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Warmest Year on Record Will Heat Up Christian Response

2014 was the Earth’s warmest year on record, announced a U.S. government agency last week.
“The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2014 was the highest among all years since record keeping began in 1880. The December combined global land and ocean average surface temperature was also the highest on record,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported.

NOAA’s report was confirmed by the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Jonathan Overpeck, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Arizona, told USA Today, “Humans are literally cooking their planet.”

Princeton University’s climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said, “The dice are definitely loaded in favor of progressively hotter years.”

Asked about global warming while traveling to the Philippines, Pope Francis told reporters, “I don’t know if it is all (man’s fault) but the majority is, for the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature.”

He said, “I think man has gone too far.”

In conjunction with the Pope’s Asian tour, a coalition of Catholic clergy and laity announced the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

Its goals are to raise awareness within the Catholic Church about climate change and to raise “the Catholic voice on climate issues.”

That coalition no doubt awaits eagerly Pope Francis’ announced encyclical on climate change with an expected release date in the spring.

Papal encyclicals are substantive “letters” that address critical issues, helping Catholics think about and practice their faith.

The pope’s encyclical will make a scientific and moral discussion about global warming inevitable both within churches and the larger public square.

Already, conservatives have reacted in alarm to an unpublished encyclical on climate change – as evidence by the Fox News story with the overheated headline, “US Conservatives Erupt Over Pope’s Plan for Encyclical on Moral Duty to Address Climate Change.”

Calvin Beisner, head of an evangelical free-market organization that denies global warming, told The Guardian in late December that the “pope should back off.”

He said the Catholic Church was being “misled on the science.”

However, Lucio Caruso, director of mission for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Louisville, supports the pope’s environmental initiatives.

About the anticipated encyclical, he said, “I think there will be agreement in terms of the core principles.”

Given the fact that the archdiocese has long addressed climate change and the archbishop of the diocese is also the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, one could expect an enthusiastic response to the pope’s letter.

If the Catholic Church engages the issue in an energetic way – and it will – the larger Christian community will tackle the topic in a new way.

While the scientific community has a consensus about climate change, the U.S. Protestant community has been rather anemic in its engagement of the issue, and evangelical Protestants have been too often among the anti-science deniers.

The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 2007 dismissing climate science, repeating flawed narratives about that science and urging its members to “proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate.”

In response to a 2013 LifeWay Research survey, only 43 percent of pastors responded that they “believe global warming is real and man made” and 54 percent disagreed.

EthicsDaily.com, on the other hand, has been forthright and frequent in its editorial stance and columns – for years – about the danger of global warming and the moral responsibility to address the issue.

The field is now being set for a significant showdown within the American Christian community over climate change: Conservative evangelical Protestants vs. Pope Francis. Anemic mainline Protestants vs. Energetic Catholics. Clergy deniers vs. Informed, concerned laity.

Focused civility on moral responsibility ought to be the first priority within the Christian community as a warming Earth heats up church exchange. More hot air is bad. Passionate discussion is good.

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.