The letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown featured on the front page of The Baptist Times is significant not just because it is the first of its kind from BMS World Mission, but for two other reasons.
First, its tone. Rather than presenting Brown with a list of impossible demands, browbeating him for not having achieved the unachievable and perhaps damning him with faint praise in an afterthought, which is the content of so many such epistles and press releases, it is simply an expression of support.
The letter takes seriously and at face value Brown’s oft-expressed determination to do whatever he can to secure the best possible deal on climate change at Copenhagen and commits BMS and the other signatories to pray for him. This is a refreshing change from the sort of adversarial political engagement that characterizes so many Christian groups.
Second, its theme. Once it is accepted that the gospel is about more than simply saving souls – that it is to be a whole gospel for a whole world, in which mission reflects the concern of God for mind, body and spirit – it becomes essential that any mission organization with a biblical mindset will seek to engage with wider issues than the conversion of the heathen. That will always be a key marker of Baptist overseas mission, as evangelism is a key marker of Baptist churches at home, but it is not the only thing we have to do.
Climate change has been described by leading scientists as a weapon of mass destruction. There is a widespread consensus that while there are natural cycles of global warming and cooling, the rate and pattern of change we are seeing now can only be adequately explained by the quantity of greenhouse gases we are putting into the atmosphere.
Without the most strenuous efforts to reduce these quantities and mitigate the effects of the change that is now inevitable, the consequences for the world’s people, particularly the poorest, are beyond imagining.
This is gospel business, as much as anything is. Christians are quick to respond to the needs of those affected by earthquakes, floods and famine. But if temperatures rise by the 5 degrees predicted if industrialized nations carry on with business as usual, these occasional natural disasters will pale in their severity beside the strains imposed by the mass migrations of whole populations whose land is overwhelmed by the floods or swallowed by the desert.
At the same time, we need to be aware of the psychological aspects of the climate change campaign. It is clearly wrong, for instance, to demonize those who deny the influence of human beings on climate change. To put them in the same category as Holocaust deniers, as some of the more intemperate campaigners do, is unacceptable.
Science proceeds on the basis of doubt, and progress is based on a willingness to think the unthinkable.
And many of us have a cantankerous streak that makes us instinctively suspicious of the official line, particularly on a subject we don’t really understand.
Climate change is cool (so to speak) and it is rather irritating to be made to feel guilty at having a rubbish-bin more than half full, or driving a mile instead of walking it (in the rain, when you are particularly busy with a long list of things to accomplish before tea time). Small wonder that we rebel.
This is usually harmless enough, except when the naysayers reach a critical mass and begin to influence policy. It is then that they must be challenged over what, exactly, their counter-evidence is and what their qualifications are for holding the views they do.
The natural world takes no account of public opinion: the world will not grow cool again because enough people believe that it should. We should be prepared to be led by the facts, even if it means swimming with the current for a change.