Four dozen Southern Baptist leaders voiced support for President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, under scrutiny for his views on climate change, in an open letter Dec. 16.
The current and 12 past Southern Baptist Convention presidents, 14 current and former agency heads and executive directors of 17 SBC-affiliated Baptist state conventions said Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt “is well qualified” to run the EPA and “deserves the full support of the United States Senate in his confirmation.”
The Southern Baptist leaders said they believe Pruitt, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., and a trustee at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., has been misrepresented as denying “settled science” for questioning the evidence linking greenhouse gas emissions to climate change.
Pruitt co-wrote a National Review article in May arguing the policy debate over global warming “is far from settled.”
“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” said Pruitt, a close ally of the energy industry who has filed a lawsuit against the agency he is about to lead. “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums and the halls of Congress.”
Politico reported Dec. 14 that Senate Democrats would seek to block Pruitt’s nomination by turning the vote into “a referendum on whether Republicans believe humans are causing global warming.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who led the EPA under President George W. Bush from 2001 until 2003, said she doesn’t recall ever seeing “an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does.”
“He obviously doesn’t care much for the agency or any of the regulations it has promulgated,” Whitman said in a Dec. 12 article in Grist. “He doesn’t believe in climate change. He wants to roll back the Clean Power Plan.”
The Southern Baptist officials, who include the presidents of all six SBC seminaries, said “every realm of human activity comes with the responsibility to be good stewards of all that is entrusted to us” and welcomed “the progress made in respecting creation, advancing a proper environmentalism and affirming this stewardship.”
“At the same time, we reject any ideology that sees human beings as a blight upon the planet and would harm human flourishing by restricting or preventing the rightful use and enjoyment of creation,” they said.
“We do not deny the existence of climate change nor the urgency of this concern,” the letter said. “We affirm an ongoing debate on the proper balance between the unleashing of human enterprise and the protection of creation.”
They said that instead of denying science Pruitt “has actually called for a continuing debate,” something that is “in the very best tradition of science.”
A complete list of signatories can be seen on the full letter as published by Baptist Press.
One of the signatories, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler, said recent opposition to Pruitt from the secular left points to “the folly of scientism.”
“At this point I need to make very clear that Mr. Pruitt is a friend and he is a member of the board of trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” Mohler said in his daily podcast Dec. 13.
Mohler described the debate over Pruitt’s nomination as “a battle of worldviews” between Christianity and what “can only be rightly described as scientism.”
“This is a worldview that doesn’t merely admire science, it is a worldview that reduces every question of meaning to that which can be ascertained by the science of the hour,” Mohler said.
The Southern Baptist Convention went on record in 2007 with a resolution citing “conflicting scientific research” concerning human-induced global warming and calling on national leaders “to only support cost-effective measures to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions and to reject government-mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Some of the signers of the letter defending Pruitt added their names to “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change” in 2008 dissenting from the denomination’s “too timid” approach on climate change spearheaded by Jonathan Merritt, at the time a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and now a faith and culture blogger for Religion News Service.
“Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed,” the 2008 statement said. “We can do better. To abandon these issues to the secular world is to shirk from our responsibility to be salt and light.”
Other Southern Baptist leaders inked an open letter in 2006 endorsing a document offering “extensive evidence and argument against the extent, the significance, and perhaps the existence of the much-touted scientific consensus on catastrophic human-induced global warming” produced by the Cornwall Alliance, a conservative Christian public policy group formed in 2005 to discourage evangelical leaders from supporting legislation aimed at curbing climate change.