Pope's Encyclical Deserves More Than Polite Silence from Baptists


Whatever is the explanation, the reality is that the most important Christian statement on the environment in a generation received little attention from Baptists, Parham observes.

Moral certitude was in no short supply among Baptists in the United States following the shooting deaths in an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, with the subsequent flash debate over the Confederate flag.

The same holds true for the reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

Righteousness and outrage ruled the moment for both.

Pastors pontificated. Pundits pounced. Baptist organizations produced statements.

Those against the flag and for gay marriage spoke as if humanity had re-entered the Garden of Eden.

Those against same-sex marriage warned that religious liberty and the welfare of children were at risk.

Everyone claimed the Bible was on his or her side.

In the moral mix was one issue that received a thundering silence. U.S. Baptists were largely mute over Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment.

Save EthicsDaily.com's planned series on the Baptist responses to the encyclical, few if any Baptist words could be heard.

One could interpret the lack of commentary as an indication of the lack of moral certitude about environmental responsibility. Or one could see it as the age-old Baptist discomfort with Catholics. Perhaps it reflects a latent distrust of science.

Maybe it's the recognition that environmental responsibility requires potentially difficult changes in personal consumption, comforts and commitments - and a reordering of social priorities that are costly.

Economic sacrifice is something that neither supporting gay marriage nor the removal of the Confederate flag requires.

Whatever is the explanation, the reality is that the most important Christian statement on the environment in a generation received little attention from Baptists.

And bluntly, the American media gave the pope's letter less ink than it did the Supreme Court and Confederate flag.

For now and the foreseeable future, EthicsDaily.com will remain the one spot in the public square where people of goodwill will find abundant Baptist words of moral certitude about the environment, including climate change.

We have refreshed our Green Bible page where readers will find nine columns by Baptists offering moral reflection on Pope Francis' letter.

For example, Central Baptist Theological Seminary President Molly Marshall offered a theologically substantive review of the document, noting its anthropological perceptiveness and pneumatological robustness.

Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond's vice president for academic affairs, Timothy Gilbert, boldly said, "No one can be a leader in ministry, or, in fact, simply a leader, in the 21st century who has not seriously considered the ethical issues presented in 'Laudato Si.'"

He said seminaries should be at the forefront of environmental discussion.

Robert Creech, professor of practical theology at Baylor University's Truett Theological Seminary, saw "five facets of congregational life can be places of leverage for change and action in creation care."

These three voices from U.S. Baptist academia provide a hopeful note that silence will not always rule the day. These professors have the potential for much influence on the next generation of church leaders.

Environmental issues are economically inescapable and morally unavoidable. The warming planet adversely harms the poor first and the most deeply. But it also strikes the economically affluent.

Surely, the church ought to be the watchman on the gate.

Francis' letter, "Be Praised: On the Care of the Common Home," is the kind of moral statement that deserves more from Baptists than a polite silence.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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