Lauren Kim: Young Evangelicals for Climate Action

A study from 2022 found that people who identified as non-religious or atheist were more likely to identify as pro-environment, as compared with religious people who tended to be “less committed to the environment.” Many of us environmentalists may not look to churches as natural sites for allies. But perhaps we should look a little closer. This week on Sea Change Radio, we are speaking with Lauren Kim, an evangelical Christian and recent college graduate, who volunteers for an organization called YECA – Young Evangelical Christians for Climate Action. We talk about the mission of her organization, learn about a faith-based form of environmentalism known as “creation care,” and discuss a new generation of evangelicals converting their brethren to help protect the planet.

Narrator | 00:02 – This is Sea Change Radio covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.

Lauren Kim (LK) | 00:20 – Regardless if someone leans more conservatively or more liberally, wherever they are on the spectrum, climate change is something that matters for them. And we’re seeing this trend more and more with people who would label themselves as conservative. And under the age of 30.

Narrator | 00:37 – A study from 2022 found that people who identified as non-religious or atheist were more likely to identify as pro-environment, as compared with religious people who tended to be “less committed to the environment.” Many of us environmentalists may not look to churches as natural sites for allies. But perhaps we should look a little closer. This week on Sea Change Radio, we are speaking with Lauren Kim, an evangelical Christian and recent college graduate, who volunteers for an organization called YECA – Young Evangelical Christians for Climate Action. We talk about the mission of her organization, learn about a faith-based form of environmentalism known as “creation care,” and discuss a new generation of evangelicals converting their brethren to help protect the planet.

Alex Wise (AW) | 01:39 – I am joined now on Sea Change Radio by Lauren Kim. Lauren is the financial secretary and a steering committee member for YECA Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. Lauren, welcome to Sea Change Radio. 

Lauren Kim (LK)| 01:52 – Hi. Thank you so much, Alex, for having me. 

Alex Wise (AW) | 01:55 – Very interested to hear more about YECA. Why don’t you first explain the mission of your organization, if you will?

Lauren Kim (LK) | 02:02 – Yeah, absolutely. The mission of YECA, we exist to equip, empower, and catalyze young Christians to love God and our neighbors. And we do this through climate action in both in churches and communities. And we do this to create a more just and equitable and loving world. And I think we can sum up our entire mission statement through Micah’s six, eight, which is do justice. So justice as an act, love, mercy, and walk humbly with our God. So we’re a faith-based organization. We’re a nonprofit and we do creation care. 

Alex Wise (AW) | 02:42 – What does that mean, “Creation care?”

LK | 02:44 – So creation care is, in simple words, is environmentalism, but I think we differ from other environmental organizations because our motivation. So a lot of environmental orgs, they revolve around, scientists or people who are passionate about a certain issue, um, or tribal rights or something along those lines. Our interests and the reason why we care about the environment is because of Jesus and because he came down, we take the Bible seriously and in order to love our neighbors and be obedient to the word, we try to advocate for climate action and care for the environment, um, because we’re mandated to and it helps people around us.

AW | 03:32 – So give us some examples of some of the climate action that your organization is involved in. How, how do you try to affect change directly?

LK | 03:41 – Yeah, so we actually have three pillars for our work and we base everything around these three pillars. Um, so these three pillars are empowering, equipping, and accountability. So empowering. We want to empower young Christians, this generation to take action and advocate together. And we actually have a college fellows program, which we, where we train dozens of students across the country from various colleges, um, to be more effective advocates and we help guide them, um, with a project on their, on their campus. Um, so currently we have a cohort. We have a cohort every single year, and we have students from Notre Dame to Arizona State University. And they take on projects like aeroponics research, which is really cool to creating a sustainability committee on grounds to recycle or, um, have compost on their schools. The second thing that we do is equipping young Christians to engage with their church communities. Church communities are a great place to have a conversation about creation care and we have various fellows programs. We have community fellows and climate fellows programs where we do it. Um, we train people interested on how to talk about it, how to write about it, and to support them, um, with whatever project or interest that they have in mind so they can best equip their communities. And then lastly, we hold political leaders accountable directly and we want them to enact like ambitious climate policy. So we’ll our national organizer will put out statements on whatever’s out there. Right now we have direct action. We’ll go to dc, we’ll have fly-ins, we’ll bird dog, we’ll get up and talk to politicians, um, will testify at the EPA. That’s something that I’ve done before. Um, and we also believe in, um, making disciples of disciples. So, and that means, um, instead of directly being there and doing the work, equip others to advocate. So we sponsor students to go to COP, which is the Christian Climate Observers Program. And these Christians will be trained at COP and go to COP 28 or whatever conference is out there to talk about Christians who care about the environment.

AW | 06:26 – So explain how you got involved in the organization. You’re a young woman just starting out on your career. This is not your full-time job, but maybe you can kind of walk us through your personal journey over the last few years and how you were able to find YECA.

LK | 06:44 – Wow. So to get to the beginning of the journey, I have to go way back. 

AW | 06:49 – Well, you’re pretty young, so I don’t think we have to go that far back.

LK | 06:52 – You’re right. So way back for me is middle school. So I was saved in middle school. Um, I believe that Christ is my savior since I was like 13 or so. And I’ve had like a deep love for God’s word and what it means to serve others. And I’ve, at the same time, I’ve always had this love and appreciation for the environment as well. I grew up in Massachusetts and in Middlesex where I grew up, transcendental writers are a big thing. And I remember just like visiting all the historical, um, places and just really resonating with their writing. I’ve always felt this deep connection, something very spiritual about going into the woods and walking and being alone in nature. And I really didn’t think that my love for nature and my own personal faith was anything that connected. It just didn’t seem like it was anything that blended at all until I went to college. So when I went to college, I actually had to take this class called God in Nature. Um, so I took this class, uh, my first semester of first year and it was this class about how different theologians thought about nature in America, so religion’s in America, and we had this topic called Creation Care. That was the first time that I ever thought about my faith and my love for the environment together. And it was just a really amazing time. And I told my professor like, this is so cool. I’ve been finding myself doing research outside of class, like how can I get more involved? And she actually sponsored me for an independent research project. And that gap between my first and second semester of first year, I actually went on this trip to go to Idaho and study with this pastor who spent his entire career, um, preaching creation care. And I just went to his ranch in Idaho. I emailed him, I found his email on the internet and he said, come, come over to his ranch. And I did it and I wrote this entire research project and then afterwards I was like, this is really amazing, I want to be involved still. And I emailed Tri Robinson, that was the pastor I stayed with again. And I asked him like, how can I stay more involved? And he pointed me to the direction of YECA and he said, this is a great organization. Um, I know they, they’re doing a lot of great work and it’s full filled with young people like you, um, who are also Christian and interested in the same thing. So the rest is history. I’ve been involved with YECA for four, four and a half years now. I’ve served in YECA in a variety of capacities. I started off as a project manager and then I was a college fellow and then now I’m on the steering committee.

(Music Break) | 10:05

AW | 11:18 – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to Lauren Kim from YECA Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. So the term evangelical Christianity, it gets folded in with fundamentalist Christianity quite a bit in people’s minds. Why don’t you explain how evangelical Christianity differs from fundamentalism and, and why the distinction is important when we talk about climate change and environmentalism.

LK | 11:47 – I’m actually really glad that you brought this up because I think every time I say I am part of YECA and I talk about being evangelical and caring about the environment, I think people get it twisted a lot because they, the word evangelical has become such a hot red button issue and it’s become so politicized. Let me start with the, the definition of evangelical. So the NAE, the National Association of Evangelicals, they define being evangelical as someone who takes the Bible seriously. Um, they believe in the word of Jesus Christ and it’s important for that person to encourage non-Christians to trust in Jesus and have faith in him as his savior. So two parts, um, believing in the Bible as the word, and then it’s important to them to tell others about him. Um, so that’s what evangelical means. Fundamentalism is a movement within religion. So it can, there are fundamentalists Christians, there are fundamentalists Muslims and fundamentalists Hindus and that basically means someone who is religious and they take their text literally. And the difference between someone who and someone can be a fun fundamentalist evangelical or be evangelical and not fundamentalist, um, depends on what that person is. I would say overall, in my experience, um, a lot of evangelical churches that I’ve been to, they take the Bible seriously, but not literally. It’s important to take the texts meaningfully, but not but important to place scripture in context.

AW | 13:34 – So you’re not advocating for stoning people for adultery, et cetera.

LK | 13:38 – Yeah, I think it’s important to, like when you read a text, a lot of biblical texts are very scary at first or kind of throw you off, but you have to read it in the context of when it was written and by who it was written by. And I’ve been a part of many different, um, denominations volunteering or being a part of their church from like evangelical friends church to an assembly of God’s church. And in those spaces they’ve all really cared about, um, putting scripture into context. And I think that distinction is really important when talking about it because I think a lot of people when they think of evangelical, they think of someone who takes text, um, literally and are way too legalistic about it. And that is different from who, what the definition of evangelical is in itself. Sure. There are evangelicals who are fundamentalists and they’re fundamentalists who aren’t evangelical. I don’t think those two terms are like mutual.

AW | 14:42 – That’s why I found Mike Johnson, who’s the new Speaker of the House, a republican who was asked, what do you believe on X, Y or Z – I forget what the question was – and he said, all the answers you need to know are in this book. To me, it sounded like his interpretation of the Bible superseded his duty to the Constitution and in a lot of ways that like his laws were the Bible. I don’t know if you heard that, but that seems to differ a little bit from what you’re talking about.

LK | 15:09 – Yeah, it, I didn’t hear about this instance and it, it does seem to differ from what we’re talking about a little bit. 

AW | 15:15 – Sure. But the evangelical community has been a largely very conservative voting bloc. So explain how YECA is trying to activate the evangelical community to start thinking about clean air and clean water when it votes. Because that hasn’t always been the case in the last three or four decades, has it? 

LK | 15:39 – Yeah, I would agree with you. I think that as a voting block, data shows that evangelicals overall seem to be the most conservative. But if you break it down, people who proclaim to be evangelical and are conservative when you break it down by those who are church, it’s the least church population. But I think going back there isn’t really a denial or acceptance binary. Are you familiar with the Yale six Americas?

AW | 16:07 – No, no. Please explain.

LK | 16:08 – Okay. So Yale University, they have a global warming six Americas breakdown. And it’s a scale from people who are absolutely dismissive of climate change and global warming that’s happening to people who are alarmed by it. So there isn’t a denial or acceptance binary. Most, um, people are within that spectrum. So they could be concerned about it, they could be maybe cautious about it. And that’s why we, at YECA, we mobilize people who are willing to take action and especially younger, the younger generations, younger Christians like me who are willing to talk about climate change, global warming. And then we hope to encourage older folks on their journey to move towards more action. Maybe they were previously in a place of caution or they were in a place of being disengaged. Studies show that dismissive is actually the smallest group within those six categories. And we don’t actually need everyone on the dis who are dismissive on board to create meaningful change. And we don’t really focus our efforts there. We focus on like the Christians who do action right now and who are alarmed by what’s happening in the world. 

AW | 17:25 – And how do you identify those people?

LK | 17:29 – A lot of times they’ll come to us or they’ll just be within our network. So again, like making disciples of disciples, like we have a network of people who are Christian and they’re telling other Christians about what it means to be voting with the climate in mind. And when they talk about climate change to their community groups, they’re making more people aware about what’s happening in the world and how to vote and how to be more obedient to God’s word when it comes to voting and being aware of the environment.

(Music Break) | 18:05

AW | 18:37 – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to Lauren Kim from YECA Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. It would seem that a very effective way to get your word out to a lot of disciples would be through church leadership at in various churches. Have you created partnerships, alliances with leading evangelical pastors, speakers, et cetera? 

LK | 19:00 – Yes and no. So some of our senior advisors are actually pastors. So people who lead a congregation, um, been through, been through divinity school, but we don’t have a formal program in place where we’re reaching out to leaders.

AW | 19:18 – But I just think of somebody who’s on television addressing their congregation. Have you been able to kind of inject some YECA doctrine into some of these wider reaching thought leaders in, in the evangelical community?  

LK | 19:33 – I think that depends by like project to project. So a lot of what YECA does is we support people on their individual projects and what they’re doing to implement in their own communities. So for me personally, I am doing a letter campaign. So I write to different churches that I’ve been to. So I’ve graduated college last year and in between my years of college I’ve done summer internships at in different cities. And when I’ve been in those different places, I would find a church and I would go there for a summer. So I had that relationship with that church. And what I’m doing right now is writing a letter to that church, to that church pastor, that church leadership and talking to them about like what I do and building a relationship with them through these letters and asking them if they have any questions about climate, climate change, creation care and just building that relationship first. A lot of the work that we do, however, is with Christians who already are on board and want to do action with climate change.

AW | 20:41 – So we’ve already discussed how the evangelical community tends to be a pretty conservative block in terms of its voting, but I remember as a child hearing that word conservative and conservation in the same breath. When did the two diverge? When the conservative meant that they’re more interested in jobs or industry than nature and the environment? It seems like those two things have bifurcated in the conservative movement over the last five or six decades. 

LK | 21:13 – I certainly can’t speak on behalf of an entire voting block or speak about that group of voters, but what I can say is I think a misconception is that a lot of evangelicals are conservative. And again, like we can go back to the data about like how conservative evangelicals are the most unchurched and that isn’t really our focus group when it comes to the people we engaged with.

AW | 21:39 – I meant to ask you about that. Actually, let me interrupt just for a second. What, what did you mean by unchurched? I don’t really know what that means.

LK | 21:45 – So a lot of people will be Christian and name only. Like if they have to check off a box, they’ll say they’re Christian. When we say like someone is unchurched, it means that they don’t go to church regularly. So they’re not like taking in the word. And there’s a big difference between someone who labels themself as a Christian, but you don’t really see the fruits of the spirit in their action. And those aren’t really the populations that we really engage with that often. We, we focus on people who do take their faith seriously, um, and they know what they’re talking about when it comes to like the Bible. And within that population of people who do take their faith seriously, we work with those who are on board and want to do action about climate change. A lot of people in my generation, Christian and non-Christians alike, are really involved and care a lot about climate change and environmentalism. And regardless if someone leans more conservatively or more liberally, wherever they’re on the spectrum, climate change is something that matters for them. And we’re seeing this trend more and more with people who would label themselves as conservative and under the age of 30 being concerned about climate change in a way that maybe their grandparents didn’t.

(Music Break) | 23:39

AW | 24:01 – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to Lauren Kim from YECA Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. Putting your YECA hat aside and let’s just talk about somebody who’s a evangelical Christian who believes in climate action like yourself, and yet they go to a church where the word is preached in a different way that environmentalism and climate change is, is not part of that vocabulary. How would you, how does a churchgoer who believes in what their pastor is trying to tell them, how do they digest what’s coming from the pulpit and steer it into something more productive for the environment? When, when their pastor is a climate change denier, do they leave that church or do they try to convince others that this pastor might not have, uh, you know, the Earth’s best interest at heart? How would you suggest somebody, a church goer handle a situation like that? Because it happens quite a bit. I bet, right? There’s like you’re talking about YECA is trying to get more low hanging fruit, people who believe in climate change and and the word of God. But what if they’re going to a church which does not preach that?

LK | 25:15 – Well, taking my YECA hat off and just speaking as like what I would do as a person, if I had a friend who was going to a church that maybe environmental and creation care was not really in their vocabulary, I always say like, come from a place of good intention and like have a conversation that’s spirit led with that church leadership. And I would tell that friend to really step into a room with a pastor or whoever’s an elder at that church, and then talk about why caring for creation is important to them and why it should be important for them too. Because at the end of the day, like Creation Care is a pro-life value. And as pro-life, Christians, our mission demands that we defended life in every way and take out the whole like abortion argument. Like, let’s put that aside for a second. At the end of the day, Christians should be pro-life and we should protect life and the policies out there that pollute the earth and put microplastics into small children and cause horrible destruction in communities that is antithetical to the heart of God. And I think having those kind of conversations where you’re building bridges is far more productive than like leaving a church or condemning a pastor or turning your back on your church. I think it’s important to talk about like what your fundamental values are and where God is in all of that.

AW | 26:49 – As we go into the holiday season and people are gathering with family to celebrate Christmas, why should Christians care about the environment? What would your message be to them Lauren?

LK | 27:01 – So Psalms 24.1 clearly states that the earth is the Lord’s. So the earth, this environment is God’s property. It’s his ranch, his garden, his guest house, and we’re all guests in his house. And if we love the Lord and respect his creation, why would we as guests disrupt and trash his house? So I think the biggest form of love, respect towards our creator would be taking, taking care of his creation. And that’s actually one of our first mandates. If you believe Genesis to be true, when God calls Adam to be a steward of this planet, that mandate still runs through us today and we are still being called to be stewards of this environment.

AW | 27:52 – The organization is Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. YECA, Lauren Kim, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea. Change Radio.

LK | 28:01 – All right, thank you so much Alex.

Narrator | 28:17 – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis, and our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Lizz Wright, Chet Atkins, and Eric Clapton. To read a transcript of this show, go to stream or download the show or subscribe to our podcast on our site or visit our archives to hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gavin Newsom, Stewart Brand, and many others. And tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.