ATLANTA — When former Vice President Al Gore addressed more than 2,500 people at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration on Jan. 31, among the audience were a number of Mercer University faculty, administrators and students, who heard Gore’s speech on “Stewardship of the Earth” in the vast World Congress Center.
Mercer’s involvement in the luncheon went far beyond filling seats. President William D. Underwood, one of the sponsors and leaders of the New Baptist Covenant, presided at the luncheon. Underwood recognized Gore as a “prophetic voice” on global warming, which Underwood described as “the great moral crisis of our age.”
Many of the students and faculty were inspired by Gore’s words, and his call to action.
“As a Christian, I consider Mr. Gore’s message as one of the most enlightening sermons I have ever heard on stewardship,” said Dawn Owens, an educational leadership Ph.D. candidate in the Tift College of Education. “The message was so much more compelling than just the scientific focus of the movie, ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ The words of scripture combined with scientific knowledge was powerful, and the charge given Christians is undeniably established.”
Gore won the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his efforts to expose the crisis of global warming and also won an Academy Award for the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” Much of Gore's speech was an adaptation of that presentation, and he offered evidence of an impending climate crisis if governments do not act to reduce greenhouse emissions. However, along with new data, Gore featured slides peppered with Bible passages to “put it in the context of my own faith as a Baptist.”
A Baptist layman, Gore added a call to action based on his own faith and condemned the religious conservatives who deny the increasing evidence of global warming simply to maintain political power.
“Too many spokespersons – who don’t really speak for me, but who claim to – have said global warming’s not real, this is just a myth and et cetera,” Gore said. “When did people of faith get so locked into an ideological coalition that they’ve got to go along with the wealthiest and most powerful – who don’t want to see change of a kind that’s aimed at helping the people and protecting God’s green earth?”
Among those in the audience who appreciated Gore’s message was McAfee School of Theology student Bailey Edwards Nelson. A third-year from Spartanburg, S.C., Nelson helped to organize the Celebration, as an intern and coordinator of the Stephenson Seminary Scholarship Program, which sponsored seminary students’ attendance at the event. Nelson said she was moved by Gore’s fervor.
“The presentation really gave us hope that as individuals, and as a Baptist community, there is something we can do to help reverse the path that our Earth is on right now,” Nelson said. “I came away from the event not only inspired, but with practical tips on how to make an impact on the issue.”
In addition to a number of McAfee students and professors at the event, a number of professors and administrators attended the event, and several professors from the Macon and Atlanta campuses brought students. Among those who attended from Mercer were environmental engineering students, a Christianity class and a group of Education Leadership Ph.D. students.
“I didn't really know much about the issue of global warming, but feel I have a better understanding from attending the luncheon,” said Kent Russell, a senior management major from Calhoun, Ga., who attended with his Christianity class.
Environmental Engineering student Maria Mueller, a senior from Bogota, Colombia, said she was grateful to have heard from Gore. “I expected his presentation to be more religious than scientific,” she said. “He presented technical information in a way that anybody could understand; his message of stewardship was met with lots of applause. As an environmental engineering student, I am relieved that someone of Mr. Gore’s influence and ability is opening our eyes to the problem of global warming.”
Heather I. Scott, a Ph.D. candidate, considers herself to be an environmentally conscience person, but the event inspired her to link her faith with her stewardship.
“Although the issues of the Earth have always been important to me it was not until former Vice President Gore's speech that I saw the connection between my faith, duty as a Christian and how that related to being a steward of the earth,” she said. “The presentation was phenomenal and brought the concept of being an earth conscious Christian to life for me, until hearing him speak I never saw these parts of my life having an influence on one another.”
Bob Allen of the Baptist Center for Ethics contributed to this report.