SBC leaders: Caring for earth a command

ORIGINALLY POSTED March 19, 2008

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Christians and Southern Baptists on different sides in the policy debate over the environment can nonetheless partner together to care for it out of a belief that such action is biblically commanded, two Southern Baptist leaders who themselves are on different sides of the issue say.

The comments by Barrett Duke, vice president of public policy and research for the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., come after an initiative signed by Dockery and approximately 50 other Southern Baptists drew significant national media attention March 14. The self-labeled Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative -- which was not an official statement from the denomination -- said that humans "must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change -- however great or small."

Duke did not sign the statement but in 2000 was among a group of leaders from various religions and denominations who signed the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship expressing skepticism that global warming is mainly human-induced. The statement also expressed concern about the effects that policies proposed by those who believe in human-induced climate change would have on the poor.

Both statements affirmed the biblical admonition to take care of God's creation, which should be the starting point between the two groups, Duke said. Both sides believe humanity has a responsibility to care for the environment and believe that humanity can be either a blessing or a curse on it, he said.

"It is appropriate for Christians to be concerned about the environment because it is part of God's creation," he told Baptist Press. "We do recognize that when God created Adam and Eve he put them in the Garden and gave them responsibilities to care for it. We don't see any indication that humanity no longer has that responsibility."

Dockery agreed, saying in an e-mail to BP that Christians "should care about the environment because 'the earth is the Lord's (Psalm 24:1).'" God has given stewardship of the earth to humans, Dockery said, and Christians must "avoid both the idolizing of this creation (Romans 1:25) as well as the irresponsible neglect of it (Luke 12:13-21)."

"We should find areas of common concern and focus on our biblical responsibilities and not on the inconclusive scientific hypotheses over which there are many unanswered questions and disputed interpretations," Dockery said. "... It seems good that believers have in recent years become concerned about the future of the earth. We need, however, to separate the biblical teaching from the political rhetoric," he said. "Together we can affirm and proclaim a full-orbed Christian worldview that includes the creation mandate of Genesis 1 and the teachings of the New Testament. While we might differ in the application of these teachings, we must reaffirm our shared biblical, theological and ethical underpinnings. We live in hope that the biblical message of redemption from sins also promises redemption for God's good earth."

Duke said Christians have an obvious need to care for the environment out of a need for "self-preservation." But Christians also have a unique desire to care for creation, he said, because they believe the earth and the universe declare the glory of God.

"Scripture tells us that the evidence of God can be seen in creation and so the more creation is assisted in showing its beauty and showing its magnificence, the better reflection that is on God," Duke said. "Perhaps the same kind of way as if we send our children out into the neighborhood all disheveled or clothed neatly, it reflects on who we are as parents."

Both men also said they believe care for the environment is a moral issue. Dockery said he believes the scientific data on global warming is "inconclusive" and that "at best," global warming is neither a primary or secondary moral issue but a "tertiary issue." Issues related to marriage and life, such as abortion, are more important, he said. But that does not mean Christians should ignore environmental-related issues.

"It seems to me that if we recognize the need for the earth to be redeemed and if that need has come about because of our sin, then we start with our need for repentance," Dockery said. "The problems related to the environment are not just related to technology or to science, but they are related to us. We must confess that we have not cared for God's creation as we should. We have often abused our responsibilities of dominion and stewardship. We have mistreated the land, our neighbors, our friends and our families. Thus, we begin by humbly repenting of our wrong, turning from our failures, and living out our discipleship more responsibly."

Southern Baptists, Duke said, should approach the issue of global warming with care.

"All Southern Baptists and all Christians in general need to be listening to the experts and they need to be asking questions," he said. "And they need to make sure their questions are answered. Then, I think it would be wise for all Christians to do what the [2007] SBC resolution on global warming said, which was to proceed cautiously. We need cautious engagement on the issue. We can't ignore it as though nobody's talking about it. But we shouldn't just take somebody's word for it. We need to engage but we do need to engage cautiously, and we need to be even more cautious when we get into the whole issue of remedies."

Caution is necessary, Duke said, because "so much is at stake" in the proposed remedies to global warming. Evangelicals, he said, have been targeted by global warming advocates for a strategic reason.

"If they can be moved on the global warming debate, then they can be used to put pressure on conservative politicians," he said. "At this point evangelicals are being looked at as the most resistant group to the issue, which means that if the evangelical community and especially Southern Baptists change their position on global warming, it can be argued that the evidence [would have] become irresistible."

But the issue should not divide Christians, he said.

"I don't think that we should be breaking fellowship over whether or not they believe that global warming is occurring or whether or not humans are causing most of it," Duke said. "We do need to continue to talk to each other. But it could be that when it comes to actual policy proposals, while we may agree to disagree, we may also find ourselves opposing each other on the solutions because of their significant implications for affecting the lives of millions of people."


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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