Monday, March 17, 2008

Hankins' Thoughtful Response to Climate Change Declaration

David Hankins, Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention has written a wise and thoughtful response to last week's release of "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Cllimate Change" that appeared in the Baptist Press. I wrote of this declaration last week in my blog and had intended on dropping the subject but Dr. Hankins' article deserves to be mentioned. He correctly notes the unsettled nature of climate science and, especially, how our role as stewards of creation means using it for the good of man, not just for passive observation.

This is a very good article by Dr. Hankins.

Why I will not sign

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--Recently a number of conservative Southern Baptist leaders endorsed the document, "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change," which asserts: "We believe our current denominational engagement with [climate change] 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."

Although many of the signers are my friends and respected colleagues, I am writing to say why I will not sign the document, and why I wish they had not.

First, the fundamental assumption of the declaration is predicated on a seriously flawed understanding of the debate regarding climate change. It affirms the view that human-induced, catastrophic global warming is an undeniable fact. Some of the signers have implied that the declaration is neutral on the question of the imminent threat of global warming. The clear language of the declaration is anything but neutral:

-- "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."

-- "Though the claims of science [affirming catastrophic global warming] are neither infallible nor unanimous, they are substantial…."

-- "... we resolve to engage this issue without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem…"

Hardly neutral, the declaration has staked out a definite position which is simply untenable. There is no "general agreement" in the scientific community on any facet of this subject. There is evidence of growing dissatisfaction in the scientific community with the claims that global warming 1) is caused by human factors; 2) has any alarming consequences; 3) can be altered by a change in human behavior; and 4) should provoke the kind of draconian economic and political actions being currently proposed by many environmental activists.

Second, the declaration gives little evidence of serious interaction with even the most basic arguments on the other side of the debate. For example, the declaration did not appear to take into account any of the analyses produced by the Cornwall Alliance ( -- a coalition of scholars and religious leaders that has addressed the flawed positions of the "Evangelical Climate Initiative" which preceded the most recent declaration and which meandered down the same errant paths.

If global warming is a catastrophic danger caused by destructive human behavior, then everyone, especially godly people, ought to act to correct it. If, however, global warming is only a naturally occurring weather pattern which has been blown out of proportion by politically motivated partisans misconstruing the data, then it is irresponsible to call for actions that will actually harm, not help. If the latter, this new declaration actually evinces the "reckless and ill-informed" behavior it worries Southern Baptists may be exhibiting.

Catastrophic, human-induced climate change 1) has insufficient factual basis and 2) already has been saliently addressed by qualified evangelicals, and the SBC has decided the issue is worthy only of caution. The declaration's assertion that climate change should occupy a more prominent place in Southern Baptist interests should be rejected.

Should Southern Baptists be more engaged with environmental issues? Any issue presented for action by the convention ought to pass at least two tests:

1) Is it a real and pressing problem? Is it right to shout "fire" in a crowded theatre? Only if there really is a fire. Otherwise, raising the alarm is the only real danger. Is climate change more important than, say, world hunger and economic stability in the third world? It is now clear that suggested solutions to the non-problem of global warming would have devastating consequences for national economies, especially in the poorest countries.

2) Is it the business of the church? Should Southern Baptists have a "unified moral voice" on the right to get prescription drugs from Canada? Or on the European Union? Or on the value of NAFTA? There are any number of weighty matters which could consume the attention of the church, but some things are off-message. Climate change is such an issue. Southern Baptists leaders should be careful not to rally our people to a cause that is not only suspect in its reality but also a distraction to our real work.

In appropriate measure, Southern Baptists should, especially in light of the confusion created by the climate change furor, carefully articulate an ecological theology. There is a wealth of theological resources in the Scriptures that guide us.

For example, the Bible states that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" and that humans are "to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." This unequivocal assertion of God's Word puts humans in the role of stewards of the earth (not interlopers or intruders) whose duty is the maximum utilization of natural resources (not mere passive observation) for the glory of God and the good of men. A sound theology of creation-care will consider human achievement (building dams, erecting skyscrapers, mining for fossil fuels, etc.) as much a cause for celebration of God's creative purposes as a picnic in a virgin forest.

Reclaiming a proper theology is a task related to the environment that we can welcome.

But what about the concern that we are perceived as uncaring among those who are anxious about catastrophic climate change?

This reminds me of a poll reported in SBC Life last year that church young people believe the conservative church is mean to homosexuals.

Are we "mean"? Or could it be that the church believes homosexual behavior is sinful and, when it has addressed this highly volatile subject, it has said so?

Now, it doesn't matter how many ministries we have to homosexuals or how much we express our concern for all sinners, we are still considered "mean." Until we say homosexual behavior is acceptable, we will not be considered by the culture to be "caring." "Caring" means affirming their point of view, including their error.

So, how ought we, as Southern Baptists, minister in love to people who think that the sky is falling because of climate change? Sit down with them over a skinny latte at Starbuck's and gently tell them the truth.
David Hankins is executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"Baptist Creation Care," If You Please

With the global warming debate continuing to hold headlines, often generating more heat than light, I guess it is not surprising that some Southern Baptists feel the need to weigh in or else we might be viewed as "irrelevant." With that, "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change" has been birthed. It is the brainchild of Jonathan Merritt, son of former SBC president James Merritt. Merritt credits a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor who stated that destroying God's creation was like "tearing a page out of the Bible" with giving him this inspiration. This led him to lobby several SBC leaders, presumably using his father's Rolodex, to sign on to the initiative.

As a Southern Baptist pastor, I had been pleased that our denomination had not followed more liberal denominations in generating a knee-jerk response to the issue of "global warming." A few years ago, some evangelical leaders, including some prominent Southern Baptists, signed the declaration of the Evangelical Climate Initiative which declared that global warming was real, that it was detrimental, and that governments should immediately act to curb emissions. Many other Southern Baptists moved quickly to disagree with the sweeping statements of this declaration with the belief that the science of the question was far from settled.

This current initiative with its auspicious title,
"A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change," aspires to be far more than it is. It is not an official Southern Baptist statement but rather simply a statement of the signatories. The Southern Baptist Convention passed an official resolution, "On Global Warming," in the 2007 convention which urged caution on climate issues because of the unsettled nature of the science.

In my opinion, the global warming issue is the biggest fraud ever foisted upon the public, both national and international. We are continually inundated with stories of impending and unabated global warming. We are warned in apocalyptic language that we might soon reach a "tipping point" where no amount a action could reverse runaway catastrophic global warming. In such a situation, we are told, many of the world's major cities would become uninhabitable due to rising ocean levels. This is to spur us into pressing our government leaders to take drastic actions to reverse the process without regard for economic consequences. The dangers are too they say.

History is replete with crises created so that the "annointed" can rush in and save everyone with, of course, the implicit understanding that this will take great sacrifice. Global warming is the latest "crisis" that requires immediate action. Never mind that there are many contrary voices in the global warming debate. Never mind that many accomplished scientists dispute the findings of those who warn us that the end is near. Never mind also that the drastic actions demanded will hold off the industrialization that many third world societies desperately need thus ensuring that they will remain in generational poverty. The risk is too great to waste time on debate. The time for action is now.

Thankfully, this Southern Baptist initiative falls short of calling for precipitous action as did the Evangelical Climate Initiative. However, it adopts much of the same language and circuitously advocates a scaled-down version of the same kind of action advocated by the more radical declaration.

Ironically, or sadly, depending upon your perspective, these Southern Baptists are rushing to board the climate change ship just as it seems that the wind is leaving its sails. Global warming skeptics receive more press than ever before. Global temperatures are actually falling right now. One Russian scientist has stated that global temperatures peaked in 2004 and were now dropping due to decreasing solar activity. If the previous global warming was due to the sun, and many scientists think it was, there is no amount of government action that can change that and all our precipitous actions will have had no effect; other than to enrich those trading in the carbon offsets they said we needed.

Southern Baptists, as well as all other Americans, will do well to exercise eternal vigilance when fads arise leading to calls for drastic action significantly affecting our way of life. Human "crises" will come and go but one thing remains constant, our need for reconciliation with God that can only come through Jesus Christ. If we do our job as the Church, proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world, we may not be "cool" but we will never be irrelevant.