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Southern Baptists shift stance on climate


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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