Earth Day and Baptists

What do Southern Baptists and Leonardo DiCaprio have in common? They both care about good environmental stewardship. Politics make strange bedfellows indeed.

Arguably the most conservative of mainstream evangelical demoninations, some Southern Baptists have jumped on board with green issues, embracing societal change in an effort to avoid what many seem to think is a planetary crisis.

It's called the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, and demoninational pastors, leaders and lay persons are urging members of the denomination to not only sign a statement of support, but also to live both holy and green.

This is earth-shattering (as always, pun is intended). We're not talking Unitarians here. These are not members of the United Church of Christ. Southern Baptists, as a whole, are more George Bush than Ted Kennedy. And the Southern Baptist Convention, by all accounts, is the largest evangelical Christian denomination in America. (You can check out the stats from Barna.)

Two observations here. First, this is further evidence that environmental issues have gone mainstream. The first Earth Day was in 1970. Back then, there were exactly three people who celebrated it: Ed Begley Jr., Al Gore and maybe a hippie living in a California commune named Moonbeam. That's it. Now, even Southern Baptists are going green, for crying out loud. Who's next, James Dobson?

Second, it's another example of 21st century evangelicals understanding the need, within carefully and prayerfully defined limits, to engage modern culture on its terms. I know I sound like a broken record about this sometimes, but engaging culture isn't a bad thing, so long as that engagement doesn't equal relativism. I'm not going to hell because I'm wearing a Pearl Jam T-shirt right now, or because I'd rather go to Bonnaroo than Icthus this summer.

I once heard a Penecostal preacher deliver a sermon to a Freewill Baptist congregation. He was brilliant in the way he bridged what some would consider too vast a doctrinal chasm. He explained that if the two camps, Penecostals and Freewill Baptists, were to rank, in order, their theological positions from the most important to the (perhaps) trivial, they would find complete harmony until, oh, position #32 or so. Why, then, is there any discord? Don't Arminian and Calvinist Christians both love--and serve--the same Jesus?

We can apply that same standard here, but with a twist. Let's say we were to list those positions we, as Christians, hold most dear as opposed to those of non-believers, with the difference being we started with the trivial first. At what point would we find a gulf that cannot be spanned? Issue #100? 1,000? Yes, Christ alone is God. Yes, He alone is the path to salvation. But is using one of those funky lightbulbs really a cause for concern for Christians? Should I pray for my next-door neighbor's receptiveness to the Gospel in the same breath that I pray he'd trade in his Prius for a Hummer? I dare say we have more important issues, as Christians, to focus our energies on--like evangelizing, like social justice, like showing Christ's love in our actions--than chastising someone for a political position that may or may not illustrate that person's love of the creation at the expense of The Creator? And I know that's a very real fear. Scripture talks about it. I get it. Might I submit, however, that the dude down the street who only eats organic foods, rides his bike to work and doesn't leave the water running while he brushes his teeth might be more receptive to hearing about Jesus if we run into each other down at the recycling center? Even if I don't buy the whole global warming thing, doesn't that have some value? Is that not showing Christ's love?

So, even if you think the polar ice caps aren't melting, head on over to the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initative website and sign the doggone thing.

If the perpetual question is What Would Jesus Do, I think He'd separate His paper and plastic.

(Read more about the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative here, here and here.

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