For Evangelicals, Is Gulf Spill a Moral Issue?

For Baptist preacher and theologian Russell Moore, the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is more than an environmental disaster, a corporate fiasco or a political failure.

To Moore, it is a turning point that could shape how evangelical Christians view the environment. He says is could move people as powerfully as Roe vs. Wade shaped how they view abortion.

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Before the Roe vs. Wade decision, most evangelicals assumed that bioethical questions weren't theirs to debate, he said, but after the ruling, the issue "pierced through" their consciences.

"I think the same is the case when we see this horrific ecological catastrophe. We simply can't be at the place where some evangelicals were prior to this of simply dismissing the whole idea of environmental protection as ... Al Gore's cause and the cause of hippies on their food co-op," he said.

In a blog post earlier this month, Moore, who is the dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote a plea to his community, calling for a reassessment of evangelicals' "uneasy ecological conscience."

Preacher: Evangelicals Should Apply Skepticism of Government to Corporations, Individuals

"We've had an inadequate view of human sin," he wrote. "Because we believe in free markets, we've acted as though this means we should trust corporations to protect the natural resources and habitats. But a laissez-faire view of government regulation of corporations is akin to the youth minister who lets the teenage girl and boy sleep in the same sleeping bag at church camp because he 'believes in young people.'"

He said that caring for God means caring for God's creation. And to do that, Christians need to hold the government, corporations and individuals accountable.

"Evangelicals, at least conservative evangelicals, tend to have a healthy skepticism of government," he said. "But often we haven't applied that same skepticism to corporations or technology our own consumption of resources. ... I'm calling for a distribution of our skepticism to ourselves and to every aspect of our lives.

At the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting this month, he helped write a resolution expressing a similar sentiment.

Southern Baptist Convention Resolution: Prayer, Government Action

The resolution calls for prayer for those along the Gulf coast; a recognition of the oil spill's seriousness; and government action "to fortify our coastal defenses ... ensure full corporate accountability for damages, clean-up, and restoration ... and to promote future energy policies based on prudence, conservation, accountability, and safety."

But some evangelical Christians argue that faith leaders should be careful about mixing environmental and political issues with religion.

"I feel that when so-called religious leaders exercise their asserted religious authority in matters that are not addressed by scripture -- that are indeed tangential to scripture -- they are taking the focus away from Christ and away from the primary goals of directing glory to God and saving souls by and through Jesus Christ," said James M. Taylor, a founding elder and Sunday school teacher at the Living Water Christian Fellowship in Palmetto, Florida.

Taylor is also a senior fellow of environmental policy at the Heartland Institute, a conservative Chicago-based think tank, but said he was speaking for himself and not his organization.

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