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Churches Use ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ as Teaching Tool

There’s a valuable teaching tool for pastors and religious educators willing to take a little political risk: Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” say two congregational leaders who have shown the film in Baptist churches.Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta held two screenings of the 2006 documentary on global warming sponsored by the congregation’s Justice, Ethics and Public Responsibility ministry group.

Matt Rich, minister for adult spiritual formation at Wieuca Road, said the idea to screen the film grew out an ongoing discussion of justice issues beginning with poverty that led to the environment.

“It was kind of a long shot,” Rich said at a screening of “An Inconvenient Truth” at the recent New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta. “We did not know how people were going to respond to this film.”

In informal discussion prior to the event, Rich said, some church members thought it was a bad idea. They cared more about Gore’s party affiliation than the subject matter. But when it came time to view the film, he said, “People came out of the woodwork.”

“More people were concerned about the environment than we ever thought,” Rich said. The conversation prompted by the screening led to a recycling and energy program at the church. “It was overall a greatly positive event,” Rich said.

Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., said his church had been involved in creation care for a long time when it sponsored an early release DVD screening of “An Inconvenient Truth.” About 250 people showed up, Phelps said. Half of them were not members of the church.

The discussion at the screening was “almost universally positive,” Phelps said. Some “backlash” came later, from church members who felt the “Al Gore movie” was too political for a Baptist church.

Phelps said it is important to “understand where those folks come from but not cave into their fears.”

“The trickiest thing is how you present this in a way so it doesn’t look like a partisan political stand,” Phelps said. “This is a political issue, but it is not just a political issue. It is a moral issue as well.”

For Gore, who spoke to a luncheon audience at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration Jan. 31, the issue is also theological. “How can you glorify God while heaping contempt and destruction on God’s creation?” he asked in an interview with EthicsDaily.com in 2006. “The answer is that you cannot, you cannot.”

The former vice president urged 2,500 Baptists at the Atlanta event to take up the mantle of environmental care. “I think that there is a distinct possibility that one of the messages coming out of this gathering and this new covenant is creation care,” he said, “that we who are Baptists of like mind and attempting in our lives to the best of our abilities to glorify God, are not going to countenance the continued heaping of contempt on God’s creation.”

The movie Web site for “An Inconvenient Truth” links to a series of companion lessons to the documentary geared for science classrooms Grades 9-12.

Eco-Justice Ministries prepared a discussion guide of “An Inconvenient Truth” for churches in 2006.

Interfaith Power and Light, a ministry in 4,000 congregations and 26 states, has used “An Inconvenient Truth” extensively as part of its effort to mobilize a national religious response to global warming.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.