Some conservative Christians want the Rev. Richard Cizik, who runs the Washington office for the National Association of Evangelicals, to stop talking about global warming. I had dinner with Cizik this evening, and I can assure you that’s not going to happen. Good thing, too, because evangelicals are an important part of a growing political movement to act to slow global warming.
Cizik’s a fascinating guy. A Washington veteran–he’s been the voice of evangelical Christians in Washington since the early 1980s–it was Cizik who with the Rev. Jim Ball (“What Would Jesus Drive?) drove what has been called the greening of evangelicals. Social conservatives including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins and Paul Weyrich don’t like that one bit. They sent a letter to the NAE asking Cizik to stop talking about climate change or quit. They wrote:
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.
We believe the NAE lacks the expertise to take a position on global warming. That is the essential point of this letter. Richard Cizik also lacks this expertise, and to our knowledge, he has never been asked to speak for the rest of the Association in such areas of controversy.
Cizik’s not quitting, he told me, he’s not shutting up, and he has the public support of the president of the NAE. He has over the years broadened the evangelical agenda beyond the social issues of abortion and gay rights to include the human rights (particularly the persecution of Christians), the genocide in Darfur and climate change.
I’d never met Cizik before. (We’d been invited to have dinner together because we are on a panel about sustainability on Sunday at Harvard Business School.) He told me the story of how he got religion on the issues of climate change. His first sustained exposure to the issue came at a conference in Oxford, England, to which he had been invited by Ball, and he knew from the start that the topic would be controversial among conservative Christians. “The issue is so culturally, politically and scientifically riven with emotion,” he said. Friends in the evangelical movement urged him not to get involved but he felt called to use his position to raise the issue. “I couldn’t not speak,” he said.
His education was systematic. A group of well-to-do female philanthropists with a passion for the environment called Rachel’s Network, which is named after environmentalist Rachel Carson, took Cizik under their wing. (Winsome McIntosh, an heir to the A&P fortune, started the group and members and advisors include Barbara Streisand and Alice Waters.). They introduced him to scientists and activists including Phil Clapp of the National Environmental Trust and David Hawkins of NRDC. With Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, Cizik organized a conference of evangelicals and climate scientists. Cizik found himself on panels with the likes of John Passacantando, who runs Greenpeace. As Cizik spoke out, he was featured by the media, including Terry Gross and Krista Tippett on NPR, and he was pictured in the “green issue” of Vanity Fair. He traded in his RV for a Prius and took the “T” in from the airport before our dinner.
Do you start to see why Dobson & Co. might be unhappy with Cizik? He’s hanging around with enviros, scientists and reporters. Worse, he was perceived as less than enthusiastic about some of the politicians favored by conservative Christians, notably Rick Santorum, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, who was anti-abortion and opposed gay rights but also uninterested in global warming.
Cizik told me that he simply doesn’t believe that climate change and the environment should take second place to the social or family issues. Indeed, he sees the environment as a family issue, for very personal reasons. Cizik has a son with a hearing disability, which doctors don’t understand, and it has occurred to him that the cause could be environmental. He had an expensive analysis done of his own body chemistry, and it turned out that he has above-average levels of mercury in his body.
“Why are autism rates going up?” Cizik asks. “Why are breast cancer rates going up?”
Put it more bluntly–if global warming disrupts the planet as violently as some scientists say it will if nothing is done, a whole lot of families are going to be destroyed.
“When the Bible says that God granted Adam and Eve dominion over all the Earth, He means for us to care for it, not to abuse it,” Cizik says.
“This is a family issue,” Cizik told me. “It’s a moral issue. It’s a pro-life issue.” Take that, Dr. Dobson.