Baptist leaders change global warming stance

The New York Times reports that key leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, representing the second-largest religious affiliation behind Roman Catholicism, are pushing for the group to change its myopic stance on climate change:

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.” [CNN puts the number at 46]

Yet its current president, the Rev. Frank Page, signed the initiative, “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change.” Two past presidents of the convention, the Rev. Jack Graham and the Rev. James Merritt, also signed.

“We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues has often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice,” the church leaders wrote in their new declaration.

For a church as large (16 million members) and conservative as the Southern Baptists to put global warming as a priority and stop denying its existence is a major shift and even more repudiation of the Bush Administration's eight years of sticking its head in the sand on carbon emissions and their impact.

The SBC's current stance, adopted June 2007, hewed more closely to the Bush stance, with its criticism of the economic impacts of adopting Kyoto and its explanation of rising global temperatures as a function of recovering from the Little Ice Age. Its June 2006 resolution on the matter was even more strident, saying, "Some environmental activists are seeking to advance a political agenda based on disputed claims, which not only impacts public policy and in turn our economic well-being, but also seeks to indoctrinate the public, particularly students in public institutions …"

In contrast, here is the proposed declaration on the environment by the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative:

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.

Among the 46 signatories of the proposed declaration is the leader of Tampa Bay's largest and most influential Southern Baptist congregation, Pastor Ken Whitten of the Idlewild Baptist Church.

Full text of declaration here.

You can e-mail your reaction and/or support to Pastor Whitten here.

(file photo of 2006 Southern Baptist Convention meeting: Matt and Cyndi Maxson)