Baptist ethicist says oil spill a moral issue - Word&Way

Baptist ethicist says oil spill a moral issue

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) — A Baptist ethicist says the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a moral issue, although few Americans have framed the issue in moral terms.

"Yes, the BP disaster is a moral issue, one that goes to the very heart of our economic and cultural crisis about energy and the environment," Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, wrote in a June 1 commentary at the Washington Post's On Faith blog.

BP said the same day it was gearing up for a seventh try to cap oil leaking nearly 5,000 feet underwater 42 miles southeast of Venice, La. Officials estimated the flow — which has been going on six weeks after an April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers — at 800,000 gallons a day, nearly four times as much as the 5,000 barrels a day long maintained by BP and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Parham, executive editor of the BCE website, said the ecological disaster — now being described as the worst oil spill in U.S. history — contains elements of three of the seven objectionable vices described since early Christian times as the Seven Deadly Sins.

"Traditional Christianity identifies greed, sloth and pride as three deadly sins — sins that manifest themselves in BP's disaster," Parham said.

Parham said BP, the third largest energy company in the world, is "driven by corporate greed, the kind of greed that takes shortcuts to maximize profits, the kind of greed that takes risks at depths where problems can't be managed."

Americans in general, he continued, "are driven by sloth or moral indifference."

"We are unwilling to protect the environment, an undeniable biblical imperative, by breaking our energy dependence on dirty oil and supporting a climate bill that will invest in clean, renewable energy," Parham wrote. "Slothfulness finds expression among those who don't care if the government regulates the oil industry and foolishly trust Big Oil to do the right thing."

Finally, Parham said, is the sin of pride.

"BP was certainly prideful about its technological infallibility," he wrote. "BP couldn't imagine failure."

Parham quoted a BP official who said the company had not built a container device before the blowout because it "seemed inconceivable" that the preventer mechanism would fail and acknowledged, "I don't think anybody foresaw the circumstance that we're faced with now."

"BP has proven repeatedly through its failures to shut off the gusher that it was unprepared," Parham said. "Why was BP unprepared? It arrogantly believed its technology wouldn't fail."

"Loving one's neighbors means ensuring that they have a decent place to live — now and in the future," Parham concluded. "The moral choice is ours — we can take advantage of the current crisis to take the right steps or we can evade our responsibility for the common good."

BP stock rebounded June 2 after dropping 15 percent the previous day. Even with the jump, the British oil giant's stock is worth $73 billion less on the open market than before the spill.

The Justice Department announced June 1 it had begun a criminal investigation to determine if any laws were broken.


Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.