As the nation's second largest denomination (after the Roman Catholic Church), Southern Baptists have been given much, so their potential to do good is considerable - as is the danger of missing opportunities to do good. Sadly, until now, constituents and leaders of the 16-million-member Convention have tended to lag behind other large Christian communities when it comes to addressing the issue of environmental stewardship in general and climate change in particular. But that may be changing.
In 2007, the Convention took the positive step of passing a statement affirming the need for Baptists to care for creation, but a new group of Southern Baptists - including many notable Baptist leaders - have said the statement was too timid: it could be interpreted by "the world," they said, as "uncaring, reckless and ill-informed." Through the new declaration, "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change," these leaders are calling Baptists to keep moving forward in care and healing for God's precious planet. Jonathan Merritt, a young leader who helped inspire the new declaration, expressed his motivation in language that resonates deeply with Southern Baptists: to trash this beautiful planet - which is God's handiwork and declares God's glory - is like tearing out pages from the Bible.
True, many SBC notables have not yet signed the new statement. But current Convention president Frank Page did, along with 43 other exemplary SBC leaders including Ed Stetzer, Larissa Arnault, David Clark, Timothy George, John Hammett, Darrin Patrick, Jonathan Merritt, and two previous Convention presidents, Jack Graham and James Merritt. Their website (www.baptistcreationcare.org) has room for additional signatories, so we may see the center of gravity shift further toward environmental responsibility in the coming days and weeks.