|Climate change's impact on church ministries and missions must be a top drawer issue for the North American Baptist leaders, who will meet at the Carter Center on Wednesday to discuss next steps for the New Baptist Covenant.
The invitation list includes both executives who belong to the North American Baptist Fellowship, the regional arm of the Baptist World Alliance, and a large number of Southern Baptist moderates affiliated with Baylor University, Mercer University and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
As an invitee, I have read enough e-mails and heard enough discussion over the past several weeks to know some of the strongly held opinions about the rightful locus of future leadership. I have not seen an agenda, however.
I do believe that one pressing reality crisscrosses multiple issues and transcends organizational, theological and personality differences. That issue ought to be on the agenda. The issue is climate change's impact on church ministries and missions.
That's right. We need to think intentionally and intensely about how climate change is already affecting and will have even greater impact on the church and Christian organizations.
While I think that the scientific community has a clear consensus about global warming and the human-induced nature of it, I understand that too many people of faith are global-warming deniers, who do admit that the climate is changing but refuse to recognize the change is man-made, reducing their own moral responsibility for action.
Given this situation, one of our foci on Wednesday should be to prioritize the issue of climate change and our need for goodwill Baptists to address substantively this issue. The impact of climate change is real, costly and immediate.
"Climate and Church: How Global Climate Change Will Impact Core Church Ministries" is a readable 16-page report of the Eco-Justice Program Office of the National Council of Churches that outlines how global climate change impacts refugee resettlement, feeding the hungry and disaster relief.
Albeit an artificial division, set aside the moral obligation that Baptists have to care for God's creation and center on our responsibility to love our neighbors on three fronts.
First, global climate change creates environmental refugees.
In 2005, the global community had some 19.1 million refugees due to environmental causes. By 2010, two short years from now, the number of refugees could swell to 50 million.
The Eco-Justice Program's report notes that at these projected rates the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. could leap from 41,279 in 2006 to 245,700 in 2010.
Church World Services and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service helped to resettle almost 41 percent of the total number of refugees in the U.S. in 2006. At the expected rate of refugee increases, these organizations will have to spend $278.4 million, six times their current budgets.
Given the often flat or declining budget receipts among goodwill Baptist organizations, how will supporters of the New Baptist Covenant be able to respond to these kinds of huge financial demands related to refugee resettlement?
Second, global climate change causes hunger.
"With increased drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, the UN Development Program predicts up to 600 million more people will face malnutrition" in Africa, according to the report.
Given the already modest level of contributions from goodwill Baptists to feed the hungry, how will we meet this significant demand?
Third, global climate change compounds disaster relief.
The faith community is among the first-responders to natural disasters. Baptists were among the first of the first-responders to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Yet how will we increase substantially our funding for relief and our human-power, if in fact we have the predicted increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes due to warming waters?
Add to these troubling matters the fact that "Asthma will increase because of global climate change and will disproportionately impact African-Americans," according to the report. Climate change will also cause greater economic hardships that negatively impact the poor and harm the elderly.
Global climate change is marching ever-so quickly and straight to the church's door, promising to change the nature of the church's ministries and missions.
New Baptist Covenant leaders can be reactive or proactive. I vote for a proactive approach that prioritizes the issue of climate change, finds ways to reduce the carbon footprint of Christians and calls on business and government leaders to do likewise.
Global climate change ought to be at the top of our priority list, especially given the way the issue is woven through race and poverty.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Baptists Must See Crisscrossing of Race, Poverty and the Environment.