Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Southern Baptists and the Environment

As the question of global warming moved to the center of public discourse, the evangelical Christian community was visibly vocal in opposition even to the issue being raised. When they did address it, it was often seen as a ruse of the devil to keep churches from addressing "real" issues or a part of some left wing conspiracy to destroy our culture. There were some pockets of dissent as some evangelicals talked about the responsibility of stewardship of the earth but, in large degree, they were drowned out by the majority voice. The Southern Baptist Convention was among the loudest in dismissing any discussion of global warming as a moral issue for Christians to consider.

This past week, a group of over 40 prominent Southern Baptist leaders released a Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change that represents a very cautious but real change in direction. They acknowledge that in the scientific community "there is general agreement" regarding the cause, the nature, and the severity of global warming. They go on to say
Though the claims of science are neither infallible nor unanimous, they are substantial and cannot be dismissed out of hand on either scientific or theological grounds. Therefore, in the face of intense concern and guided by the biblical principle of creation stewardship, we resolve to engage this issue without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem or our responsibility to address it. Humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change—however great or small.

Again and again in the statement the writers reaffirm stances on abortion and homosexuality - the social issues that Southern Baptists have held central. The writers did not want to open themselves to criticism that they were abandoning what the SBC sees as clear issues for controversial ones. Still, they take a stand on climate change and, given the history, it is a courageous one.

I have little respect for the Southern Baptist Convention. In my opinion they have abandoned the heart of the Baptist tradition. In shutting down any room for difference of opinion, they have lost the ability to hear the voice of the Spirit and deadened any sensitivity to the movement of God in changing contexts. Having said that, this statement gives me hope that perhaps there is a possibility for movement in the SBC. In spite of the cautiousness of the statement, it still represents the possibility of seeing new problems, new contexts, and new answers. That is grace.

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