Untruth anywhere harms truth everywhere. Misleading headlines misdirect public opinion. False charges cover up flawed documents. No matter how noble the cause, wrongful means damage the desired goal.
Reducing the emissions that cause global warming is a much-desired goal. Protecting the environment is a needed objective. Calling people of faith to responsibility for God’s creation is a moral imperative. Seeking to move Southern Baptists toward addressing climate change with flawed theology is questionable.
Embedded in the newest attempt to get Southern Baptists on the bandwagon to address global warming is a crummy theological argument that provides an excuse for inaction.
Here’s the background: A few Southern Baptists have issued a statement about global warming: “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change.”
It’s a better statement than the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2007 resolution on climate change, which Wiley Drake, then the convention’s second vice president, said meant, “We don’t believe in global warming.” But the declaration is a watered-down copy of the 2006 statement that some 86 evangelical leaders signed.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution carried my column on Thursday critiquing this new declaration, which was reportedly to be released on Friday. EthicsDaily.com posted a slightly different editorial on Friday.
What I did not know was that the declaration’s backers had given their document to reporters at Associated Press and the New York Times, hoping apparently to make a big splash on Monday that would persuade the public that Southern Baptists cared about climate change.
The New York Times’ headline read: “Southern Baptists Back a Shift on Climate Change.” CNN’s headline reported: “Southern Baptist leaders shift position on climate change.” The Tennessean’s front-page story said: “Baptists convert on global warming.”
As much as I wish those headlines were accurate, I know that they are not. I also know that this Southern Baptist document is weaker than the one circulated for signatures.
The final document gutted the commitment to “reduce carbon emissions” which was in the original document that EthicsDaily.com received with a cover letter, asking folk to sign the statement and return it in the provided envelop. The cover letter justified this initiative as a way to “help nurture a Christian worldview” and “send a positive message to the cynical opponents of Christian faith.”
The final document dropped this commitment: “We pledge to take fresh looks at federal and state legislation that will curb ecological degradation and reduce carbon emissions.”
It’s hard to see how the document is an honest declaration when it refuses to name the problem of carbon emissions. It’s a challenge to believe that this statement has teeth when it backs away from offering concrete action steps.
Writing a rebuttal column in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jonathan Merritt, the national spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, charged that my column “contained several false statements and an extra helping of bias;” “unconfirmed hearsay;” and “the more factual parts of Parham’s column were slanted and biased.” He wrote, “much of his column was fallacious.”
Merritt never documents the false statements, slanted comments and fallacious points. He only makes those charges.
Nor does he address the heart of my critique, which was that the statement was theologically flawed.
The statement said: “We recognize that we do not have any special revelation to guide us about whether global warming is occurring and, if it is occurring, whether people are causing it.”
Plainly put, these signatories are saying that since the Bible doesn’t speak about climate change and human beings causing global warming, they can’t definitively say if the Earth is heating up due to human-induced actions.
Without special revelation, without a biblical proof text, they are cooked in terms of activating Southern Baptist preachers, who can comfortably hide behind inaction since the Bible does not literally call for action on global warming.
A moral agenda based on the literal reading of the Bible keeps fundamentalists from acknowledging other sources of knowledge, such as science. Literalism limits the relevance of their moral vision and restricts meaningful social action.
The best one can hope about this declaration is a rigorous debate among Southern Baptists about the reality of global warming and need for human beings to take responsibility for corrective action. Yet how does that debate take place given the prerequisite of special revelation and the deep-seated hostility toward science?
Time will soon tell if the needed change in the Baptist churches matches the needless headlines around the country.
Robert Parham is executive director for the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Previous related articles:
Southern Baptist Leaders Release Environmental Statement
Timidity on Global Warming Comes from Lack of Special Revelation
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.