Some evangelical arguments on global warming are theologically problematic, Moore tells U.S. Senate committee

Communications Staff — June 21, 2007

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptists and other conservative evangelicals support environmental protection but do not believe the Bible provides a “blueprint” for government policies on global warming, members of the U.S. Senate were told in a recent hearing.

Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appeared with other religious leaders before a Senate committee June 7. The seven witnesses agreed on the biblical charge to care for the creation as well as the need to protect the poor. They differed, however, on whether climate change is significantly caused by people and on the need for some of the policies being proposed on global warming.

“Southern Baptists and other evangelicals do not deny that there is climate change or even that some of this climate change may be human caused,” Moore told members of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Many of us, though, are not yet convinced that the extent of human responsibility is as portrayed by some global warming activists or that the expensive and dramatic solutions called for will be able ultimately to transform the situation.”

Moore said he is concerned about some arguments made by “evangelical environmentalists” that he described as “very unnuanced” and “very theologically problematic.”

Southern Baptists and other likeminded evangelicals “are concerned that tying Bible verses to any specific legislation on global warming, especially when there are potentially harmful results, could serve both to harm the public interest and trivialize the Christian Gospel,” Moore said.

Some witnesses, meanwhile, contended that the science is conclusive and called for the federal government to place caps on carbon dioxide emissions.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, whose approval last year as presiding bishop has produced continued division in the Episcopal Church, told the panel she believes “science has revealed to us without equivocation that real and caused in significant part by human activities.” She said there is an “increasing urgency” in her denomination regarding the issue.

“While you may debate about how to deal with climate change, the answer is that we must reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” Schori said. She urged the senators to make a “national priority” of reducing global carbon emissions by 15 to 20 percent in the year 2020 and by 80 percent in 2050.

Jim Ball, president of the Evangelical Environment Network, told senators, “We believe the science is settled and it’s time to focus on solving the problem.” Ball is a driving force in the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), a coalition of more than 100 evangelical leaders who have endorsed legislation to decrease carbon emissions.

In his written testimony, the ECI’s Ball cited the work of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, which has reported that water could be scarce for 1-2 billion people as a result of climate change.

James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, pointed to an April report by the Congressional Budget Office that said price increases as a result of cap policies being proposed would place a greater burden on the poor than the wealthy.

Tonkowich is among the 1,500 signatories of the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship, produced by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, an alternative group of evangelical and other religious leaders who believe the cause of climate change is uncertain and that strong policies to combat global warming will hurt the needy the most.

David Barton, president of Wallbuilders, joined Moore and Tonkowich in expressing evangelical concerns about global warming initiatives. He told the committee that evangelicals “simply will not place the theoretical needs of the environment above the actual needs of the poor.”

Moore said Southern Baptists are concerned in the debate over climate change about not only global poverty but the sanctity of human life as well.

“Some in the evangelical environmental movement speak of the population control efforts as the ‘third rail’ in this discussion,” Moore told the committee. “In an era with millions of abortions worldwide and governments such as that of China coercively controlling family size, those of us who are still unsure of the precise contribution of human beings to climate change will be especially attentive that any proposal, even one that we can support otherwise, does not sacrifice the dignity of innocent human life.”

Tonkowich told the panel the debate among religious leaders needs to change. Everyone agrees on the need to care for the earth and the poor, he said. “Now, what we do about the earth, what we do about the poor, that’s where the disagreements come,” he said. “The debate really needs to rise above: ‘You don’t agree with my policy; therefore you must not love Jesus.’”

John Carr, representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was encouraged that the witnesses and senators are focused on the poor.

“The poor are not abstractions for us,” Carr told the committee. “They have names and faces. And so we know that inaction will hurt them and that the wrong action will hurt them.”

Also testifying was David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

During the hearing, Moore and some committee members cited the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2006 resolution on the environment, which endorsed stewardship of the creation while opposing solutions based on “questionable science.” A large placard of the resolution was displayed in the hearing room during part of the hearing.

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the committee, also read a portion of a letter from Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, that expressed concern about global warming proposals that would place greater burdens on the poor. Inhofe has been Congress’ leading skeptic about the currently prevailing view on global warming.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif., chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.
A video webcast of the Environment and Public Works Committee hearing is available on the committee’s website at

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