The White House and U.S. Senate lost their moral courage and missed a “fullness of time” moment, failing to pass needed climate change legislation.

What better time to address global warming? Americans have experienced the hottest six months in recorded history and seen record flooding. We are witnessing a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one that results in no small measure from unfettered, money-grubbing corporate capitalism and its political enablers who oppose responsible regulation.


Yet the moral will did not exist to do what must be done.


“We know that we don’t have the votes,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) late last week in an announcement of excuse that the Senate would not take up legislation to redress global warming.


Reid played the blame game: “We don’t have a single Republican to work with us.”


Maggie Fox, president and CEO of the Alliance for Climate Protection, fingered Republican leadership and dirty energy.


“It is wrong that hundreds of millions of lobbying and advertising dollars from big oil and dirty coal, along with obstruction by the Republican leadership in the Senate, have blocked debate and action on comprehensive climate and energy legislation,” she said in an e-mail that I received as a member of the Alliance.


Others placed the blame squarely on the White House.


“[T]he White House deserves most of the blame for not getting Republicans. Why? Because the White House never tried to keep moderate Democrats in line, never made it clear that there was definitely gonna be a vote on this bill and the moderates should figure out what they needed to support the bill (as in the case of healthcare reform),” wrote progressive blogger Joseph Romm.


Posting on, Romm wrote, “The WH [White House] thus enabled nonstop public (and private) criticism… about the bill from a core group of moderate Democrats, which not only became a self-fulfilling prophecy – that getting the Democratic votes needed was impossible – it convinced Republicans that there was no possibility of getting anywhere near 60 and thus no reason for them to stick their necks out. That is, it was always going to be harder for even a moderate Republican to support this bill than it was for even relatively conservative Democrats.”


From my vantage point, politicians without courage and corporate polluters (dirty coal and soiled oil) deserve credit for the bill’s failure.


One other group deserves credit for the failure of moral will – the American faith community.


We are not being faithful to the moral imperative to care for the earth and to protect the poor from harm of climate change. Our pastors aren’t preaching about environmental stewardship. They aren’t teaching about the biblical witness of guarding the garden. They are not morally challenging their congregants who consume a steady diet of anti-science nonsense and hyper-individualism on Fox News.


While many of us have not done enough, some goodwill Baptists did try.


More than 140 U.S. Baptist leaders signed a 2009 letter – sponsored by the Baptist Center for Ethics – distributed to each member of the House of Representatives, endorsing the “American Clean Energy and Security Act.”


The letter said, “We understand that this bill is a comprehensive one that promises to create millions of clean energy jobs, to advance American security from foreign oil, to protect the planet by capping global-warming gases, to increase electricity from renewable energy sources and to improve energy efficiency.”


A week later, the House passed unprecedented climate legislation.


The 2009 letter corresponded to a 2008 letter to the Senate signed by more than 140 Baptist leaders from 25 states that called for the passage of climate-change legislation sponsored by Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Joseph Lieberman (Ind.-Conn.). The legislation failed to survive a filibuster and was opposed by Southern Baptist Convention leaders.


Frankly, these efforts were too episodic, too anemic. We should have done more. We must do more.


Former vice president Al Gore reminded us what is at stake.


“The need to solve the climate crisis and transition to clean energy has never been more clear. The oil is still washing up on the shores of the Gulf Coast, and we’ve just experienced the hottest six months on record. Our troops are fighting and dying in the Middle East and our economy is still struggling to produce jobs,” he said.


“Ultimately – and sooner rather than later – these issues simply must be dealt with. Our national security, our economic recovery and the future of the United States of America – and indeed the future of human civilization on this Earth – depends on our country taking leadership,” said Gore. “And that, in turn, depends on the United States Senate acting. The truth about the climate crisis – inconvenient as ever – must be faced.”


Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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