CHICAGO Prominent members of the Southern
Baptist Convention said on Monday that the church, the largest
U.S. Protestant denomination, has been too timid to speak out
against global warming and must start taking strong stands.
The statement marks a significant shift in the way one of
the country's most conservative churches regards climate
change. If the membership at large accepts it, there could be
political implications since evangelical Christians are a
significant base for the Republican Party which has been wary
of taking action on the issue.
Environmental and climate changes "have not always been
treated with pressing concern as major issues. Indeed some of
us have required considerable convincing ...," said a statement
issued by 46 church members including the current and two
former presidents of the 16-million-member denomination.
"We believe our current denominational engagement with
these issues have been often been too timid, failing to produce
a unified moral voice," they said in a statement issued after
study by their ad hoc group.
"Our cautious response to these issues in the face of
mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring,
reckless and ill-informed. The time for timidity regarding
God's creation is no more," the group said.
Evangelical Christians in the United States have been
paying increasing attention to environmental issues in recent
years, citing what they see as a moral imperative for proper
stewardship of God's creation.
Polls have shown that evangelicals want a broader agenda
that goes beyond the recent focus on abortion and gay rights to
include issues such as the environment. But they are divided on
what should be done with the lead being taken by more liberal
Last year church and scientific leaders organized by the
National Association of Evangelicals issued an "urgent call to
action" to President George W. Bush calling for "fundamental
change in values, lifestyles and public policies ... to address
these worsening problems before it is too late."
Bush, who has enjoyed heavy political support from
evangelicals, pulled America out of the Kyoto treaty aimed at
capping carbon emissions in developed economies, citing high
economic costs. The administration has also been skeptical
about the science of climate change.
Conservative evangelicals have tended to mirror the
The Southern Baptists at their annual meeting last June in
Texas passed a resolution urging caution "in the human-induced
global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific
But Monday's statement could to indicate a possible shift
if the membership at large goes along when the church holds its
next meeting later this year.
"Today marks a new day for many Southern Baptists, as we
pledge to take seriously Scripture's creation care mandates in
light of pressing environmental realities," said Jonathan
Merritt, a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
who headed up the project that led to Monday's proclamation.
Among those endorsing it were Frank Page, president of the
convention, and past presidents James Merritt and Jack Graham,
as well as the presidents of several colleges or seminaries and
a number of pastors.
"This is a profound break with what they have said in the
past. But it doesn't call for any specific policy remedy. And
the positions of a church hierarchy often have much more
political impact when the policy implication is clear than when
it is ambiguous," said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at
Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
(additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Dallas)
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)