Unless a 21st century Moses comes down from Stone Mountain with a new commandment about global warming, don’t expect the majority of Southern Baptist clergy to tackle the issue of human-induced climate change. Scientific consensus simply isn’t enough to trigger responsible moral action for those who demand the absolute certainty of divine revelation.
Scientific evidence and the lack of providential disclosure create a conundrum for those who recognize climate change and want to send “a positive message to the cynical opponents to the Christian faith” that Christians do care about the environment.
Their irresolvable problem will become apparent on Monday when Southern Baptist Convention leaders will reportedly release “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change,” which is advanced by an earnest 25-year-old son of a former SBC president. His father pastors a church in the Atlanta area.
Their statement calls denominational resolutions and actions on global warming “too timid” and proclaims with bravado that “the time for timidity regarding God’s creation is no more.”
Yet their declaration itself discloses too much timidity for one lamentable theological reason ””special revelation.”
“We recognize that we do not have any special revelation to guide us about whether global warming is occurring and, if it’s occurring, whether people are causing it,” the statement says. “[T]here is not a consensus regarding the anthropocentric nature of climate change or the severity of the problem.”
For those without a theological dictionary, the phrase “special revelation” is a code word for the Bible, the supernaturally revealed, inerrant and literal message of truth from God delivered once and for all. Baptists often express their moral absolutism on every matter under the sun with the statement, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”
What these prominent Southern Baptists are saying is that since the Bible doesn’t speak about climate change and human beings causing global warming, they can’t definitively say if the earth is heating up due to human-induced actions.
Nonetheless, they say that while “the claims of science are neither infallible nor unanimous,” scientific claims are “substantial and cannot be dismissed.”
They see what others are seeing. But they don’t have any special revelation from God to confirm what they are seeing, leaving them trapped in a canyon of no escape. If they backtrack on their convictions about the Bible’s special revelation, then they place at risk other issues upon which they have pontificated with uncompromising certainty, such as the role of women and abortion. If they stay in the ravine, they become even more irrelevant, especially to a younger generation.
With no resolution to the riddle of competing sources of knowledge, these clergy take a Texas two-step. They rightly acknowledge that the Christian teachings of love for God, love for neighbor and care for creation necessitate environmental stewardship. They urge prudent actions despite the “absence of perfect knowledge.”
Their so-called “wise decisions ¦in the absence of infallible evidence” amount to let’s keep talking about global warming and keep real action locked away in personalized initiatives and the private sector.
When Southern Baptist college presidents, a divinity school dean and a former SBC president make such a faint-hearted statement about such a pressing issue, one wonders how they can ever challenge their students and congregants to live courageously and meaningfully in the real world.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.