Friday, February 01, 2008

Young Baptists are Going Green

From today's N&O:

Young Baptists are going green
Environment is their new priority

Yonat Shimron, Staff Writer

ATLANTA - Sarah McCoy mixes her own laundry detergent from biodegradable ingredients, saves cardboard by taking a cookie sheet to the pizzeria to bring home a pie, and got her parents rechargeable batteries for Christmas.

She's not just another tree-hugger, though. She's a 26-year-old divinity school student at Campbell University in Buies Creek and a new generation of Baptist leader who characterizes global warming as a "burr in my butt."

On Thursday, McCoy was one of 2,500 people who bought $35 tickets to lunch on salad and chicken while former vice president Al Gore, also a Baptist, delivered his now-famous slide show on the crisis confronting the Earth because of global warming. Gore's presentation was part of the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, a gathering of black and white Baptists, moderates and liberals, meeting at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Among those in attendance, McCoy represents the new generation of Baptists who will one day take the helm of churches across the nation. Their passion for environmental stewardship signals a different slate of concerns they'll champion as they move into positions of leadership.

"The environment is the No. 1 issue in terms of how we are putting hands and feet to the call of Christ -- not just saying but doing," said Bailey Edwards Nelson, a 24-year-old divinity school student at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.

On the second day of celebration, orchestrated by former President Jimmy Carter, divinity school students mingled with the old guard -- adult leaders in their 60s who planned and organized the event but who grew up in a far different world. The celebration is thought to be the first time black and white Baptists have ever met together on a large scale.

"Carter is rightfully very proud this is occurring under his watch," said Loyd Allen, professor of theology at Mercer. "But in my classroom, it's typical to have one out of every three ministers an African-American, and one out of two a woman. It's a different world."

And they bring different priorities. But not just young Baptists are raising environmental concerns. Prominent evangelical Christian leaders -- such as the Rev. Rich Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals -- have warned that global warming is an urgent threat, and that the Bible calls on people to care for God's creation.

But they have not nearly succeeded in capturing the hearts and minds of more conservative evangelicals. Some, such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, have seen global warming as a distraction that diverts evangelicals from other issues they deem more important, such as the breakup of the family, abortion and homosexuality.

According to a Barna Group study published last week in the Baptist Press, a publication of the Southern Baptist Convention, global warming was last on the list of problems evangelicals rated. Instead, they listed abortion as the top issue facing America, followed by personal debt, the content of TV and movies, homosexuals, poverty, immigration and HIV/AIDS.
'Climate refugees'

But for the young, energetic crowd Thursday who took in Gore's presentation, the environment was the top priority.

Gore, who received several standing ovations, fired up the crowd with his PowerPoint presentation, splicing in biblical quotes about humankind's responsibility to care for creation. Showing slide images of glaciers melting and rivers drying, Gore spoke of the disproportionate pain these disasters cause for the poor, especially in developing nations. He introduced a new term to the Baptist lexicon -- "climate refugees" -- in reference to people who are displaced by environmental changes that make their homelands unliveable.

He also tried instill in listeners a sense that they can make a difference, not by changing incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent, but by challenging political leaders to pass legislation that would reduce the carbon emissions.

After a sustained standing ovation, Carter asked the crowd assembled to raise their hands if they agreed with Gore about the urgency of his call. Hands flew up. "Any disagree?" he asked. Silence fell on the room.

"We do not have to countenance the heaving of contempt on God's creation," Gore said.

also see sidebar: DIVERSITY IN EVIDENCE

It's really great to see denomination that have not traditionally taken an interest on the environment (with some exceptions), taking this moral issue seriously.

To be fair, there has been a lot of excitement and some criticism of the New Baptist Covenant. Wade Burleson, a noted (and sometimes controversial) voice in the Southern Baptist Convention, has issued an official statement. It seems kind and gracious. Officially, the SBC is (unusually) quiet about this event, with criticism floating sporadically from individuals.

I for one, am simply to see some of the issues being addressed from a Christian responsibility POV.

For more on the New Baptist Covenant, see here and here
Reports from the Celebration can be found from Tony Cartledge.

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