Jonathan Merritt is a young theologian in Atlanta who broke into the national conversation this month by championing within the conservative Southern Baptist faith the declaration of a new set of principles regarding creation care and climate change.
While noting continuing debate on some global warming questions, the declaration made a point of stating that we as a species can damage the planet, and that such actions are wrong. The declaration stressed that "We do not believe unanimity is not necessary for prudent action," and said "Humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change—however great or small."
The declaration was signed by three of the four most recent presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, including the current office holder, Frank Page. In a phone interview, Merritt conceded that the resolution, like all resolutions issued by the SBC, is non-binding, but said he and his fellow counselors are pleased that since the declaration made the national news, hundreds of prominent Southern Baptists have signed on, including divinity school presidents, pastors, seminary professors, and missionaries.
Merritt said that it represented an "evolution" of the Southern Baptist position on the issue, but the mildness of that description is debatable. In the Resolution on Global Warming issued in June 2007, the Southern Baptist Convention used the dismissive rhetoric of climate change denial, claiming the science was "divided" on the question of global warming, and that measures to reduce emissions were "very dangerous" and costly. Because the Southern Baptist denomination is the second largest in the country, with over sixteen million adherents, the church’s position on social issues makes news.
Not only do these believers stake out a new position on the issue, but use the language of repentance to describe the change, which makes their change of heart sound almost like a conversion experience. The declaration mentions the "study, reflection, and prayer" the signatories went through before reaching consensus on the declaration, and in a widely-quoted statement, added:
We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues have
often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice. Our
cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may
be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed.
I asked Merritt about this language, saying that if I was as reporter in a courtroom, that I would describe this as a statement as "remorseful." Merritt agreed. For more, please see my post in Gristmill.