Al Gore delivered this morning an intensely brilliant lecture bathed in prayer and tethered to his moral heritage as a Baptist. He quoted the Bible, valued truth-telling, uplifted responsibility for neighbor, confessed human sinfulness and placed moral authority at the tip of the needed plan for planetary redemption. He acknowledged that human beings have purpose, refused to make Providence responsible for human inaction and voiced respect for the global community’s diverse, interdependent cultures. His address was profoundly Christian without being offensively so.
Gore becomes the third Baptist awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, following Jimmy Carter in 2002 and Martin Luther King in 1964.
Gore’s speech in Olso, Norway, to dignitaries of the global community, must be heard especially by America’s Christian ministers, who have the moral authority of the Bible and the moral platform of the pulpit to cast an urgent moral vision to their parishioners to stop making war on Planet Earth and to rescue their earthly home. Christian ministers have the moral obligation to challenge the dark powers and principalities, which refuse to treasure God’s creation, and to move swiftly in care for it.
A few minutes after Jesus announced his moral agenda in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, he listened to the people murmur. Then, he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country.”
Inconvenient truth neither receives a receptive audience in the moment, nor draws a warm applause for the familiar messenger. Only in the fullness of time does an inconvenient truth find acceptance and the community embraces the prophet.
Not surprisingly, the Nobel Peace Prize is not a popularity award. It is civilization’s highest honor for work that inconveniences the comfortable, disrupts unjust systems and calls for societies to pursue together their better angels.
Martin Luther King’s inconvenient truth received a hostile reception in the United States in general and among white Southern Baptists in particular. Although he won the Nobel Peace Prize, it was only in the fullness of time that this Baptist minister and his moral vision found common acceptance.
Likewise, Al Gore’s inconvenient truth has received unrelenting political opposition and he has encountered demeaning personal criticism. Yet the day will dawn when this Baptist layman and his moral vision for Planet Earth will find widespread embrace. So it is with the prophetic imagination.
However, the difference between King and Gore is the chronology. We do not have the time to redress incrementally social injustice. We must act now.
At the close of his lecture, Gore said, “We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource.”
He is right that we, specifically the citizens of the United States, lack political will.
But more deeply, we need a spiritual renewal. We need a spiritual revival to recover our moral obligation to care for God’s creation.
Even though most Baptists have given little applause to the announcement that Al Gore would be awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, all Baptists ought to smile with pride that one of their own spiritual kin has received the global community’s highest honor for advancing the global good. More than applause, however, we should honor the man by putting our hands to work pursuing the biblical imperative to love our neighbors. And the only way we can concretely love our neighbors across time is to leave them a decent place to live by today addressing global warming.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.