Get ready for a lot of reading.
Yesterday, the NYT broke the story that a group of Southern Baptists, including some pretty big names, are jumping on board the Global Warming Bandwagon.
The group responsible for the Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change (their website and manifesto are available here) is made up of 44 pastors and other leaders who call themselves The Southern Baptist Climate and Environment Initiative. I have respect for some of these people, including the current president of the SBC and have even worked for one of them.
My comments are wedged about halfway down inbetween the “declaration” and the 2007 SBC resolution on Global Warming.
A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change
Southern Baptists have always been a confessional people, giving testimony to our beliefs, which are based upon the doctrines found in God’s inerrant word—the Holy Bible. As the dawning of new ages has produced substantial challenges requiring a special word, Southern Baptist churches, associations and general bodies have often found it necessary to make declarations in order to define, express and defend beliefs. Though we do not regard this as a complete declaration on these issues, we believe this initiative finds itself consistent with our most cherished distinctives and rooted in historical precedent.
The preamble to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BFM 2000) declares: “Each generation of Christians bears the responsibility of guarding the treasury of truth that has been entrusted to us [2 Timothy 1:14]. Facing a new century, Southern Baptists must meet the demands and duties of the present hour. New challenges to faith appear in every age.”
We recognize that God’s great blessings on our denomination bestow upon us a great responsibility to offer a biblically-based, moral witness that can help shape individual behavior, private sector behavior and public policy. Conversations like this one demand our voice in order to fulfill our calling to engage the culture as a relevant body of believers. Southern Baptists have always championed faith’s challenges, and we now perpetuate our heritage through this initiative.
We are proud of our deep and lasting commitments to moral issues like the sanctity of human life and biblical definitions of marriage. We will never compromise our convictions nor attenuate our advocacy on these matters, which constitute the most pressing moral issues of our day. However, we are not a single-issue body. We also offer moral witness in other venues and on many issues. We seek to be true to our calling as Christian leaders, but above all, faithful to Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, our attention goes to whatever issues our faith requires us to address.
We have recently engaged in study, reflection and prayer related to the challenges presented by environmental and climate change issues. These things have not always been treated with pressing concern as major issues. Indeed, some of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that these are real problems that deserve our attention. But now we have seen and heard enough to be persuaded that these issues are among the current era’s challenges that require a unified moral voice.
We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues have often been too timid, 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. 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.
Therefore, we offer these four statements for consideration, beginning with our fellow Southern Baptists, and urge all to follow by taking appropriate actions. May we find ourselves united as we contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all. Laus Deo!
Humans Must Care for Creation and Take Responsibility for Our Contributions to Environmental Degradation.
There is undeniable evidence that the earth—wildlife, water, land and air—can be damaged by human activity, and that people suffer as a result. When this happens, it is especially egregious because creation serves as revelation of God’s presence, majesty and provision. Though not every person will physically hear God’s revelation found in Scripture, all people have access to God’s cosmic revelation: the heavens, the waters, natural order, the beauty of nature (Psalm 19; Romans 1). We believe that human activity is mixed in its impact on creation—sometimes productive and caring, but often reckless, preventable and sinful.
God’s command to tend and keep the earth (Genesis 2) did not pass away with the fall of man; we are still responsible. Lack of concern and failure to act prudently on the part of Christ-followers reflects poorly to the rest of the world. Therefore, we 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.
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.
We recognize that Christians are not united around either the scientific explanations for global warming or policies designed to slow it down. Unlike abortion and respect for the biblical definition of marriage, this is an issue where Christians may find themselves in justified disagreement about both the problem and its solutions.
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.
Christian Moral Convictions and Our Southern Baptist Doctrines Demand Our Environmental Stewardship.
While we cannot here review the full range of relevant Christian convictions and Baptist doctrines related to care of the creation, we emphasize the following points:
We must care about environmental and climate issues because of our love for God—“the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver and Ruler of the Universe” (BFM 2000)—through whom and for whom the creation was made. This is not our world, it is God’s. Therefore, any damage we do to this world is an offense against God Himself (Gen. 1; Ps. 24; Col. 1:16). We share God’s concern for the abuse of His creation.
We must care about environmental issues because of our commitment to God’s Holy and inerrant Word, which is “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds and religious opinions should be tried” (BFM 2000). Within these Scriptures we are reminded that when God made mankind, He commissioned us to exercise stewardship over the earth and its creatures (Gen. 1:26-28). Therefore, our motivation for facing failures to exercise proper stewardship is not primarily political, social or economic—it is primarily biblical.
We must care about environmental and climate issues because we are called to love our neighbors, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us and to protect and care for the “least of these” (Mt. 22:34-40; Mt. 7:12; Mt. 25:31-46). The consequences of these problems will most likely hit the poor the hardest, in part because those areas likely to be significantly affected are in the world’s poorest regions. Poor nations and individuals have fewer resources available to cope with major challenges and threats. Therefore, “we should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy … [and] the helpless” (BFM 2000) through proper stewardship.
Love of God, love of neighbor and Scripture’s stewardship demands provide enough reason for Southern Baptists and Christians everywhere to respond to these problems with moral passion and concrete action.
It Is Time for Individuals, Churches, Communities and Governments to Act.
We affirm that “every Christian should seek to bring industry, government and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth and brotherly love” (BFM 2000).
We realize that we cannot support some environmental issues as we offer a distinctively Christian voice in these arenas. For instance, we realize that what some call population control leads to evils like abortion. We now call on these environmentalists to reject these evils and accept the sanctity of every human person, both born and unborn.
We realize 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. Many of our churches do not actively preach, promote or practice biblical creation care. We urge churches to begin doing so.
We realize that the primary impetus for prudent action must come from the will of the people, families and those in the private sector. Held to this standard of common good, action by government is often needed to assure the health and well-being of all people. We pledge, therefore, to give serious consideration to responsible policies that acceptably address the conditions set forth in this declaration.
We the undersigned, in accordance with our Christian moral convictions and Southern Baptist doctrines, pledge to act on the basis of the claims made in this document. We will not only teach the truths communicated here but also seek ways to implement the actions that follow from them. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we urge all who read this declaration to join us in this effort. Laus Deo!
This “declaration” bothers me for a variety of reasons, but here are the two main ones:
- Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Rush Limbaugh, but I’m just not convinced that global warming is real, and if it is real, I’m certainly not convinced it is man-made (don’t get me started on Al Gore). I know this puts me at odds with popular scientific opinion but so do my views on evolution vs. creation (not that that is necessarily a good reason to not believe in global warming). I’m all for polluting less and saving the freckled salmon and recycling Dr Pepper cans, but I’m not totally convinced that driving my car around the block raises the earth’s temperature. The same scientists who champion global warming also claim the earth is millions of years old and has gone through countless natural ice ages and warm periods. If were to accept that premise, it seems like it could easily explain potential climate change. Of course, I could be totally wrong and be begging for forgiveness in 40 years as my skin boils and the polar bears drown. Should that be the occasion, look for my heart felt and humble mea cupla here.
- Second, this subverts the Convention. Southern Baptists have an established method of voicing our opinions on non-theological political issues and it’s called a resolution. By going through the process at the annual meeting each summer, the democracy ensures the resolution speaks for the majority of Southern Baptists (at least a majority of Southern Baptist messengers). These 44 people and their “declaration” in effect subvert the will of millions of Southern Baptist who have clearly and properly spoken on the subject last year in a statement with which I am much more inclined to agree (not that I’m entirely convinced it was necessary):
On Global Warming June 2007
WHEREAS, God is not a distant bystander with respect to human affairs, but judges all people and holds them accountable for their thoughts and actions (Psalm 24:1; Isaiah 45:5-8; Hebrews 4:12-13); and
WHEREAS, Christians are called by God to exercise caring stewardship and dominion over the earth and environment (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8); and
WHEREAS, We share God’s concern that the poor should not be abused, taken advantage of, nor overburdened (Psalm 140:12; Proverbs 14:31; 29:7; Isaiah 25:4; Ezekiel 22:29, 31; Matthew 25:40; John 14:15); and
WHEREAS, The record shows that global temperature has risen and fallen cyclically throughout geologic history, with some periods warmer and others cooler than the present; and
WHEREAS, The global temperature has generally risen since 1850 as it recovers from the “Little Ice Age” (1550-1850 A.D.); and
WHEREAS, The ten warmest years since 1850 have occurred in the last fifteen years; and
WHEREAS, The scientific community is divided regarding the extent to which humans are responsible for recent global warming; and
WHEREAS, Many scientists reject the idea of catastrophic human-induced global warming; and
WHEREAS, Sixty international experts in climate and related sciences signed an open letter on April 6, 2006, to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stating that scientific evidence does not support the computer models of catastrophic human-induced global warming; and
WHEREAS, The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), while remaining politically active in warning of catastrophic human-induced global warming, has recently altered many of its previous statements, reducing its projections of the magnitude of global warming and its impacts on the world; and
WHEREAS, Many scientists argue that natural causes such as El Niño, alterations in solar energy, solar wind output, cycles of cosmic ray influx, precipitation microphysics, and changes in cloud forcing—along with human-land-use conversion for cities and agricultural use and deforestation—are much more significant in climate change than CO2 emissions; and
WHEREAS, Certain areas of the world, where some say warming is most pronounced, were actually much warmer than they are today, like Greenland, which was extensively farmed by the Vikings from around 1000 to 1300 A.D., before colder temperatures made farming virtually impossible for them; and
WHEREAS, Measures to curb global warming, such as those contained in the United Nations-sponsored Kyoto Protocol, are estimated to only reduce the likely rise in the average global temperature by 10 percent or less, from an increase of 2.0o C to 1.9o C by 2100, for example; and
WHEREAS, Some estimate that compliance with Kyoto would cost the global economy from about $200 billion to $1 trillion each year without a policy that would allow for global carbon emissions trading and $75 billion each year even with a worldwide trading scheme; and
WHEREAS, Large developing countries such as China, India, and Brazil are currently exempt from Kyoto; and
WHEREAS, Exempting emerging economies like China, India, and Brazil from CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions reductions would significantly undermine the minute effect on average global temperature gained through reductions by developed nations; and
WHEREAS, Forcing developing countries to comply with Kyoto will significantly inhibit their economic development and the development of the international economy; and
WHEREAS, Proposed carbon offset programs will have little impact on reducing rising temperatures if human activity is not a significant cause of recent global warming; and
WHEREAS, Some are proposing that a maximum acceptable global temperature increase should serve as the guideline for determining reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions; and
WHEREAS, Businesses and municipalities will likely pass along the cost of emissions reduction programs to consumers, driving up the cost of goods and services; and
WHEREAS, Poor people and underdeveloped regions of the world will be impacted the most severely by higher costs; and
WHEREAS, The poor and most vulnerable people around the world are faced with many more quantifiable, immediate, devastating problems;
now, therefore, be itRESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, urge Southern Baptists to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research;
and be it further RESOLVED, That we consider proposals to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions based on a maximum acceptable global temperature goal to be very dangerous, since attempts to meet the goal could lead to a succession of mandates of deeper cuts in emissions, which may have no appreciable effect if humans are not the principal cause of global warming, and could lead to major economic hardships on a worldwide scale;
and be it further RESOLVED, That we urge Congress and the president to only support cost-effective measures to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions and to reject government-mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions;
and be it furtherRESOLVED, That we urge governments to begin to take steps to help protect vulnerable communities and regions from the effects of the inevitable continued cycles of warming and cooling that have occurred throughout geologic history;
and be it furtherRESOLVED, That we strongly request that all public policy decision makers ensure an appropriate balance between care for the environment, effects on economies, and impacts on the poor when considering programs to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions;
and be it furtherRESOLVED, That we support the development of environmental public policy that will improve the stewardship of the earth’s resources without resulting in significant negative consequences not only on the United States and other developed economies, but also, and most importantly, on the poor and on developing economies;
and be it furtherRESOLVED, That we support public policy that helps provide immediate assistance to the poor and most vulnerable people around the world, including access to clean drinking water and electricity, AIDS care and prevention, vaccinations, malaria eradication, and education programs;
and be it finallyRESOLVED, That we continually reaffirm our God-given responsibility to care for the earth by remaining environmentally conscious and taking individual and collective efforts to reduce pollution, decrease waste, and improve the environment in tangible and effective ways.