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Southern Baptists Convention challenged on global warming - by its own youth

April 14 2008:

TIME Magazine this month reported how a powerful group within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the United States has challenged the denomination's official stance on global warming, stating that: "when we destroy God's creation, it's similar to ripping pages from the Bible."

"We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues has often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice,” states the Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change.

“Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed. We can do better and that threat is too grave to wait for perfect knowledge before addressing it."

The Time article notes that the declaration commends government action but makes no specific policy recommendations, such as a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. “But, most importantly, given its target readership, it argues that stewardship of the planet is just as Biblical as the other causes that Baptists press in public, and that "when we destroy God's creation, it's similar to ripping pages from the Bible”."

Although decision-making among the Southern Baptists is done by local churches, without one overarching body, the signatories represent some of the top figures in the convention, including the president, the Rev. Frank Page of South Carolina; two former presidents, the Rev. James Merritt of Georgia and the Rev. Jack Graham of Texas; and the Rev. Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas, who helped conservatives solidify control of the denomination in the 1970s and 1980s.

The declaration has been pushed through by 25-year-old SBC seminarian Jonathan Merritt - son of the Rev.James Merritt - who started campaigning to protect the environment after an epiphany moment in class.

"I was an enemy of the environment… I approached it with disdain. And then I was sitting in a classroom and I felt like God spoke to me and put this idea in my heart."

With 16 million members, the SBC is the biggest Protestant body in the U.S. – and Time speculates it is “probably one of the least involved of the American religious bodies in the battle against global warming.”

In 2007 the SBC stated formally that climate change hasn't been proven. Thus, the article states: “Merritt, 25, appears to have made an end-run around some of his Convention's usual power brokers, including its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which traditionally has a near-lock on issues of national policy. Asked if it was common for a rump group like Merritt's to collect this kind of firepower, Ethics Commission Vice President Barrett Duke [who has not signed the declaration] hesitates: "I don't know. It's unusual. I'm sure it's existed, but I can't recall”."

This is the latest in a series of critical eco-turns by US evangelicals, some of whom are now vociferous and potent leaders in bid to protect the natural environment.

The story was picked up by newspapers, magazines and networks around the world including MSNBC and CNBC: such interest is also indicative that the issue of religions working positively to protect creation is now becoming mainstream.

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