The Bible, Worldviews, and COP21

December 22, 2015

The COP21 United Nations climate talks in Paris ended with the "Paris Agreement," which stands as the most significant international agreement on climate change even as it didn't go far enough. Not surprisingly, many who reject the reality of climate change attacked the Agreement. Sadly, many of these voices come from U.S. evangelical Christians. That's why I went to Paris for COP21: to join a Climate Caretakers delegation of evangelical Christians and to report about faith and environment issues for evangelical publications. 

One take on COP21 I found particularly problematic came from Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. On his radio program, Mohler attacked the "worldview embedded in the very core of this document." Worldview remains one of Mohler's favorite buzzwords, which he often pulls out to suggest anyone with different politics isn't following "the biblical worldview."

Mohler's not always consistent in providing deep analysis of his buzzwords like "worldview" and "biblical orthodoxy." For instance, earlier this year he criticized the founders of the seminary he leads for promoting slavery even as he defended their "biblical orthodoxy." Yet, one cannot truly practice "biblical orthodoxy" and hold another human in bondage.

Mohler's critique of the COP21 "worldview" includes two key problems. First he crams the word "secular" twice into a sentence, as if that should make COP21 inappropriate. He spoke of "the current secular controversy about climate change" and "the secular conversation." As one who was actually at COP21, I can attest the conversations were far from merely "secular." The faith community showed up in large numbers and held numerous faith events everyday, ranging from worship services (including some onsite at COP21) and panels for faith-based conversations about climate change. World Evangelical Alliance President Efraim Tendero served as a member of the official delegation for the Philippines. After many conversations with him, I am confident the talks cannot be dismissed as "secular" with him in the room.

Mohler's second error occurs as he repeatedly claims the COP21 "worldview" says "human beings themselves are a blight upon the planet." But Mohler misses the point. While COP21 includes the understanding that human are negatively impacting the planet, its was also predicated on the belief that humans can positively impact the planet. If COP21 negotiators saw humans as merely "the problem," there would've been no purpose for the talks (unless the proposed plan was how to kill off humans). However, the "worldview" of COP21 clearly views humans as the only species that can actually solve the problem of climate change.

Rather than a low view of humans, the Agreement provides a high and even optimistic view. The people I met at COP21 - especially the faith voices in the conversations - remain hopeful that humans are good and therefore will act to help those endangered by the impacts of climate change. Mohler might be able to pull out a couple of fringe voices that see humans only as a problem, but no serious thinker could use those minority voices to demonize the entire COP21. To do so would be akin to mistaking the KKK as the only legitimate voice of a Christian worldview.

Perhaps Mohler made his mistaken assessments of COP21 because he read the wrong news reports about the talks. His opinion, after all, is second-hand since he didn't attend. Perhaps he doesn't know about the strong Christian presence. But he should recognize the logical flaw in thinking the Agreement dismisses humans as merely "the problem."

I hope he'll be more careful with his analysis and rhetoric, especially since addressing climate change follows biblical mandates to love God the Creator and love our neighbors. We need more Christian compassion and less hot air.