More than 140 Baptist leaders from 25 states and the District of Columbia endorsed a Baptist Center for Ethics letter sent today calling on the U.S. Senate to pass climate-change legislation.

Being delivered this morning to Senate offices by e-mail, the letter from BCE Executive Director Robert Parham urges the Senate to “pass the strongest possible climate legislation that recognizes the needs and burdens of low-income and working families in the United States and around the world.”

“We are Baptist leaders who recognize the moral imperative to love our neighbors ”neighbors today and those across time,” the letter says. “We love our neighbors through acts of justice, stewardship of God’s creation and advocacy for legislation related to climate change.”

All of BCE’s board members signed on in support of the letter, along with clergy from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Other signatories include denominational leaders from American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, North American Baptist Fellowship and Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.

“If we had had the time, I believe we could have enlisted the signatures of a thousand more goodwill Baptist pastors and leaders who are obedient to the biblical call to guard the earth and to protect the poor,” Parham said. “We need Baptist clergy to offer a moral framework for the interconnectedness of the environment, poverty, race and security. We need Baptist leaders to provide a muscular commitment to reformation through individual lifestyles, church practices, public policy priorities and cultural values.”

The letter applauds Senators John Warner, R-Va., and Joseph Lieberman, ID-Conn., for introducing bi-partisan legislation and the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works “for beginning to address this important moral issue.”

The Baptist leaders called for legislation that “shields vulnerable populations from the disproportionate dangers resulting from planet warming, spreads the economic costs of changing our energy habits fairly and sustainably and limits the financial burdens that will be placed on low-income and working families.”

“We have a moral duty to speak up for the vulnerable in our society,” the Baptist leaders say. “Those who have contributed least to the problem of climate change stand to suffer the most. Those who are poor will likely bear the greatest burden economically from any large-scale program to reduce global warming pollution, if the legislation is not constructed correctly.

“We also have a moral duty to speak up for the global poor. Global warming’s impact already falls and will continue to fall most heavily on the marginalized in developing countries. To rectify this injustice, legislation must include mechanisms that provide adaptation assistance to vulnerable communities.”

The letter asks Senators to support legislation to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 15-20 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050.

The Senate is expected to take up the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill this summer. It would cap greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, factories, oil refineries and other polluters and require companies that exceed the limits to buy credits from other companies that meet them with room to spare.

Co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Robert Casey, D-Pa.; Norm Coleman, R-Minn.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

“We recognize that significant reductions in global warming emissions require that we change our lifestyles and our energy consumption,” the letter from Baptist leaders says. “Legislation must encourage energy conservation throughout our economy.”

Parham encouraged supporters of strong climate change legislation to communicate directly with their senators by sending them a copy of BCE’s letter and expressing their support for it.

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