ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Recently a number of conservative Southern Baptist leaders endorsed the document, “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change,” which asserts: “We believe our current denominational engagement with [climate change] issues has often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice. 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.”
Although many of the signers are my friends and respected colleagues, I am writing to say why I will not sign the document, and why I wish they had not.
First, the fundamental assumption of the declaration is predicated on a seriously flawed understanding of the debate regarding climate change. It affirms the view that human-induced, catastrophic global warming is an undeniable fact. Some of the signers have implied that the declaration is neutral on the question of the imminent threat of global warming. The clear language of the declaration is anything but neutral:
— “We recognize that if consensus means unanimity, there is not a consensus regarding the anthropogenic nature of climate change or the severity of the problem. There is general agreement among those engaged with this issue in the scientific community.”
— “Though the claims of science [affirming catastrophic global warming] are neither infallible nor unanimous, they are substantial….”
— “… we resolve to engage this issue without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem…”
Hardly neutral, the declaration has staked out a definite position which is simply untenable. There is no “general agreement” in the scientific community on any facet of this subject. There is evidence of growing dissatisfaction in the scientific community with the claims that global warming 1) is caused by human factors; 2) has any alarming consequences; 3) can be altered by a change in human behavior; and 4) should provoke the kind of draconian economic and political actions being currently proposed by many environmental activists.
Second, the declaration gives little evidence of serious interaction with even the most basic arguments on the other side of the debate. For example, the declaration did not appear to take into account any of the analyses produced by the Cornwall Alliance (www.CornwallAlliance.org) — a coalition of scholars and religious leaders that has addressed the flawed positions of the “Evangelical Climate Initiative” which preceded the most recent declaration and which meandered down the same errant paths.
If global warming is a catastrophic danger caused by destructive human behavior, then everyone, especially godly people, ought to act to correct it. If, however, global warming is only a naturally occurring weather pattern which has been blown out of proportion by politically motivated partisans misconstruing the data, then it is irresponsible to call for actions that will actually harm, not help. If the latter, this new declaration actually evinces the “reckless and ill-informed” behavior it worries Southern Baptists may be exhibiting.
Catastrophic, human-induced climate change 1) has insufficient factual basis and 2) already has been saliently addressed by qualified evangelicals, and the SBC has decided the issue is worthy only of caution. The declaration’s assertion that climate change should occupy a more prominent place in Southern Baptist interests should be rejected.
Should Southern Baptists be more engaged with environmental issues? Any issue presented for action by the convention ought to pass at least two tests:
1) Is it a real and pressing problem? Is it right to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre? Only if there really is a fire. Otherwise, raising the alarm is the only real danger. Is climate change more important than, say, world hunger and economic stability in the third world? It is now clear that suggested solutions to the non-problem of global warming would have devastating consequences for national economies, especially in the poorest countries.
2) Is it the business of the church? Should Southern Baptists have a “unified moral voice” on the right to get prescription drugs from Canada? Or on the European Union? Or on the value of NAFTA? There are any number of weighty matters which could consume the attention of the church, but some things are off-message. Climate change is such an issue. Southern Baptists leaders should be careful not to rally our people to a cause that is not only suspect in its reality but also a distraction to our real work.
In appropriate measure, Southern Baptists should, especially in light of the confusion created by the climate change furor, carefully articulate an ecological theology. There is a wealth of theological resources in the Scriptures that guide us.
For example, the Bible states that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” and that humans are “to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” This unequivocal assertion of God’s Word puts humans in the role of stewards of the earth (not interlopers or intruders) whose duty is the maximum utilization of natural resources (not mere passive observation) for the glory of God and the good of men. A sound theology of creation-care will consider human achievement (building dams, erecting skyscrapers, mining for fossil fuels, etc.) as much a cause for celebration of God’s creative purposes as a picnic in a virgin forest.
Reclaiming a proper theology is a task related to the environment that we can welcome.
But what about the concern that we are perceived as uncaring among those who are anxious about catastrophic climate change?
This reminds me of a poll reported in SBC Life last year that church young people believe the conservative church is mean to homosexuals.
Are we “mean”? Or could it be that the church believes homosexual behavior is sinful and, when it has addressed this highly volatile subject, it has said so?
Now, it doesn’t matter how many ministries we have to homosexuals or how much we express our concern for all sinners, we are still considered “mean.” Until we say homosexual behavior is acceptable, we will not be considered by the culture to be “caring.” “Caring” means affirming their point of view, including their error.
So, how ought we, as Southern Baptists, minister in love to people who think that the sky is falling because of climate change? Sit down with them over a skinny latte at Starbuck’s and gently tell them the truth.
David Hankins is executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.