I am not a Southern Baptist. Even when I was one, I wasn't a very good one. I tended to think for myself a bit too much and usually came to the "wrong" conclusion, at least in the opinion of those who held the strings of power in the Southern Baptist Convention. I tended to side with women, minorities, gays, and the poor, while my old denomination tended to side with straight white men who owned businesses. I tended to think that it was important to interpret scripture as being particular to a certain place and time, rather than "inerrant" or "infallible." I tended to think that it was important to teach science in a biology class, not creationism.
This past week, one of my parishioners sent me a link to a report from National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, where Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, was interviewed by Audie Cornish about the recent SBC resolution on the oil spill that is ravaging the Gulf coast.
That resolution (full text here) stated: "God has designed us with a dependence on the natural resources around us and has assigned us a dominion of stewardship and protection of those resources for future generations," and goes on to say "Our God-given dominion over the creation is not unlimited, as though we were gods and not creatures, so therefore, all persons and all industries are then accountable to higher standards than to profit alone."
The resolution continues with a call for the government "to act determinatively and with undeterred resolve to end this crisis; to fortify our coastal defenses; to ensure full corporate accountability for damages, clean-up and restoration; to ensure that government and private industry are not again caught without planning for such possibilities; and to promote future energy policies based on prudence, conservation, accountability, and safety." Wow!
This is a remarkable resolution, at least from the SBC, where the conservatives have long forgotten about conservation, and have simply become far-right-wing culture warriors. It serves as a spark of hope that the SBC may, at least on this one issue, be joining the mainline in having an understanding that a major part of our faith is manifested in protecting the world that God has placed in our care.
Younger evangelicals are less rigid in their positions than the previous generation. While many of their parents' generation still deny the reality of climate change, most younger evangelicals understand the scientific reality, and believe that care for the earth is an important part of their theology.
"Social Justice Evangelicals" like Pres. Jimmy Carter, who last year followed my lead in leaving the SBC and who has spent decades promoting justice through the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity, and Rev. Jim Wallis at Sojourners have long understood that even a conservative theology leads faithful people to progressive politics (see A Pledge to the Next Generation here). Care for the environment, concern for society's most vulnerable people, opposition to war: all these are core Christian values, which come directly from the Bible. Without drawing theological lines in the sand, Carter and Wallis have both worked to build practical partnerships, even among those who have broader theological disagreements.
While all of the other social resolutions passed at the SBC's annual meeting this year are the expected anti-gay, anti-divorce, pro-male-domination things that you'd expect, this one resolution is like a pinpoint of light in a dark night. It gives me hope that, maybe, there's something that Evangelicals and the rest of Christianity can work on together.