updated 6/13/2007 7:39:52 PM ET 2007-06-13T23:39:52

Southern Baptists approved a resolution on global warming Wednesday that questions the prevailing scientific belief that humans are largely to blame for the phenomenon and also warns that increased regulation of greenhouse gases will hurt the poor.

The global warming debate has split evangelicals, with some not only pressing the issue but arguing humans bear most of the responsibility for the problem because of greenhouse gas emissions. Other evangelicals say talking about the issue at all diminishes their influence over more traditional culture war issues such as abortion, gay marriage and judicial appointments.

The SBC resolution, approved near the end of the denomination's annual meeting, acknowledges a rise in global temperatures. But it rejects government-mandated limits on carbon-dioxide and other emissions as "very dangerous" because they might not make much difference and could lead to "major economic hardships" worldwide.

Originally, the measure also backed more government-funded research into global warming's causes and alternative energies to oil. But the resolution was amended to drop that language, in part over concerns that it would endorse strong government engagement in the issue.

The two-day annual meeting of the nation's largest Protestant denomination, which boasts 16.3 million members, ended Wednesday night. The gathering was highlighted by new steps to prevent child sexual abuse, calls for unity to reverse stagnant membership and a struggle over defining Baptist identity. About 8,500 "messengers," or delegates, registered to attend.

'More objective analysis' sought
The global warming resolution acknowledges humans bear some responsibility for rising temperatures while urging caution, said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

"It does not deny there has been a recent warming trend in average global temperatures," said Duke, who helped write the measure. "What it does do is call for more objective analysis in the data that would explain causes of the warming we're experiencing."

The resolution stands in contrast to a statement last year signed by 86 evangelical leaders that said human-induced climate change is real, and that the consequences of warming temperatures will cause millions of people to die, most of them "our poorest global neighbors."

The SBC statement frames the global warming debate as a moral issue with profound implications for the poor — but does so through a different lens.

"Our concern is for the vulnerable communities as well," Duke said. "But we think if the data is being misinterpreted, and policies are being implemented to reduce the human contributions, those policies are bound to drive up the costs of goods and services for poor and underdeveloped parts of the world."

The Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, said Wednesday the Southern Baptist resolution can do some good by bringing attention to the issue. However, he added: "I think we need to be careful not to craft a position that puts us out there by ourselves."

Cizik, a lightning rod in the debate over whether evangelicals should engage in the climate change debate, supports findings announced in February by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That panel said it is 90 percent certain human-generated greenhouse gases account for most of the global rise in temperature over the last 50 years.

Sex abuse resolution
Another resolution approved Wednesday on protecting children from sex abuse urged Southern Baptists churches and organizations to respond quickly to allegations and conduct background checks. The resolution also denounced any efforts to "cover up," ignore or condone abuse.

Victims' groups have pressured the SBC to adopt reforms in response to allegations against Baptist clergy, and another measure approved at the meeting calls for a report next year on the possibility of developing a national database to help churches root out abusers.

In a live address by satellite Wednesday, President Bush highlighted his administration's common ground with Southern Baptists on abortion, fighting AIDS and other issues.

"You're rising to meet the challenges of broken souls, in a broken world, with compassion and courage," Bush said.

Earlier Wednesday, Southern Baptists concerned about a rightward shift in the denomination claimed a victory with the passage of a motion centered on Baptist identity.

By a vote of 58 percent to 42 percent, messengers supported a statement calling the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 the sufficient standard for establishing Southern Baptist credentials.

Backers of the statement said some conservatives have been narrowing the definition of who is considered a Baptist in good standing by condemning various worship practices.

But conservatives said the motion was confusing and would not undermine the ability of trustees at Southern Baptist schools and entities to set standards for hiring.

Cizik, a lightning rod in the debate over whether evangelicals should engage in the climate change debate, supports findings announced in February by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That panel said it is 90 percent certain human-generated greenhouse gases account for most of the global rise in temperature over the last 50 years.

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