Evangelical leaders including James Dobson and Rick Scarborough signed a March 1 letter calling on the National Association of Evangelicals to remove a staff member they blame for dividing conservative Christians over global warming.
None of the 25 signers is a member of the NAE, an association of 60 denominations with about 45,000 churches, according to the letter, but all their organizations “interface with it regularly and consider it to be an important Christian institution in today’s culture.”
The signers charged Richard Cizik, vice president of government relations in the NAE’s Washington office, with single-handedly orchestrating a “relentless campaign” over global warming, which they said is “dividing and demoralizing” NAE members and distracting from other moral issues like abortion and opposing gay marriage.
“We implore the NAE board to ensure that Mr. Cizik faithfully represents the policies and commitments of the organization, including its defense of traditional values,” the letter said. “If he cannot be trusted to articulate the views of American evangelicals on environmental issues, then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE.”
Leith Anderson, interim president of the NAE, told Religion News Service he supports Cizik. “I think that he is highly respected in Washington,” he said. Anderson added Cizik is known for supporting care of the environment, “and that’s good.”
Read a list of the signatories, Anderson said: “We would normally look to our own constituency–and not to those who have chosen not to be members of the NAE–for counsel.”
The “liberal media,” the letter said, has given wide coverage to Cizik’s views, implying they are the views of a majority of NAE members. They also dispute Cizik’s argument that human activity is a cause of global warming, saying neither he nor the NAE is qualified to make that judgment.
Robert Parham of the BaptistCenter for Ethics sided with Cizik. Parham has written about the “Green Bible,” verses he says support creation care, and challenged moderate Baptists to take on global warming as a moral issue in 2007 with steps including showing Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” in churches.
“The near scientific consensus is clear–human activity causes global warming,” Parham said. “The Christian Right cannot misstate the facts enough to remake the facts. Cizik is right to favor science over science fiction. He is right to recognize global warming as a moral issue.”
A week ago Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell preached a televised sermon on the “myth” of global warming, which he said, was being used by Satan to divide churches over politics and distract from the primary mission of preaching the gospel.
Cizik and former NAE head Ted Haggard–who resigned as NAE president amid a scandal involving sex and drugs last November–are generally credited as moving the organization toward an ethic of “creation care,” declaring global warming a moral value for Christians.
Last year 86 evangelicals, including “Purpose Driven Life” author and Southern Baptist mega-church pastor Rick Warren, signed an “evangelical call to action” on climate change. Twenty-two evangelical leaders, including Dobson and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, countered with a letter saying there is “ongoing debate about the causes and origins of global warming” and a “lack of consensus among the evangelical community on this issue.”
Already under criticism, Cizik did not sign the Evangelical Climate Initiative in February 2006, but some news articles erroneously reported it as a statement of the NAE. Both Haggard and Cizik, however, endorsed a June 30, 2004, “Sandy Cove Covenant and Invitation” at Sandy Cove, Md., committing “to pray, reflect, and learn together about our role as stewards of God’s creation.”
Dobson singled Cizik out for criticism on his radio program in May 2006. “Cizik is convinced that global warming should be the most important social issue that confronts us,” Dobson said, as quoted in an article by the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy. “In fact, he has stated last week that those who are skeptical of global warming are immoral, that is pretty close to being a quote.”
Dobson said international regulations of emissions backed by Cizik and others targeting America were “anti-capitalistic and an underlying hatred for America.”
Cizik responded with a letter to Dobson quoting the Proverbs, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
“It’s not my intent to steer evangelicals into a partisan political debate about the environment, or even global warming, but to elevate our concern about both and thereby reclaim territory in the public domain for a biblical version of ‘creation care,'” Cizik said.
The BCE’s Parham, author of a 1991 book Loving Neighbors Across Time: A Christian Guide to Protecting the Earth, termed creation care a “first-tier moral issue for the Christian community.” He urged Cizik and the NAE to “continue educating evangelicals and challenging them to care for God’s creation.”
Rather than firing Cizik, Parham suggested NAE leaders should affirm him and distance the organization from “those who have boiled down God’s agenda to only a couple of issues and drained the biblical witness of its full agenda for all of human life.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.