By Bob Allen
A Baptist ethicist welcomed Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment as “a hinge moment” not only for Catholics.
“The environment needs to be at the heart of the Christian moral agenda, and it isn’t,” Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said in a June 10 editorial on EthicsDaily.com.
Parham, author of Loving Neighbors Across Time: Christian Guide to Protecting the Earth published in 1992, said Baptists are no exception.
“While Baptists claim to be people of the book, we have glossed over the book’s message about the environment,” Parham wrote.
“Yes, even moderate Baptists, my own village, skirt the issue,” he said. “For example, all kinds of topics will be addressed in workshops at next week’s general assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — except the environment.”
“The first and best-attended New Baptist Covenant meeting (2008) only included a major emphasis on the environment (the Al Gore luncheon presentation on climate change) after arms were twisted for the inclusion of ‘an inconvenient truth.’”
Since its launch in 1991, Parham said, the Baptist Center for Ethics “has been relentless” in addressing environmental issues.
“Nonetheless, we frequently wonder if all of our words have made a difference,” he said. “Francis’ words will make a difference because of the force of his authority, the scale of his organization and the scope of his media popularity. His words will wash over every other church body — even Baptists. For that, I’m grateful.”
In 2006 Parham wrote an editorial describing the Bible as “God’s green book,” borrowing from the red-lettered Bible’s highlighting words of Jesus in the color red. In 2012 he praised the Baptist World Alliance for taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint created by travel to meetings around the world.
In 2007 EthicsDaily.com named former Vice President Al Gore as its Baptist of the Year for raising awareness about global warming through his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. When Gore gave a presentation on climate change at the first New Baptist Covenant Celebration in 2008 in Atlanta, Parham introduced him and presented him with a green-covered Bible symbolizing the scriptural mandate for creation care. Parham later described Gore’s message as “the most energetic, substantive and potentially transformative speech made by a Baptist to a Baptist audience in 30 years.”