Group of evangelicals issues global warming stance; several notable names are absent

WASHINGTON (BP)--A coalition of 86 evangelical leaders called Feb. 8 for action on global warming, most significantly the passage of legislation to decrease carbon dioxide emissions.

In a statement an organizer of the coalition described as “ground-breaking,” the leaders said global warming, also known as climate change, is “mainly human-induced” and they urged other evangelicals to help combat the problem.

Several prominent evangelicals, however, did not endorse the statement, including Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson. They have said there is a lack of consensus among evangelicals about the extent and cause of global warming.

Among those signing the statement were several Southern Baptist leaders, most notably author and Southern California mega-church pastor Rick Warren. Also endorsing the document were some Southern Baptist academics, including Timothy George, dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., and David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

The current SBC president, Bobby Welch, was not among the signers, nor were any former SBC presidents or any of the six SBC seminary presidents.

The new global warming coalition, known as the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), made four claims in its statement, which was unveiled at a Washington, D.C., news conference. They were:

-- “Human-induced climate change is real;

-- “The consequences of climate change will be significant and will hit the poor the hardest;

-- “Christian moral convictions demand our response to the climate change problem;

-- “The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change -– starting now.”

In their statement, the signers said “many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. As evangelicals we have hesitated to speak on this issue until we could be more certain of the science” of global warming.

The evangelicals cited the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has been researching the issue since the late 1980s, and the National Academy of Sciences in asserting that global warming is mostly caused by human beings. According to the evangelicals’ statement, the IPCC has documented a 50-year rise in global temperatures and has predicted a continued increase, mostly because of human beings.

The statement said the biblical basis for evangelicals’ work on global warming is love for God, love for neighbor and the responsibility for stewardship of creation.

Climate change likely will produce more droughts and floods, more powerful hurricanes and the spread of diseases –- all of which will affect the poor more significantly, the statement said. “Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors,” according to the statement.

Wheaton (Ill.) College President Duane Litfin said at the news conference that climate change has been one of evangelicals’ “blind spots” but it “needs to be our issue.”

Leith Anderson, a mega-church pastor in Minneapolis and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told reporters a “grassroots constituency” already was “on board” on the issue. He predicted the number of leaders who endorse the statement will increase, as will the involvement of churches and the personal and political action of evangelicals.

In January, Land, Dobson and Colson were among 22 conservative Christians who signed a letter urging the National Association of Evangelicals not to take an official position on global warming because it “is not a consensus issue.”

“We are evangelicals, and we care about God’s creation,” the 22 leaders said. “However, we believe there should be room for Bible-believing evangelicals to disagree about the cause, severity and solutions to the global warming issue.”

The NAE did not endorse the new statement, and its president, Colorado Springs mega-church pastor Ted Haggard, did not sign it. Haggard told The New York Times he is convinced climate change is occurring and action should be taken, but he did not want his signature to be interpreted as an endorsement by the NAE.

A lack of consensus among Southern Baptists is enough to keep him from signing the new statement, said Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“It would be unethical and irresponsible for me to sign such a statement giving the impression that there is a consensus among Southern Baptists on this issue when there is clearly not one,” Land told Baptist Press. “We will continue to foster discussion and debate on issues such as global warming and Christians’ responsibility for the stewardship of the environment and the best ways to address our energy needs in the future. But until and when a consensus develops among Southern Baptists, it would be a disservice to Southern Baptists to give the impression that such a consensus existed.”

Land, Dobson and Colson signed on to a 2000 statement known as The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship that called for care of creation but rejected the certainty of human-caused global warming. The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) was founded in November, with the Cornwall Declaration as its statement of principles. In a 20-page paper on global warming, the ISA has contended that climate change is difficult to verify and some proposed responses would harm the economy and be most detrimental to the poor.

In addressing the differences between the signers of the new statement by the Evangelical Climate Initiative and those who do not support it, Anderson said at the news conference he thinks “that where there may be disagreement on cause, there can be agreement ... on consequences. And I think that that is where we have our common cause.”

“What we can agree on,” Land told Baptist Press, “is we have a responsibility for earth care and being good stewards of the environment God has entrusted to our care to both till and keep.”

Land has written on environmental issues in two books, and the ERLC, the entity he heads, sponsored a conference on Christians and the environment in 1991.

Among other signers of the new ECI statement were black pastors Charles Blake of Los Angeles, Wellington Boone of Norcross, Ga., and Floyd Flake of New York City.

The signers also included Todd Bassett, national commander of The Salvation Army; Paul Cedar, chairman of the Mission America Coalition; Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; and Richard Stearns, president of World Vision.

Other Southern Baptist academics endorsing the statement were four college presidents, David Clark of Palm Beach (Fla.) Atlantic University, Douglas Hodo of Houston (Texas) Baptist University, Lee Royce of Mississippi College and Pat Taylor of Southwest (Mo.) Baptist University, along with Union University professor David Gushee.

At the news conference, the coalition announced an advertising campaign that includes a full-page ad in the Feb. 9 issue of The New York Times and the March edition of Christianity Today, as well as television spots on the Fox, CNN and ABC Family channels and ads on the Salem Radio Network.

The new ECI statement may be found on the Internet at www.christiansandclimate.org.

The ISA website is www.interfaithstewardship.org. The Cornwall Declaration may be accessed at that site.


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