Nearly 50 Southern Baptists leaders are issuing a declaration today urging Southern Baptists to take care of the environment and fight climate change. The Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative released its environmental statement entitled “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change,” which cites Scriptures and the Baptist Faith & Message of 2000 to support its environmental message.

The declaration’s preamble says the environmental issue would not lead to a compromise or lessening of attention to issues of life and marriage but represents that the signers “are not a single-issue body” and “seek to be true to our calling as Christian leaders” by offering a “moral witness in other venues and on many issues.”

The preamble admits that Southern Baptists have not always treated environmental and climate change issues as major moral issues and that some of them “required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that these are real problems that deserve our attention.” It also criticizes SBC resolutions on these issues for often being “too timed, failing to produce a unified moral voice.”

“Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed,” the preamble continues. “We can do better. To abandon these issues to the secular world is to shirk from our responsibility to be salt and light. The time for timidity regarding God’s creation is no more.”

The declaration offers four conclusions about the environment and climate change. First, it argues that humans should take care of creation and accept responsibility for damage done to the environment. The declaration adds that the signers “humbly take responsibility for the damage that we have done to God’s cosmic revelation and pledge to take an unwavering stand to preserve and protect the creation over which we have been given responsibility by Almighty God Himself.”

The second statement in the declaration contends that despite lacking “any special revelation,” the “prudent” decision is for humans to “take responsibility for our contributions to climate change–however great or small.” The section claims that the signers lack a scientific background to “assess the validity of climate science” and that “there are a minority of sincere and respected scientists” who disagree with the “general agreement in the scientific community.”

It also argues that unlike issues of abortion and definitions of marriage, “this is an issue where Christians may find themselves in justified disagreement about both the problem and its solution.” However, the declaration offers that despite a lack of unanimity, decisions can be made.

“We do not believe unanimity is necessary for prudent action,” the declaration states. “We can make wise decisions even in the absence of infallible evidence. Though the claims of science are neither infallible nor unanimous, they are substantial and cannot be dismissed on either scientific or theological grounds.”

The declaration’s third point claims that environmental stewardship is required by moral convictions and Southern Baptist doctrines. This section notes that the motivation of the declaration “is not primarily political, social or economic–it is primarily biblical.”

“Love of God, love of neighbor and Scripture’s stewardship demands provide enough reasons for Southern Baptists and Christians everywhere to respond to these problems with moral passion and concrete action,” the declaration reads.

The final statement in the declaration proclaims that the time to act is now. It notes that “simply affirming our God-given responsibility to care for the earth will likely produce no tangible or effective results.”

“Therefore, we pledge to find ways to curb ecological degradation through promoting biblical stewardship habits and increasing awareness in our homes, businesses where we find influence, relationships with others and in our local churches,” the declaration adds. “Many of our churches do not actively preach, promote or practice biblical creation care. We urge churches to begin doing so.”

The declaration argues that “the primary impetus for prudent action must come from the will of the people, families and those in the private sector.” This section also urges Christians to reject parts of the environmental agenda since “what some call population control leads to evils like forced abortion.”

Signers of the declaration include: current SBC president Frank Page; former SBC presidents Jack Graham and James Merritt; college and seminary presidents Danny Akin, David Dockery, Timothy George and Pat Taylor; and state convention leaders Mark Edlund, Ronald Ellis, Terry Harper, Anthony Jordan and Hershael York. Missing from the list are prominent Southern Baptist leaders Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, and Richard Land.

Writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday and on Friday, Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, criticized the declaration for disclosing “too much timidity for one lamentable theological reason ”’special revelation.'”

“What these prominent Southern Baptists are saying is 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,” he wrote. “Scientific consensus simply isn’t enough to trigger responsible moral action for those who demand the absolute certainty of divine revelation.”

The declaration’s arguments conflict at times with a 2007 SBC resolution on the issue. The resolution argued that claims about global warming were inaccurate and overstated, and thus urged Southern Baptists “to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research.” It also called attempts to regulated greenhouse emissions “very dangerous.”

Although the declaration takes a stronger stand for action on climate change than last year’s SBC resolution, it remains much weaker than the 2006 Evangelical Climate Initiative. That statement, which included a few of the same signers as the SBECI, apparently served as a model for the SBECI its four main points are similar and a few lines are quite similar.

However, the ECI declared that the “breadth and depth” of scientific evidence made it clear that “human-induced climate change is real.” It strongly urged action since millions could die from the effects of climate change.

The ECI sparked a counter declaration in 2006 by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance that argued that scientific research was not conclusive. Several of the signers of the ISA statement were Southern Baptists. Other signers and writers of the statement worked for companies receiving millions of dollars from ExxonMobil.

At the recent Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, former vice president and Noble Peace Prize winner Al Gore urged Baptists to take action to stop the climate change crisis. Introduced by Parham, Gore cited Scripture and scientific evidence to make the case for action.

“The evidence is there,” he said. “The signal is on the mountain. The trumpet has blown. The scientists are screaming from the rooftops. The ice is melting. The land is parched. The seas are rising. The storms are getting stronger. Why do we not judge what is right?”

Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.

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