Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment will be released on June 18, according to the Vatican press office.

The letter’s Italian title is “Laudato Si: Sulla cura della casa comune,” which in English is “Be Praised: On the Care of the Common Home.”

Part of the title is drawn from St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer in which he thanks God for creation.

Papal letters or encyclicals are “generally considered one of the highest forms of teaching for a Catholic pope,” the National Catholic Reporter noted.

As such, Pope Francis’ letter will make a seismic difference within the Catholic family – partly because of its authority and partly because of its reach.

His encyclical will be circulated to 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests. They, in turn, will share the letter with 1.2 billion Catholics.

Catholic bishops will write columns supporting the letter. Priests will preach on the topic. Parishes will have study sessions. Parochial schools will study climate change. Families will discuss the letter around the dinner table.

A billion Catholics, who see the moral imperative to address climate change, will outweigh the billionaires who finance the global warming deniers.

What Francis says matters. After all, he is the world’s leading moral authority and head of the largest branch of Christianity.

As a Baptist, I could not be more grateful for his letter. It comes at a hinge moment.

Why am I grateful? Why do I think this is a hinge moment?

The environment needs to be at the heart of the Christian moral agenda. And it isn’t.

From the earliest pages of the biblical witness, we find the crystal-clear message that human beings are responsible for the created order.

Yet we have taken the biblical concept of dominion and translated it into domination by trampling on the environment rather than tending to it.

We have been blindly anthropocentric, ignoring God’s love for the entire creation, failing to see that love for neighbor includes neighbors across time.

Make no mistake. Human beings are the crowning glory of God’s creation, but not the only jewel in the crown.

While Baptists claim to be people of the book, we have glossed over the book’s message about the environment.

Yes, even moderate Baptists, my own village, skirt the issue. For example, all kinds of topics will be addressed in workshops at next week’s general assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship – except the environment.

The first and best-attended New Baptist Covenant meeting (2008) only included a major emphasis on the environment (the Al Gore luncheon presentation on climate change) after arms were twisted for the inclusion of “an inconvenient truth.”

EthicsDaily.com has been relentless through the years in addressing environmental issues. In fact, my book, “Loving Neighbors Across Time: A Christian Guide to Protecting the Earth,” was published the same year the Baptist Center for Ethics was launched (1991).

Nonetheless, we frequently wonder if all of our words have made a difference.

Francis’ words will make a difference because of the force of his authority, the scale of his organization and the scope of his media popularity.

His words will wash over every other church body – even Baptists. For that, I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful because Francis’ letter comes at a hinge moment on the climate change front.

Governments haven’t taken the necessary steps to protect the environment against global warming, which most harms the poor.

His letter will place enormous pressure on governmental leaders to be responsible.

It will expose the moral dishonesty of leaders who deny climate change and challenge the TV pundits who mock the effects of global warming. It will isolate the religious leaders who dismiss rising temperatures.

More positively, Francis letter will help to shift the framework from widespread moral indifference to intense active engagement.

Laudato Si.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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