Seminary prof says Gulf oil spill could be wakeup call for evangelicals - Word&Way

Seminary prof says Gulf oil spill could be wakeup call for evangelicals

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) — The head of a committee that drafted a recent Southern Baptist Convention resolution on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill said on National Public Radio that the ecologic al disaster could be a "defining moment" for evangelicals and the environment.

"I remember once an evangelical figure spoke of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision as the Pearl Harbor of the evangelical pro-life movement," Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said on NPR's Weekend Sunday Edition.

"What he meant by that was that prior to Roe, most evangelicals really thought of those issues of life and protecting the unborn as being a Roman Catholic issue — somebody else's issue," Moore said. "But then after Roe v. Wade, suddenly evangelicals saw what was at stake and became involved. I think that this catastrophe in the Gulf could be that kind of defining moment."

Moore chaired an SBC resolutions committee that brought a resolution adopted by convention messengers June 16 calling on industry, the government and churches to work to prevent such a crisis from ever happening again. He explained on NPR the rationale behind a statement that many observers view out of character for a conservative denomination that in past years has downplayed environmental concerns like global warming.

"There's really nothing conservative — and certainly nothing evangelical — about a laissez-faire view of a lack of government regulation, because we, as Christians, believe in sin," Moore said.

"That means if people are sinful, if all of us are sinful, then all of us have to have accountability — and that includes corporations." Moore said. "Simply trusting corporations to go about their business without polluting the water streams and without destroying ecosystems is really a naive and utopian view of human nature. It's not a Christian view of human nature."

Moore, who also serves as teaching pastor at Louisville's Highview Baptist Church, said the call to creation care is grounded in theology.

"God cares about the Creation," Moore said. "He displays himself in nature, and so the more that people are distanced from the Creation itself and the more people become accustomed to treating the Creation as something that is disposable, the more distanced they are from understanding who God is."

"People are designed to be dependent on Creation and upon the natural resources around us," he continued. "In order to love future generations, in order to love cultures, we have to love the ecosystems that support those things."

"What's happening is that you have entire cultures and communities of people now imperiled," he said. "That's an issue of love of neighbor."

Moore is a native of Biloxi, Miss., one of the communities under threat from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that has been dumping oil off shore into the Gulf since an April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers.

"I have to tell you this is the most traumatized I've ever seen my hometown," he said. "And I'm including the devastation of Katrina in that. It's kind of like a slow-motion hurricane with no end in sight."

Moore said he recognizes that all evangelicals are not of one mind about the specifics of creation care.

"There are some evangelicals, of course, who hold to a much more libertarian understanding of the relationship between government and protecting natural resources, but I think for the most part, evangelicals are ready to have a conversation about protecting the Creation," he said. "And especially younger evangelicals, who are just as conservative as their grandfathers and grandmothers on many issues but also understand that human flourishing means a healthy natural environment."

"It simply isn't good for ourselves or for our neighbors to live in a world that is completely paved over and in which every piece of green land is replaced with a Bed, Bath, and Beyond," he said. "That's not how God designed human beings to live."

Moore wrote recently on his blog about evangelicals' "uneasy ecological conscience," which he said has uncritically promoted free-market enterprise while viewing environmental protection as "someone else's issue."

The SBC resolution and Moore's comments come at a time when many conservative leaders lay blame for the oil spill on environmentalists.

"Why were we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place?" Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in his weekly radio broadcast June 5. "Well, one of [the reasons] is the environmental movement."

"As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep — 1,000 feet or more, and ultra-deep, 5,000 feet or more — in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all of the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production," Land said. "President Obama's tentative selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore-Alaska sites is now dead. And of course in the safest of all places, on land, we've had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, although it would have done absolutely nothing to any of the wildlife in the area."

Moore said he isn't bothered by a lack of consensus on the issue.

"I think it's good for evangelical Christians to be pulled in multiple directions, if being pulled in directions means that we're thinking through issues from a biblical point of view, rather than from a purely political point of view," Moore told NPR.

"I think that means evangelicals can't simply be anybody's interest group," he said. "We're going to have some disagreements, but we have to have that conversation. And it has to be more complex than simply parroting slogans."


Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.