A Southern Baptist pastor who supports President Donald Trump says 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg should worry less about science and more about the Bible.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, joined conservative pundits piling on criticism of the Swedish teenager’s Sept. 23 address at the United Nation chastising world leaders for not taking sufficient steps to address climate change.
“This is all wrong,” Thunberg said in a passionate five-minute address at Monday’s U.N. Climate Action Summit. “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!”
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said. “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear,” she continued. “How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”
Jeffress, a spiritual adviser to President Trump and frequent defender of the administration’s policies, downplayed Thunberg’s concerns Sept. 23 on Todd Starnes’ radio show by referencing the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.
“Somebody needs to read poor Greta Genesis Chapter 9 and tell her next time she worries about global warming just look at a rainbow,” Jeffress said. “That’s God’s promise that the polar ice caps aren’t going to melt and flood the world again.”
The three-chapter-long Genesis flood narrative — where God spares Noah, his family and livestock from a worldwide flood that kills all land-dwelling creatures — ends with God setting his bow in the clouds to signify a covenant promising “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
It’s one of the first Bible stories that children learn in Sunday school, but by the time they are adults many Christians read the story not as a literal account of history but in a figurative way.
Scientific and historical evidence suggest there was never a global flood and the Ark’s dimensions in Genesis would not accommodate a male and female specimen of all modern animals.
That hasn’t stopped numerous modern expeditions from searching for the remains of a Noah’s Ark. The Ark Encounter — a Kentucky theme park owned by the young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis — attracts as many as 8,000 visitors a day to a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark, now in its fourth year of operation.
A new report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — prepared by 104 leading scientists from 36 countries around the world — recommends urgent action to reduce greenhouse emissions, protect and restore ecosystems and manage the use of natural resources to slow the rate of global warming. Scientists say global warming has already reached 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial level, causing melting glaciers, rising sea levels and changes to the weather.
A majority of the U.S. public believes there is scientific consensus that the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, and 80 percent support stronger laws and regulations to protect the environment. Among white evangelicals, however, just 28 percent attribute global warming to human activity, and 37 percent say there is no solid evidence to support climate change.
Thunberg became an environmental activist at age 15, when she took time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament by holding up a sign calling for stronger action to mitigate climate change. That sparked an international movement of students taking time off from class to participate in demonstrations demanding that their governments meet benchmarks of the 2016 Paris Agreement approved by the U.N. secretariat for climate change.
The United States ratified the agreement in 2016, but President Trump announced in 2017 he was withdrawing from the pact to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, saying it runs contrary to the best interests of the American economy.
Right-wing pundits had a field day ridiculing the teen activist’s U.N. speech.
Fox News apologized after a guest called her mentally ill. Thunberg is diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder distinguished by a child’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of others. She calls it her superpower.
Conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza compared her trademark long braids and Nordic appearance to images used in Nazi propaganda. Sebastian Gorka, who served briefly in the Trump White House as an assistant to the president and strategist, found her “performance” at the U.N. “disturbingly redolent of a victim of a Maoist ‘re-education’ camp.”
President Trump tweeted sarcastically that Thunberg “seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.”
Thunberg appeared to take it all in stride.
“As you may have noticed, the haters are as active as ever — going after me, my looks, my clothes, my behavior and my differences,” the teen said on Twitter. “They come up with every thinkable lie and conspiracy theory.”
“I honestly don’t understand why adults would choose to spend their time mocking and threatening teenagers and children for promoting science, when they could do something good instead,” she said. “I guess they must simply feel so threatened by us.”
Trump skipped most of the U.N. presentation on climate change, focusing instead on religious persecution, an issue popular with his evangelical voter base. Jeffress, along with others, applauded the president’s decision.
“It is a remarkable thing that this president would skip a U.N. climate change summit on an imaginary problem to address the very real problem of global persecution of believers,” Jeffress said in an early morning interview on Fox & Friends Sept. 23.
“Think about it,” Jeffress said. “What president in history would have the guts to do what President Trump is doing? It’s this kind of leadership that is absolutely infuriating the president’s enemies, but it’s also energizing his base, especially his religious base of voters.”
Later in the interview Jeffress said Trump believes religious freedom is not granted by government but is a gift from God.
“The Democrats believe the great human right that transcends all others is the right to kill your own babies through abortion, and the previous administration supported that for the world,” Jeffress said. “This president says no, it’s not the murder of babies that’s a basic human right, it is religious liberty that is granted by our creator.”