Disowning Richard Cizik
Kathryn Joyce printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Mar 05, 2007 at 07:17:17 PM EST
As The New York Times noted on Saturday, a mini-purge is being attempted in evangelicaldom, with prominati such as James Dobson, Gary Bauer, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, Vision America's Rick Scarborough, grand-schemist Paul Weyrich, and 20 other evangelicals influential in Christian broadcasting, lobbyist, and theological circles, urging the National Association of Evangelicals, still smarting from the Haggard scandal, to retire their V.P. of government affairs: the national poster-child for "creation care," Rev. Richard Cizik.

In a letter to the NAE, of which none of the letter's signers are members, the evangelical leaders accused Cizik, "of diverting the evangelical movement from what they deem more important issues, like abortion and homosexuality." Or, as Perkins further explained to the Times, "'We're saying what is being done here is a concerted effort to shift the focus of evangelical Christians to these issues that draw warm and fuzzies from liberal crusaders.'"

What has Cizik done to piss off so many of his brethren? Got too friendly with the tree huggers? Check. Added to the "growing confusion" about who and what evangelicals are? Check. But besides this general bad form, according to the letter the 25 Christian leaders sent to NAE president Leith Anderson -- and to which Dobson gave his "special alert" status -- Cizik has gone off message (PDF):

The existence of global warming and its implications for mankind is a subject of heated controversy throughout the world. It does appear that the earth is warming, but the disagreement focuses on why it might be happening and what should be done about it. We believe it is unwise for an NAE officer to assert conclusively that those questions have been answered, or that the membership as a whole has taken a position on a matter. Furthermore, we believe the NAE lacks the expertise to settle the controversy, and that the issue should be addressed scientifically and not theologically.

The liberal media has given wide coverage to Cizik's views and has characterized them as being representative of the NAE member organizations. We are not aware of any evidence to support that assumption. More importantly, we have observed that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children. In their place has come a preoccupation with climate concerns that extend beyond the NAE's mandate and its own statement of purpose.

And worse yet than palling around with the liberal media, Cizik may have drank some of their global warming/anti-Christian Kool-Aid:

For example, he granted an interview with Fast Company, dated June, 2006, in which he said "We [proponents of global warming] are the future, and the old guard," he continued, "is reaching up to grasp its authority back, like a horror movie where a hand comes out of the grave." To paraphrase, Cizik apparently believes "the old guard" which defends traditional values is like a rotting corpse that will not die. Are these the words of a man who seeks to bring unity and understanding within the NAE?

The Christian Right a rotting corpse that will not die, called out as such by one of its own? "Warm and fuzzies" for liberals indeed! But then, the liberals have always loved Cizik, at least for the past several years, when Cizik arrived as the kinder, gentler face of the NAE's supposed ideological makeover, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility" As I wrote at the time, the media's hopeful expectations about what the Call meant -- "Evangelical paper backs off politics," "Evangelicals seek to distance faith and politics," and "Proposal warns evangelicals on politics" -- were far more dramatic than the actual policy, or rather rhetorical, adjustments called for in "For the Health of the Nation." In reality, the document pointedly maintained the primacy of sex-and-morals issues over the contestable issues of environmental and poverty activism. I wrote then:

The issues on which evangelicals may never compromise are still the so-called "social evils"--abortion, embryonic stem-cells, euthanasia, gay marriage. The unbending position on this familiar group of evangelical bêtes noir, far more than the charity and environmentalism lauded by the press, is the common cause in the NAE's new evangelical platform; the shared calling meant to transcend other divisions along the evangelical spectrum, over party affiliation or other areas of "policy" disagreement such as Iraq. They're the exceptions to the new-found "political realism" credited by Stammer as the basis for the NAE's sense of cooperation and diversity. And they're not up for discussion.

And that is, predictably, the real point of contention between Dobson, Bauer and Perkins on the one hand, and Cizik, on the other. Not so much that Cizik is drawing energy and outrage to global warming and away from gay marriage and abortion, but that, in the mind of many conservative Christians, choosing between pro-life or environmental activism must be a zero-sum game. And Cizik himself made the hazardous move of pointing out one place where the two intersect: population control. Dobson's letter quotes him:

"I'd like to take on the population issue, but in my community global warming is the third rail issue. I've touched the third rail but still have a job. And I'll still have a job after my talk here today. But population is a much more dangerous issue to touch. We need to confront population control and we can -- we're not Roman Catholics, after all, but it's too hot to handle now." We ask, how is population control going to be achieved if not by promoting abortion, the distribution of condoms to the young, and, even by infanticide in China and elsewhere? Is this where Richard Cizik would lead us?

The notion that environmentalism=population control=family planning=forced sterilization is overwhelmingly popular on the Christian far-right, where anti-contraception books trade rumors on "ZPG [Zero Population Growth] types," and appropriate traditionally leftist language about civil rights and racism by decrying all international family planning efforts as a colonialist, racist attempt to keep developing nations down. For example, Lifesite's running footer links to a "Special Report" on "The Inherent Racism of Population Control," while another story warns Christians away from the "Climate Change Hysteria" that has captured the likes of Cizik, specifically for environmentalism's supposed ties to contraception:

"Climate change" is the latest hot issue for the environmental movement that counts among its leadership some of the world's leading population control activists who are also openly hostile to Christianity. Environmentalist doctrine presupposes that the answer to climate concerns is the elimination of huge portions of the human population through mass abortion, sterilization programs and numerous other means.

The Population Research Institute, headed by Steve Mosher, counts this is as its operating philosophy, subordinating its shaky science to more emotional -- and likely more effective -- links between environmentalism and abortion, as part of its mission to abolish the United Nations Population Fund. And in the end, that might be a better strategy for keeping dedicated Christian Rightists on board -- not coming up with an Intelligent Design-style refutation of global warming science, but conflating a whole host of liberal ideas and sending a warning shot to its followers that even discussing the possibilities of overpopulation, and its effect on the environment, is tantamount to turning in their "right-to-life" card.

Dobson and his buddies are going against the wishes of the NAE's constituency. Sooner or later, these flat-earthers are going to have to step aside. Question is - how bad will the problem have to become before they relent ?

And now details from a new poll of evangelical Christians seem to strengthen the call made the group of 86 evangelical leaders for action to reduce global warming.

In the poll, conducted by Ellison Research---which frequently surveys church leaders---70 percent of evangelicals said they believed global warming will pose a serious threat to future generations. Sixty-three percent of evangelicals believed that although global warming may be a long-term problem, since it is being caused today, the nation must start addressing it immediately.

In other findings from the Ellison Research poll, 95 percent of evangelical respondents agreed that "God gave us dominion over His creation, so we have a responsibility to care for it."

--In the poll, 84 percent of evangelicals agreed that reducing pollution is a form of obedience to the biblical command to love your neighbor.

--92 percent agreed that "in the long run, it will be cheaper to protect the environment now than to fix it later."

--95 percent agreed that "a healthy environment helps to keep your family healthy."

--A majority of evangelicals--51 percent--said the U.S. should take steps to address global warming, even if there is a high economic cost.

--Two-thirds of evangelicals are either completely or mostly convinced that global warming is actually taking place.

The study was conducted in September 2005 by Ellison Research, a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Ariz. The study's total sample is accurate to within ±3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution. The study was designed independently by Ellison Research and funded by the Evangelical Environmental Network.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 07:50:45 AM EST
Dobson et al. want to be power brokers. If their "base" is visibly wandering off looking at "liberal" issues such as climate change countermeasures, universal health insurance, etc, obviously Dobson et al. won't be perceived as being effective power brokers in the Republican Party, making moderation on Dobson's favorite issues (gays, abortion) more viable for Republican candidates.

by NancyP on Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 01:13:54 PM EST

The man has been a target of the Dobson cabal for quite awhile, more than a year, for crass reasons having to do with not just this but his unwillingness to play with the GOP right-wing in 20006 election cycle.

by mreyn on Mon Mar 05, 2007 at 07:27:12 PM EST

I enjoyed your skillful characterization of the letter against Cizik as an attempted  "purge" of NAE leadership by promenati of the far right.

I am new to the details of the thing, but I think the situation might bear a view that is a little more nuanced.

As the Times article observes, The letter underlines a struggle.

But it is clearly NOT an inner NAE struggle.  It is a struggle that resembles a hostile take-over from the outside.

The NAE (despite their bad choices of officers) is, after all, a body of associated Protestant denominations that has a perfect right to self-government.

At any rate I doubt these NAE denominations are in "lockstep" with each other, nor are they necessarily 100% sympathetic with the despicable promenati junta, who are in fact self confessed NAE outsiders.

And why is it that this obvious outsider group is attempting to call the shots while remaining content to run their own revolutionary anti-social mega-churches and agencies without entering the NAE fold?

I think there may be a crisis here of more serious proportions.  And I think the Times runs the risk of validating the relatively small but powerful anti-social junta (Dobson, Weyrich, Perkins, Bauer, etc.) when it refers to the larger group of pastors, theologians, teachers, and congregations - all from bona fide Protestant denominations - as mere "challengers who are pushing to expand the evangelical movement's agenda to include issues like climate change and human rights"

I say, the larger group, a broad coalition that represents 30 million Christians in hundreds of denominations, organizations and academic institutions represent Protestant evangelical Christianity with much more sovereign authority than do the likes of Dobson, Weyrich, Perkins, and Bauer.  And that their broader concerns (environment and human rights) are every bit as godly (if not more so) than the narrow concerns of the smaller group.

Thus I question the right of the would-be junta to boast that if Mr. Cizik "cannot be trusted to articulate the views of American evangelicals," then he should be encouraged to resign.

So while I appreciate your answers to the rhetorical question,

What has Cizik done to piss off so many of his brethren?
I suggest that the answer might be the rhetorical, "are these really his (or the NAE's) brethren?"

I would suggest that, with the revolutionary favorite, Haggard, now sadly fallen, the outsiders are very strongly motivated to recoup their losses and get back to the business of cajoling this large body of Protestants into conformity with their distorted gospel.

Thank you very much for writing such a stimulating article.  The strength of the point I am trying to make depends upon whether the NAE is not just a front for all that is worst in Christianity, but an organization of churches whose members still possess consciences of their own.  Your views?
God bless the whole world - - No Exceptions
by John Anngeister on Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 01:06:47 AM EST

Thanks for the very thoughtful response, John. By purge, I meant an attack from and towards Christian Right leaders in general, rather than within the NAE specifically -- of which none of the letter-writers were members. I think that Dobson & his associates generally have a lot of power through their own networks and associations, and are just pushing that weight around when it comes to a fellow Christian leader who has started to broach what they consider dangerous territory. Specifically, population control.  

As my friend Bene Diction blogged here http://www.benedictionblogson.com/?p=2984, several conservative evangelicals are being upfront about the reasons for their attack on Cizik. For example: "Actually, the reason they went after Cizik (rather than someone like Rick Warren) is not because he's an "environmentalist" but because he's an advocate for population control. Cizik says one thing when he's in front of the NAE crowd and another when he's in front of secular groups like the World Bank. Cizik is not very popular with evangelical leaders in D.C. precisely because he takes a position that many think is unbiblical."

I should also say here that I agree with Bruce that most evangelicals are more amenable to the realities of global warming than the letter to Anderson suggests. The point of my post was that, much of the knee-jerk reaction to environmentalism isn't to do science at all, but rather the right-wing tying the issue to sex- and reproductive rights issues like abortion or family planning. Population control is just another twist of the same ideology.

by Kathryn Joyce on Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 04:44:17 PM EST

The NAE is an public organization, but on the Christian right there are numerous, overlapping groups for the coordination of strategy - the Council For National Policy and so on - and I suspect you're right, that this is a case where a cabal external to the NAE is trying to bully the organization into ideological conformity.

This is the same grouping that bullied the NAE into backing off on from taking a stance on Global Warming in the spring of 2006.

More than anything, I get the sense that Global Warming is a line in the sand issue for Dobson et. al because of property rights issues.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 08:16:02 AM EST

Thank you for a wonderfully researched and clearly presented essay. The hardest thing for me to understand about this issue has been why the evangelicals ever felt they had a stake in the global warming debate. I understand (but disagree with) their objection to stem cell research. I understand (but disagree with) their endorsement of "intelligent design theory". But global warming? And then it slowly dawned on me. Evangelicals have made it their mission to infuse their world view into the public sphere through intensive lobbying and political activism. When Rev. Richard Cizik finally decided that he had enough of the Republican stance on global warming, he felt compelled to say so. He felt it was time to tell the truth, on moral grounds. It was not a political stance, but a moral one. As a result of his stance, the NAE caused a split in the ranks of Evangelicals. One group has decided to take what they believe to be a principled stance. I can only hope that more will follow - an evangelical stance toward torture, for example, and poverty. The other group (The "Interfaith Stewardship Alliance") has decided to hitch their wagon the the Republican star, in the hope that the cluster of issues which they believe in - abortion, gay marriage, abstinence, etc. - will be best served by remaining true to the cause, even at the cost of facing up to the facts. Their attempt to throw sand in the eyes of science is self-serving and ill conceived, in my humble opinion. I believe it's time for evangelicals to stop thinking in terms of the block vote, and start thinking about the truth, on an issue-by-issue basis. I also believe evangelicals would be best served if they stopped regarding themselves as lapdogs of the Republican party. That is the way forward. The "Interfaith Stewardship Alliance" website is a virtual gold mine of rationalizations for continuing to deny the existence of global warming. Here is a part of but one of many statements issued in a rear guard attempt to downplay the global warming issue, a paper written by one E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Social Ethics at Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, entitled "Scientific Orthodoxies, Politicized Science, and Catastrophic Global Warming: Challenges to Evangelicals Navigating Rough Waters in Science and Policy": "Most [evangelicals] certainly did not anticipate that their pressure to raise environmentalism, and particularly global warming, to the top of the political agenda would contribute, whether heavily or slightly, to the turnover of control of Congress to the Democratic Party. But it seems to have done so, and now progress on issues about which, presumably, those very same evangelicals feel much more passion-abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, assisted suicide, marriage protection, human trafficking, pornography and other sexual exploitation, and so on-will be severely hampered for at least the next two years. Who can expect now, to mention just one consideration, that any pro-life judicial appointments, at any level but especially at the appeal and Supreme Court levels, will survive a Democratically controlled Senate Judiciary Committee? I am afraid that in their rush to elevate concerns about global warming, some evangelicals fell prey to a strategy to split their vote." I think it is clear that the (partial) evangelical opposition to the science behind global warming has little or nothing to do with science or "stewardship", and everything to do with politics. Thank you for a wonderfully clear piece of writing on this fascinating issue.

by downstreamer on Thu Mar 08, 2007 at 08:14:30 PM EST

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