Southern Baptists shift stance on climate

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Speaking of culture war, this just happened:

Signaling a significant departure from the Southern Baptist Convention’s official stance on global warming, 44 Southern Baptist leaders have decided to back a declaration calling for more action on climate change, saying its previous position on the issue was “too timid.”

…the new declaration, which will be released Monday, states, “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 important question here is what brought about this shift. The article doesn’t really provide much of an answer, although presumably the new stance doesn’t reflect any sudden change of heart, but rather a deeper tension rumbling through the evangelical community, which is far less monolithic than is commonly presumed by outsiders.

That tension may simply be generational. One of the leaders pushing for the new approach is 25-year-old Jonathan Merritt, a seminary student and son of a former Southern Baptist Convention president. Polls find that younger evangelicals place a high priority on environmental protection.

From a culture war perspective, this makes some sense. Most 25-year-olds were born in 1982, and likely became politically aware in the 1990s. In other words, this is not a generation for whom the battles of the ’60s or even the ’70s have much relevance. The downside of this, I suppose, is that it suggests most people really never do change their minds. They’re eventually just muscled aside by the next generation. The upside is that the next generation is here, and it cares a lot about global warming.

I’ll leave off by quoting at length from the declaration itself. Although I personally might put the case more strongly, I do find the statement to be a humble, commonsense, and sincere rejoinder to those who are still wondering why they should care about climate change.

It Is Prudent to Address Global Climate Change.

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. We are looking at the same evidence unfolding over time that other people are seeing.

We recognize that we do not have special training as scientists to allow us to assess the validity of climate science. We understand that all human enterprises are fraught with pride, bias, ignorance and uncertainty.

We recognize that if consensus means unanimity, there is not a consensus regarding the anthropogenic nature of climate change or the severity of the problem. There is general agreement among those engaged with this issue in the scientific community. A minority of sincere and respected scientists offer alternate causes for global climate change other than deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels…

Yet, even in the absence of perfect knowledge or unanimity, we have to make informed decisions about the future. This will mean we have to take a position of prudence based partly on science that is inevitably changing. We do not believe unanimity is necessary for prudent action. 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 out of hand on either scientific or theological grounds. Therefore, in the face of intense concern and guided by the biblical principle of creation stewardship, we resolve to engage this issue without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem or our responsibility to address it. Humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change — however great or small.

(Footnote: I removed from the excerpt an aside on non-environmental issues. I don’t think this excision changes the meaning, but you can read the full statement here.)

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  1. meagen - March 11, 2008

    Great post. Very relevant. Was just reading about the documentary “Jesus Camp” (have you posted on that?) and getting very disheartened to hear about homeschooling parents teaching their children that scientific evidence isn’t valid therefore climate change doesn’t exist. I share their fundamental religious beliefs, but to me, inaction on climate change should be a mortal sin.
    Interestingly enough, the Southern Baptists’ approach towards climate change is the same as my approach to the religious beliefs I espouse (though I consider myself a charismatic Catholic). We can’t wait for God to send a lightning bolt out of the sky to believe or take moral actions based on those beliefs…we just have to make due with the knowledge we have. Our country went through the same moral crisis in dealing with slavery, feminism, civil rights…and just as those issues are still not resolved on a worldwide level, accepting the revelation will be just the beginning when it comes to climate change, too.

  2. Joe - March 12, 2008

    Let keep in mind that the SBC are not scientists and really arent qualified one way or the other.
    That said, I am glad to see the idea of the “potential that man caused GW” is being embraced by this segment of our population.
    Folks, the science is unsettled. SBC endorsement wont change that.

  3. James - March 12, 2008

    It’s a step in the right direction, of course, and any step toward enlightenment is a substantial one. Now if they’d only wake up to the fact that the earth is older than 6000 years, they might be taken seriously on on any front.

  4. Ben - March 12, 2008

    Saying “religion” is really vague. Even saying “Christian” is vague. The KKK call themselves “Christian” but that carries little weight seeing as how them demonstrate how they do not seem to believe a word Jesus said.
    Also the SBC doesn’t work the same way that the Vatican does. They don’t say, “We are establishing policy here” they say “Southern Baptist churches, we would like you to take seriously the issue of climate change.”

  5. richard schumacher - March 12, 2008

    Few voters or policy makers are scientists qualified “one way or the other”. By whatever route they came to it, and regardless of their opinions on other matters, the support of the SBC is significant and will be very helpful in settling the public policy debate.

  6. James - March 12, 2008

    In the words of Max Planck,(1858-1947) ” A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”…..and so it goes.

  7. Sherron - March 12, 2008

    Hallelulah! Praise the Lord!! I’m a Southern Baptist, and I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Although the church I attend is not affiliated with the SBC, the influence of the SBC on other Baptist conventions and fellowships (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist General Convention of Texas, for example) and on other denominational organizations should not be underestimated. For once, I can applaud their efforts and am happy to do so.

  8. MNWalleye - March 12, 2008

    When my church starts preaching to me about global warming after having WALKED to church in sub degree tempratures, while everyone else DROVE. I’ll just leave and donate my money to some other worthy organization. Afterall church’s are about as ungreen as you can get from an energy stand point, plus we get enough preaching on a daily basis from anyone of our local tv news channels. My wife and I call it our global warming bed time story.
    This is why I’m not an enviromentalist but rather a conservationist.
    [Ed. -- Don't forget self-righteous prig! You're also that!]

  9. BLiu - March 13, 2008

    If the author is monitoring posts, I’d appreciate a citation for the polls you mention that “find that younger evangelicals place a high priority on environmental protection.” I’m doing some research on the evolving political views of evangelical Christians and these polls might be very useful to me.
    Thank you.

  10. Adam Stein - March 13, 2008

    The linked article contains the factoid about polls of young evangelicals, but unfortunately no reference to the source. This article points to some relevant research done by Pew, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to dig up a poll that shows the specific trend.

  11. Sarah Prendergast - March 20, 2008

    As a member of a Christian group that takes global warming and climate change very seriously, I am so glad to see attention given to the growing concern among Christians to be better stewards of our planet. I live in a culturally diverse intentional community, where there is sometimes a rift created between conventional ways of doing things and radical environmentalism because the people are so attached to being right about their ideas. I would count myself among the more radical environmentalist types, but I recognize the value of inclusiveness to creating widespread change when it comes to global warming.
    Some of the most open, loving, accepting people I know are Christians who truly practice the teachings of Jesus. Also among the people who call themselves Christian are some of the most self-righteous, judgemental people I know. But I would say the same for environmentalists…there are just as many fundamentalist environmentalists in the world as there are fundamentalist Christians.
    When we all begin to embrace one another as allies and stop nit-picking (much like the message of Jesus when he says to remove the stick from your own eye before trying to remove a speck of dust from your brother’s eye), when we begin to clean up our own side of the street and lead by example, with humility, that is when real progress will begin to take hold. The fact that the Southern Baptists are making issues like climate change a priority gives me great hope.

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