WASHINGTON, D.C. (BP) – Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has drawn praise from Southern Baptists despite charges by secular media outlets, environmentalists and theologically liberal clergy that his leadership could harm the environment.
"Scott Pruitt is one of the finest, a committed follower of Christ and Oklahoma Baptist," Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, told the BGCO's Baptist Messenger newsjournal. "He has been a great attorney general and will be terrific at the EPA." Pruitt, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., was announced as Trump's selection for EPA administrator Dec. 7.
That same day, The New York Times published a news article calling Pruitt a "climate change denialist" and noting his participation in a 28-state lawsuit challenging some of the Obama administration's carbon-emission regulations. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., vowed to "vigorously oppose this nomination" while numerous media outlets published objections to Pruitt's nomination by environmentalists. A coalition of Massachusetts Episcopal bishops released an open letter to Trump Dec. 13 expressing "dismay" at his selection of Pruitt.
The Washington Post editorial board opposed Pruitt's confirmation Dec. 9 because he allegedly has a record of "rejecting or playing down the near-unanimous warnings of experts" on climate change. The Post took issue in particular with a May op-ed in the conservative publication National Review co-written by Pruitt and Alabama attorney general Luther Strange. In stating their opposition to a criminal investigation of oil and gas companies that "have disputed the science behind man-made global warming," Pruitt and Strange wrote that "healthy debate is the lifeblood of American democracy, and global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time."
"That debate is far from settled," they stated. "Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged -- in classrooms, public forums and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Pruitt is a trustee, said The Washington Post's critique appears to stem from an ideological framework that contradicts the Christian worldview. The Post's editorial board, Mohler said Dec. 13 in his podcast The Briefing, apparently regards the views of some contemporary scientists as "the ultimate authority not to be questioned." In reality, it is "an ideological framework to which they are committed ... advertised to the public as settled science."
Christians, in contrast, should be "committed to the truth," which is pursued through "the scientific method" among other means, Mohler said. He noted science often revises its conclusions from one generation to the next. Pruitt "does not deny that there is a human impact on the climate," Mohler said. "He doesn't deny what's called now the reality of global warming or of climate change. He says that the debate is not settled and the degree and the extent of global warming is not yet fully known." Pruitt's pastor, Nick Garland of First Baptist Broken Arrow, told Baptist Press Pruitt displays "a tremendous amount of Christian character" and has been "faithful in every way to the church."
As a public servant, Pruitt "obviously is a man who is a Christian," Garland said, yet he doesn't "operate with a bias based on his faith, but rather a clear-cut dedication to how this country was founded." Charges that Pruitt is "going to throw out" all environmental regulations are unfounded, Garland said. "Scott has always been concerned that we take care of the water and mineral resources that we have here in Oklahoma," Garland said. He has at times opposed specific environmental regulations "because he believes in constitutional law" and rejects "overreach" by the EPA "that would create problems for the local farmer or for the local oil industry."
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told BP in a statement, "Scott Pruitt is a dear friend and a magnificent Christian leader. I've known and worked with him since the beginning of his time on the board at Southern Seminary. Since then we've worked together on numerous issues of religious freedom and liberty of conscience. He has always modeled integrity and excellence, and I look forward to seeing his leadership at the EPA."
Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican and fellow Southern Baptist, said in a statement, "Pruitt has served Oklahoma as a tireless defender of justice and law, and I am confident that he will serve America well. "I look forward to working with him to restore a balanced approach to regulations and governance that fosters economic growth, advances energy independence and ensures stewardship for the environment. Scott Pruitt knows the difference between a state responsibility and a federal responsibility. The American people deserve an EPA that rejects extreme activism and instead returns to its proper interpretation of environmental law," Lankford said.
Pruitt's office declined an interview request by BP, stating an interview would violate presidential "transition protocol."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.