Robert Parham presents Al Gore with a "green Bible" at the New Baptist Covenant celebration in Atlanta in January 2008. (Photo: www.newbaptistcelebration.org)
Some conservative evangelicals define creation care with an anti-Al Gore disclaimer and denial about the scientific consensus regarding climate change. They say evangelicals shouldn't address global warming because the Bible doesn't address global warming. Yet these same evangelicals say Christians should recycle aluminum cans and conserve electrical energy, two activities for which no biblical proof text is available.
These Southern Baptists are holding a Bible conference on the environment at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., on May 13-15, almost the same dates that Al Gore's Climate Project is hosting its North American summit in Nashville.
Gore has a striking record of challenging the faith community to address climate change. He sponsored a three-day faith summit last October attended by 135 faith leaders, including some 20 Baptists from North America, Australia and Japan.
That training event came after Gore spoke at a luncheon to some 2,500 Baptists at the New Baptist Covenant meeting in Atlanta in January 2008, where he gave the most important address to Baptists in 30 years.
He spoke with passion and clarity about the newest scientific reports and placed biblical stepping stones throughout his lengthy presentation.
When he was finished, Jimmy Carter asked, "How many of you think we should join Al Gore in being one of the strongest voices on earth?"
Carter asked to ringing applause: "Does anyone disagree? OK, now you see that was a unanimous vote. Thank you very much."
Yet Southern Baptist fundamentalists want nothing to do with the global community's strongest environmental voice, the voice of a fellow Baptist.
The host-pastor of the environmental Bible conference, James Merritt, said last year that creation care was a foundational principle of Scripture.
The former Southern Baptist Convention president added, "People who know me know that I'm conservative and just a little to the right of Ronald Reagan; I'm not in Al Gore's camp at all."
In a March interview about the conference, Merritt said: "Being a conservative—social, political and theological—I took a little bit of a jaundiced view of the whole Al Gore approach to environmental phenomena."
In May, his son, Jonathan Merritt, told the Tennessean that conservative evangelicals distrusted Democrats and saw global warming as a liberal issue. "I call it the Al Gore effect," said Merritt.
When Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary held in April its first creation care conference, school president Danny Akin had a disclaimer: "We're not jumping on the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Al Gore bandwagon. We're using a more cautious, responsible approach."
An unmistakable irony is that such leaders justify their newfound concern about the environment with a confession that Southern Baptists were too late in their support for racial integration.
Yet these current Baptists are repeating the same mistake their spiritual ancestors did. Saying the Bible teaches creation care without applying the moral teaching to the most pressing environmental problem—climate change—is the same thing their spiritual relatives did. They taught that the Bible called for love for neighbor without applying that moral imperative to racial segregation. They disclaimed any connection with civil rights leaders, calling them trouble-makers.
That reality begs a question: Does a Bible conference on the environment really matter if the biblical witness isn't applied in real time?
Maybe the children and grandchildren of these conference sponsors will have to confess that their parents and grandparents were too slow to address global warming as they justify tackling some future issue.
Fear compromises the possible good intentions of these Bible conference Baptists. They are afraid of other Baptist fundamentalists who are even more theologically conservative than they are. They are afraid to admit that the Bible doesn't have to be read literally in order to guide them into including climate care in their creation care agenda. No "special revelation" or literal text is needed to justify Christian concern about global warming.
Additionally, they are afraid of being seen as disloyal to their faith, which is now sadly defined by political affiliation and ideological identification. For 30 years, Southern Baptist fundamentalists have defined moral orthodoxy as faithfulness to the Republican Party. Any deviation from the agenda of Rush Limbaugh is seen as apostasy.
The environmental Bible conference leaders need to man up. Believe in God and cease having a spirit of fear. Stop criticizing Gore and discrediting science.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.