Southern Baptists remain hesitant on environment

June 11, 2008

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The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest evangelical denomination, has paid scant attention to the environment although there have been calls from within to take a more activist stance on issues like climate change.

This stems in part from divisions within the SBC — which are found among the broader evangelical movement – on what approaches to take on green matters.  

The 16-million member SBC is a bedrock of political and cultural conservatism and a key plank in the Republican Party’s evangelical base. So much of its leadership has traditionally seen red when green issues are raised.

But there have been signs of change though they hardly figured on the agenda at this annual meeting which wrapped up on Wednesday.

In March a statement signed by several prominent SBC members including outgoing President Frank Page called for a stronger stance on global warming, blamed by most scientists on greenhouse gas emissions.

That put them in line with more centrist evangelicals who see climate change as a compelling Christian issue because of its perceived impact on the poor. It is also seen as morally wrong to inflict damage on “God’s creation.” 

“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 time for timidity regarding God’s creation is no more,” the March statement said.

Newly elected SBC president Johnny Hunt said he felt that most Southern Baptists were still not completely swayed by the notion that human activities were causing climate change.

But he said he thought Southern Baptists needed to pay more attention to environmental issues.

“It should be more on the radar screen than it has been. It is God’s creation, we have no right to violate it … and we ought to be leading the way (on the environment),” he told me.

There had been hope in some SBC quarters that the March statement and other initiatives signalled that the denomination would pay more attention to global warming and related concerns.

But it is an issue that younger evangelicals are keen to embrace as they seek to broaden their movement’s biblical agenda beyond its recent focus on hot button culture issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

So it’s certainly not going away.  

(Photo credit: Reuters, Javier Barbancho, June 4, 2008, Spain)

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