From the New York Times this morning:
Southern Baptists Back a Shift on Climate Change
by NEELA BANERJEE
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 largest denomination in the United States after the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, with more than 16 million members, is politically and theologically conservative.
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.
A 2007 resolution passed by the convention hewed to a more skeptical view of global warming.
In contrast, 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 document also urges ministers to preach more about the environment and for all Baptists to keep an open mind about considering environmental policy.
Jonathan Merritt, the spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative and a seminarian at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said the declaration was a call to Christians to return to a biblical mandate to guard the world God created.
The Southern Baptist signatories join a growing community of evangelicals pushing for more action among believers, industry and politicians. Experts on the Southern Baptist Convention noted the initiative marked the growing influence of younger leaders on the discussions in the Southern Baptist Convention.
While those younger Baptists remain committed to fight abortion, for instance, the environment is now a top priority, too.
“In no way do we intend to back away from sanctity of life,” said the Rev. Dr. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.
Still, many powerful Southern Baptist leaders and agencies did not sign the declaration, including the convention’s influential political arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy at the commission, played down the differences between the declaration and the Southern Baptist Convention’s position.
The declaration says in fact that lack of scientific unanimity should not preclude “prudent action,” which includes changing individual habits and giving “serious consideration to responsible policies that effectively address” global warming.
The declaration is the outgrowth of soul-searching by Mr. Merritt, 25. The younger Mr. Merritt said that for years he had been “an enemy of the environment.” Then, he said, he had an epiphany.
“I learned that God reveals himself through Scripture and in general through his creation, and when we destroy God’s creation, it’s similar to ripping pages from the Bible,” Mr. Merritt said.