they had heard of the encyclical, when surveyed in the 2016 NCLS. Results show that just over a quarter (28%) of church attenders had heard of Laudato Si, whereas 72% had not.

As views on caring for the environment are widely debated with global society, attitudes within churches appear strong in the conviction to care for the earth into the future. Whether it's seen as an essential element of the mission of the Church brought more mixed views, yet still a majority held that concept. Attitudes towards the sacredness of nature, spiritual connection to land, along with exploitation of plants and animals also yielded a range of views. 

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Authors:
Kathy Jacka, Miriam Pepper
Data Sources:

Powell, R. Sterland, S. Pepper, M. and Hancock, N. (2016). 2016 NCLS Attender Survey [Data file]. Sydney: NCLS Research.

Powell, R. Sterland, S. Pepper, M. and Hancock, N. (2016). 2016 NCLS Leader Survey [Data file]. Sydney: NCLS Research. 

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