Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof. . . including that tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

The great BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may turn out to be the instrument God uses to get Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals out of their opposition and complacency toward environmental issues. And as bad as the mess in the gulf is, that may turn out to be a good thing.

With few exceptions, Southern Baptists have been extremely skeptical about environmental issues. They are, for instance, forever bad-mouthing anyone who dares to support the concept of global warming (including three of their own kinsmen—Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore). Their opposition to that issue screams so loudly that it gets in their way of expressing true positive biblical concern for the Earth and all that is in it. Those who haven't been opposed to everything environmentalists say about global warming have often been, to put it mildly, foot draggers on the issue of the environment in general.

I was heartened to read recently in Baptist Press an article by Russell Moore (no relation to me that I know of), dean of the theology school at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., that spoke of a grave concern for the environment generated by the oil spill. Like so many Southern Baptists, Russell happens to have deep roots along the Gulf Coast. He had returned home to the Gulf Coast and saw first hand the devastation already pummeling the area because of the slick stuff inching its way onto the beaches and into the lives of millions of people.

Russell has for years been a good forecaster of important issues in the SBC, which makes his opinion on this matter even more interesting.

It's a shame that it takes a cruel rude awakening in one's backyard to prompt concern that should have been there all along about the environment. Christians, particularly Bible-believing conservative Evangelicals, ought to have been in the forefront of the environmental-concerns movement. After all, the biblical book of Genesis makes it abundantly clear that the Earth and all that live on it or around it are God's creation. And Genesis also makes it abundantly clear that we humans are to be stewards (caretakers) of all of God's creation including the Earth itself.

And it doesn't take a believer in the theory of global warming to recognize that we humans are doing a pitiful job of taking care of God's beautiful world. Pollution, trash, misuse, and other ills that beset our Earth should be obvious to even the most casual observer.

Yes, I know upfront and personal that Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has spoken out somewhat in support of environmental issues. Having worked at the ERLC when it was called the Christian Life Commission, I know personally of Richard's interest in the area. I also know that it falls low on his and the agency's priority list. Southern Baptists simply don't get anywhere near as excited about environmental issues as they do the pro-life movement. Everything these days in the SBC seems to revolve around that issue (which by the way I support but not to the exclusion of every other biblical issue).

Instead, like so much else these days, Southern Baptists and many Evangelicals have allowed the Republican Party and its secular political biases to dictate their agenda. And unfortunately opposition to environmental issues is one of those issues the right wing of the Republican Party has lit upon.

Concern for the Earth and all that inhabit it should never be a divisive political issue. It should never be a Republican nor a Democratic issue. It is a biblical issue. It's OK to debate whether global warming is real or not, but it's not OK to fight against the issue of global warming so much that it looks for all the world like total opposition to anything and everything environmentalists have to say.

The tragedy that is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico contains frightening elements for all Americans—Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party advocates, and Independents—as well as all citizens of the world. It is difficult to think of anything good resulting from BP's blunder and its continuing display of ineptness at managing the mess. But if it does light a fire under Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals about our need to be better stewards of our Earth and all that is in and on it, then at least that will be good.