Climate Change Prompts Debate Among Baptists

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A group of Southern Baptist leaders says the denomination has been "too timid" in addressing environmental issues. The letter may show the growing influence of a younger generation of evangelical Christians.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Some prominent Southern Baptist leaders are sending a new message about climate change. Today, 45 leaders issued a statement saying, the church has been timid in grappling with global warming.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Frank Page, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, is a bit taken aback by all the media attention he's received today. He says he's merely trying to navigate a course between denying global warming and channeling Al Gore.

Mr. FRANK PAGE (President, Southern Baptist Convention): I think, it is time to take a stand for responsible, biblical, stewardship of our environment regardless of the extremes on either side.

HAGERTY: Page signed a statement to urging the 16 million church members and pastors to consider the substantial claims of many scientists that human beings are responsible for global warming. Last summer, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution expressing skepticism about that point of view. But today's statement said, the denominations cautious stance makes Southern Baptist seem, quote, "uncaring, reckless and ill-informed." It was signed by two former presidents of the convention including James Merritt. Merritt says, he was persuaded by his son, a theology student who drafted the document.

Mr. JAMES MERRITT (Former President, Southern Baptist Convention): Unfortunately, the church sometimes is a little bit behind the curve. I think the classic example is the issue of segregation. And too often, there are times when the church is a Johnny-come-lately to issues where, you know, we ought to be out in front.

HAGERTY: But Barrett Duke, vice President for public policy of the denominations, says, the leaders do not speak for most Southern Baptists. In fact, he says, there's a pushback against the green movement among church members and scientists.

Mr. BARRETT DUKE (Vice President for Public Policy, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission): We don't believe the science is settled on the issue. If people get this wrong and the public policy is promoted on bad science, industry will be severely affected and the poor will be affected.

HAGERTY: Duke does not believe the convention will change its stand anytime soon.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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