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Global Baptists: Barriers to Church Engagement on Environment

Baptists leaders from Europe and the United States recently discussed barriers to church engagement on the environment in an online conversation moderated by EthicsDaily.com.

Helle Liht, assistant general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, and Brian Kaylor, associate director of Churchnet, joined EthicsDaily.com media producer Cliff Vaughn for a conversation about what churches are and aren’t doing regarding creation care.

The conversation is part of EthicsDaily.com’s ongoing coverage of Earth Day, April 22.

“Evangelical Christians [in the United States] are among the most skeptical about the science of climate change,” said Kaylor, who attended the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris in December 2015. That meeting brought forth the Paris Agreement, in which nearly 200 countries committed to limiting behaviors that contribute to global warming.

Kaylor said the global church’s involvement on the environment offers a striking counterpoint to U.S. churches’ efforts.

“Climate change is not a future hypothesis for them,” said Kaylor, referring to Christians from many other countries with whom he spent time in Paris. “It’s a current reality. They’re already experiencing, they’re already seeing the impact of climate and the changing climate – from supercharged storms, from larger droughts and famines.”

“Hearing their stories, I think, is actually one of the key things missing in U.S. churches,” said Kaylor. “Were not listening to the global Christian family on this. We’re having a disccussion among ourselves.”

And to the extent that U.S. churches do have a discussion, it is heavily politicized.

That’s not the case in Europe, said Liht, who also chairs the Creation Care Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.

But another barrier to positive movement on the issue, said Liht, is simply the challenge of appreciating long-term results.

“It’s a long-term thing,” said Liht, who previously worked at the Estonian Ministry of Environment. “When you do something, you have to wait 10, 20, perhaps 30 years before you see change. And that kind of keeps the motivation of people down.”

Others barriers that Liht and Kaylor discussed included limited theologies and, sometimes, misapplied terminologies.

But both Baptist leaders said they haven’t heard many creation-focused sermons. A sermon, however, that Liht could recall hearing in the United States on this topic actually condemned environmental activists.

Nevertheless, resources – like Eco-Congregation recommended by Liht – are available. And goodwill Baptists and others are speaking out about how creation care is indeed tied to one of the Great Commandments.

“One of the most siginficant demands repeated throughout the Bible – Old Testament and New Testament – is the idea that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves,” said Kaylor.

Watch the entire video with Liht and Kaylor: https://vimeo.com/213583919

Watch a package of videos with faith leaders from COP21: https://vimeo.com/album/3696273

Read the Baptist World Alliance General Council resolution on the Paris Agreement:

http://bwanet.org/resources/bwa-currentresolutions

EthicsDaily.com’s article series for Earth Day 2017 is available here.