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The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant body, passed a resolution Wednesday questioning whether human activity contributes significantly to global warming and urging governments to weigh environmental concerns with economics when setting policies for reducing carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization formed by the United Nations, said recently there is near scientific consensus that human activities are affecting the earth’s climate, but the SBC resolution said the scientific community is “divided regarding the extent to which humans are responsible for recent global warming” and that “many scientists reject the idea of catastrophic human-induced global warming.”

Unless science can say for sure whether the earth is getting warmer due to manmade or natural causes, the resolution says, expensive measures like drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions might not accomplish anything and would inhibit economic development, particularly hurting poor countries, and cause businesses and municipalities to pass higher costs of emissions-reduction programs on to consumers.

The resolution urged Southern Baptists to “proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research” and for public policies that ensure “an appropriate balance between care for the environment, effects on economies and impact on the poor” when considering programs to reduce greenhouse gases.

Wiley Drake, the SBC’s second vice president, summarized the resolution’s message as, “We don’t believe in global warming.”

“Southern Baptist fundamentalists are engaged in deception at two levels,” said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “First, they deliberately misrepresent the near scientific consensus on global warming. Second, they claim concern for the poor, who already suffer too much from climate change, when they are really acting as a religious shield for an economic system more committed to short-term profit than earth care.”

“When Southern Baptists side with science-fiction writers and free-enterprise ideologues against the best scientists in the world, the SBC has disconnected itself from responsible moral reflection,” Parham said.

Parham called the resolution “a shameful and irresponsible misuse of power.”

The resolution puts the SBC on record as taking sides in a debate about global warming that divides evangelicals.

Last year 86 evangelical leaders–including Purpose Driven Life author and Southern Baptist mega-church pastor Rick Warren–broke ranks with Religious Right kingpins including James Dobson and Charles Colson to sign an “evangelical call to action” on climate change.

Twenty-two high-profile evangelical leaders–including Richard Land of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission–countered with a statement citing “ongoing debate” and “lack of consensus” about the causes of global warming.

Some of those leaders later tried to get the National Association of Evangelicals to fire Richard Cizik, the NAE’s vice president of government relations, claiming his support for creation care was dividing conservatives and drawing attention away from more important issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Jerry Falwell, a prominent Southern Baptist pastor who died last month, called the debate over global warming a tool of Satan being used to distract churches from their primary purpose of preaching the gospel.

The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, a faith-based group challenging scientific consensus on global warming, warned that efforts to cut greenhouse gases hurt the poor by making energy less affordable and accessible, driving up costs, stifling economic growth and costing jobs.

The competing Evangelical Climate Change Initiative, meanwhile, contends that consequences of unabated global warming will be significant, and will also hit hardest on the poor. Even small changes in global temperatures affect sea levels, heat waves, drought and extreme weather events like floods and hurricanes, the report says, causing famine and international instability in poor nations with the fewest resources to cope with major challenges and threats.

Another SBC resolution passed Wednesday denounced individuals, churches or other religious bodies that “cover up, ignore or otherwise contribute to or condone” the physical or sexual abuse of children.

The resolution, which accompanies a motion referred to the SBC Executive Committee to study the feasibility of setting up a national database of clergy guilty of sexual abuse or harassment, expressed “moral outrage” at any instance of child victimization and urged churches to utilize available resources, respond to suspicious activity or allegations of abuse and to observe “responsible employment practices,” including background checks on all ministers, employees and volunteers.

A total of 8,618 messengers had registered for the 2007 SBC annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, Registration Secretary Jim Wells reported at the start of Wednesday evening’s closing service. That surpassed the 8,600 messengers in 2004 in Indianapolis, saving the San Antonio convention from ranking as the third-smallest annual gathering since 1951.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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