The Southern Baptist Convention wants you to know there has been no policy change on the issue of global warming.
That official statement from the denomination is meant to clarify confusion generated about the efforts of Jonathan Merritt, a 25-year-old Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student who launched a campaign from within Baptist ranks for stronger action against climate change, which he believes poses an imminent threat to mankind.
The statement titled “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change,” written by Merritt received massive media coverage – from the New York Times to the Associated Press to Reuters. It was widely portrayed as a major deviation from a more cautious stance on the controversies surrounding the seriousness of man-made catastrophic global warming.
“For the record, there has been no change in convention policy and despite the media blitz that suggests otherwise, there does not appear to be a groundswell of support for change,” explained Will Hall, vice president for news services for the SBC, a member of the executive committee and executive editor of the Baptist Press. “Jonathan Merritt does not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention. Unfortunately, his use of ‘Southern Baptist’ in the title of his declaration misinforms the public and misrepresents the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The SBC released its views on global warming last summer in the statement titled, “On Global Warming.”
While not being an official document of the SBC the latest statement was signed by several high-profile Southern Baptist leaders including Merritt’s father, James Merritt, a pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Frank Page, endorsed the document as well as Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, who was also a former president of the SBC.
Page also supported the SBC’s resolution on the topic that was released last year.
During an annual meeting in San Antonio in 2007, Southern Baptist leaders spoke of the issue of global warming encouraging others “to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research.” It also endorsed public policies that safeguard “an appropriate balance between care for the environment, effects on economics, and impacts on the poor when considering programs to reduce” carbon and other emissions.
“Southern Baptists have long stood for a clear environmental message which takes seriously God’s call to guard and keep the earth,” Page said. “We have been balanced and responsive in our calls for care. … However, in a broader sense, many of God’s people have been timid about speaking out regarding issues which relate to environmentalism. Perhaps this timidity has been a fear that speaking out would tie us to the very extreme left wing liberal environmental lobby. Some in this group are known for harsh political tirades. Others have issued irresponsible calls for economic change which would devastate the economies of some of the poorest nations in the world.”
Merritt, who is the project director of the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, explained in a teleconference March 10, that his inspiration for the resolution came during a theology class.
“In the lecture my professor made the statement that when we destroy creation, which is God’s revelation, it is no different than tearing a page out of the Bible,” he said. “At that moment, God began to work in my heart and call me to do something. It is the product of that nudge from God that day.”
Merritt’s statement reads, “current denominational engagement with these issues has 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.”
The resolution is signed by 46 leaders in the SBC.
The newly released resolution has four main points:
- Human beings have a responsibility to care for creation and acknowledge their participation in environmental decline.
- Addressing climate change is prudent.
- Stewardship of the earth is required by Christian and Southern Baptist beliefs.
- Individuals, churches, communities and governments should act now.
The statement also emphasizes the signers differ with many environmentalists on population control issues and maintain the SBC positions on biblical marriage and protecting the unborn.
“We will never compromise our convictions nor attenuate our advocacy on these matters, which constitute the most pressing moral issues of our day,” the statement says. “However, we are not a single-issue body.”
The lack of endorsement of the final document by the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission was notable. In a teleconference, Merritt said that the ERLC has provided input in early drafts of the resolution, but did not endorse the final draft.
ERLC President Richard Land stated that he would not endorse the resolution in a statement to the Baptist Press to preserve the autonomy of the Southern Baptists.
“They reserve to themselves the right to decide through Convention action what the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy positions are to be,” Land said. “The ERLC will continue to share the officially adopted positions of the Convention with public policy makers and the media.”
In addition, Land commented on the signers’ allegation that the SBC has been “too timid” in handling the stated issues.
“The convention has officially addressed the issues of creation care and environmental stewardship in its 2006 and 2007 conventions through resolutions adopted by the convention’s duly elected messengers,” Land said. Referring to the 2007 action, he added that the approved action “is as close to an ‘official’ position as the SBC is capable of making, apart from its formal confession of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message. Consequently, in our convention-assigned role to share faithfully with Washington and other public policy venues where the convention is on an issue, it would be misleading and unethical of the ERLC to promote a position at variance with the convention’s expressly stated positions.”
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