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Al Gore the Prophet

From time to time throughout this long presidential campaign, I have heard several people say they wish Al Gore would get into the race. I am not one of them. I don’t want the former vice president to run for president, because it would distract him from the important work he is doing in the cause of the environment. The consequences of that campaign have truly global significance.

At the historic gathering of the New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta recently, Gore addressed a group of over 2,500 with his concerns about global warming. Using material from his Oscar-winning movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore argued persuasively that not only are we experiencing significant climate change, but that the change is the result of human activity. With dramatic images of rapidly melting glaciers and overwhelming statistical evidence tracing the rise of global temperatures, Gore left the crowd with little doubt that the human community faces a global crisis that threatens our very existence.

But there was a new wrinkle in this particular presentation. In addition to the science which was the centerpiece of the original award winning film, Gore introduced some theology.

“The Earth is the Lord’s,” Gore reminded the room full of Baptists, quoting Psalm 24. “And the fullness thereof.” We are stewards not owners of this planet, Gore reminded us, and we best not neglect our responsibility.

I have a pretty good radar for detecting when someone unaccustomed to using Scripture attempts to do so. The past 25 years of religio-politics in America has afforded many fine examples of what I call the “second hand use of Scripture.” Someone else does the research, and the candidate or politician reads the words from a card or teleprompter.

But that is not what I saw Gore doing. The Scripture flowed naturally during the presentation. In fact, during the hour-long lecture and video show, Gore did not resort to a single note or manuscript. He spoke with conviction, clarity and passion–about the science and the theology.

Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, one of the supporters of the event, introduced Gore as a modern-day prophet. Those words gave me pause as I heard them at the beginning of the evening. The designation of prophet needs to be applied carefully. Too many abuses are connected with the title and the office.

But by the end of the evening, my reservations were relieved. A prophet is someone with spiritual insight who evaluates present circumstances and then speaks the truth to power about future consequences. That’s what Baptists heard from Al Gore–insights that point to future consequences.

Of course, I know what’s about to happen. People reading this who have already decided that global warming is a ploy by pointy-headed liberals to stymie the predestined growth of American industry will immediately start looking for “alternative” scientific voices to counter Gore’s claims. And they will inevitably find those who are willing to offer seemingly conflicting science that proves the opposite of what Gore’s science proves.

But ask yourself this: What does Al Gore have to gain championing the care of the earth? Is he on the payroll of the powerful and influential scientific lobby? Are mega-wealthy tree huggers behind Gore’s impassioned message? That’s sarcasm, in case you missed it. Climatologists and tree huggers don’t attract a lot of wealth, unless they happen to work for oil companies.

So what is his motivation? Well, it could be that he really believes in what he is doing. Gore is not a recent convert to concerns about the environment. Take a look at his book, Earth in the Balance, in which he first gave voice to his concerns about what we are doing to our planet. By the way, that book was written in 1992. While you are at it you might also want to read his new book, The Assault on Reason, in which he bemoans the irrational and ideological attacks on honest science.

Those who attack the science that supports Gore’s message are simply wrong. There is virtual consensus in the serious scientific community that we are in the grip of a major and dangerous change in climate, and we are the cause of it.

The question we should be asking is this: Can we also be part of the solution? Gore and others believe we can, but we must begin to act now.

First and foremost we must find a way to free ourselves from our addiction to fossil fuels, especially oil. The carbon deposited into our atmosphere and oceans is the poison eating away at the ecosystem which sustains our lives.

Second, we need to understand that our commitment to carbon based fuels with the resulting climate change, affects the poorest of the poor in devastating ways. Drought and floods, the brother and sister of global climate change, wreak havoc among those whose lives and livelihood depend on what the earth can produce.

But don’t take my word for it. Watch “An Inconvenient Truth” and see and hear the evidence for yourself. Anyone not convinced by that presentation that we are in the grip of a major climate crisis was convinced before they got there that no truth can come from scientific fact.

In the meantime, I don’t want Gore to run for president of the United States. To quote the prophet Isaiah, “it is too small a thing” simply to become leader of this country. Gore has a message for the world and a stage to announce it and a vision to support it. We would do well to listen to this Baptist laymen prophet.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.

EthicsDaily.com is posting a series of opinion pieces about the New Baptist Covenant, evaluating the gathering and making suggestions about next steps:

Robert Parham, Gore Delivers Most Important Baptist Address in 30 Years (2/04/08)

Joseph Phelps, New Baptist Covenant Celebration was Political, but not Partisan (2/05/08)

Mike Smith, The New Baptist Covenant: What’s Next? (2/06/08)

Laura A. Cadena, Can Baptists Bridge the Racial Divide? (2/07/08)

James Evans, Reflections on a New Baptist Covenant (2/08/08)

Robert Parham, Washington Post Gets It Wrong About New Baptist Covenant (2/08/08)

Robert Parham, Wall Street Journal Column about New Baptist Covenant Has Too Many Errors (2/11/08)

Charles Foster Johnson, Baptists Found Their Voice Again at New Baptist Covenant Celebration (2/12/08)

Albert Reyes, Reflection on the New Baptist Covenant: Where Do We Go From Here? (2/13/08)

Robert Parham, Baptists Must See Crisscrossing of Race, Poverty and the Environment (2/13/08)

David Goatley, The New Baptist Covenant Celebration: A Grand Experiment (2/14/08)