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Leaders’ statement on climate change suggests SBC dividecomment (0)

March 20, 2008

A group of prominent Southern Baptists — including their president — released what some are calling a mild statement on climate change and environmental stewardship March 10.

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Frank Page, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin and other prominent pastors and agency heads signed "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change" March 10. The statement laments the fact that the denomination’s current engagement with environmental and climate change issues has been "too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice."

It continues, "Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed. We can do better."

The declaration also says that Christians have a responsibility to protect the environment. It says that while there remain legitimate disagreements among scientists and Christian thinkers about whether climate change is caused by human activity, Southern Baptists nonetheless have the responsibility to embrace principles of "creation care" and take "prudent" actions to protect God’s creation.

"[E]ven in the absence of perfect knowledge or unanimity, we have to make informed decisions about the future," the statement says. "This will mean we have to take a position of prudence based partly on science that is inevitably changing. We do not believe unanimity is necessary for prudent action. … Though the claims of science are neither infallible nor unanimous, they are substantial and cannot be dismissed out of hand on ... scientific or theological grounds."

Southern Baptists who question the reality of human-induced warming won a victory during the SBC’s 2007 annual meeting. They removed provisions from a resolution on global warming before the convention’s messengers approved it. The resolution would have encouraged "government funding to find definitive answers on the issue of human-induced global warming that are based on empirical facts and are free of ideology and partisanship" and "economically responsible government initiatives" to develop energy alternatives to oil.

The resolution as passed mentioned many pieces of evidence cited by global-warming doubters and urged Southern Baptists to be cautious in advocating the subject of climate change.

Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), noted the resolution in a March 12 letter about why he did not sign the new statement. "Southern Baptist public policy advocacy is most effective when it is supported by the broadest possible consensus among Southern Baptists," Land said.

He noted that his agency’s role is "to express the consensus of Southern Baptists on public policy matters when they have reached such consensus. If the ERLC asserted Southern Baptists were in a different place on an issue than they actually were, we would lose the trust of Southern Baptists, and we would rapidly lose our credibility in Washington."

But in a March 10 conference call announcing the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, which released the declaration, its backers claimed it does not conflict with the 2007 SBC resolution.

"It’s not contrary to that statement; it simply builds on it," Akin said. "It has, I would say, a greater sense of urgency. I see it … building upon what Southern Baptists have said in previous statements and position papers."

Both Akin and Jonathan Merritt — a seminary student who is the spokesman for the initiative and son of former SBC President James Merritt, who also signed the statement — said the document incorporates several suggestions from the ERLC staff.

The organizers took pains to say that while the document calls Southern Baptists to engage further on the issues, they aren’t making any specific policy recommendations.

Nonetheless the press call with organizers featured an appearance by Sen. John Warner, R-Va. Warner and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman an independent, are co-sponsors of the first major greenhouse-gas-reduction bill to make it to the Senate floor. In December 2007, when the bill passed the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Warner was the only Republican on the panel to vote for it.

"I took on this challenge of global warming thinking that I’d like to achieve one more piece of legislation before I retire," Warner said. "I think it’s in the interest of my children and my grandchildren that I’m a trustee of our environment — a steward of our environment, as are you."

Besides Page, Akin and Merritt, other signers of the declaration include Jack Graham, a former SBC president and pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas; Ronnie Floyd, a former SBC presidential candidate and pastor of First Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark.; David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.; Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham; and Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

For more information, visit baptistcreationcare.org. (ABP)

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