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Cizik gets no rebuke from NAE board

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Board members of the National Association of Evangelicals at their March 9 meeting took no action against Richard Cizik, the organization’s outspoken vice president for governmental affairs, for his sometimes provocative statements on global warming.

Conservative Christian leaders, including James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, Don Wildmon, founder and president of the American Family Association, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, had asked the board in a letter prior to the meeting to either discipline or terminate Cizik because he and others had used “the global warming controversy to shift emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time,” including the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the need to teach the nation’s children morality and sexual abstinence.

In place of these key issues has come a preoccupation with the causes and impact of climate change, which Dobson and the other leaders claimed have not been scientifically proven. Still, they said, Cizik has continually offered his political opinions as fact, moving beyond the mandate of the NAE board and his own expertise on global warming.

The NAE board, also at its meeting in Eden Prairie, Minn., adopted in a near-unanimous vote a declaration on torture, which critics contend fails to define what constitutes immoral behavior toward enemy combatants.

The global warming and torture issues, according to several conservative evangelical leaders, demonstrate the broadening agenda of the NAE and its potential for losing touch with its constituency.

Neither Dobson, Wildmon nor Perkins are NAE members, but they commented that they represent groups that “interface with it regularly and consider it to be an important institution in today’s Christian culture.”

Cizik’s potential departure never became a point of discussion at the board meeting, according to Jerald Walz, one of Cizik’s most vocal critics. An NAE board member and vice president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative public policy advocacy group in Washington, D.C., Walz said in a news release prior to the meeting that Cizik’s discussion of global warming was a critical issue the board needed to address.

But after the meeting, Walz told Baptist Press that “there was no discussion of removing Richard Cizik from his position. The meeting came and went with no substantive discussion about him.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said many evangelicals might take the board’s inaction to mean there is broad-based agreement among evangelicals on the issue of human-induced climate change.

But Land said “the NAE’s failure to address Richard Cizik’s claims should not be interpreted to mean that a consensus has been reached among evangelicals on global warming. I think the reason Richard has been received the way he has is because he’s portrayed a consensus among evangelicals that doesn’t exist.”

Land also said most evangelicals have their own positions on global warming and “do not take their marching orders from the NAE. Southern Baptists certainly do not.”

Cal Beisner, a professor at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a leading evangelical expert on climate change, told Baptist Press in an e-mail that the NAE board had “dodged the crucial issue, which is institutional integrity and whether Cizik even speaks for the board and, through it, the 30 million members of the NAE member denominations.”

Beisner said that the executive committee of the NAE board had issued a letter in January 2006, citing the “lack of consensus” among evangelicals on the issue of global warming. For that reason, the letter from the committee said, NAE staff members were directed to “stand by and not exceed in any fashion our approval and adopted statements concerning the environment contained within the Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” a seven-point statement which mentions protecting God’s creation but doesn’t mention global warming.

“Cizik’s scores of public statements adopting a particular view of the causes, magnitude and preferred responses to global warming transgressed the executive committee’s instruction,” Beisner said. “Now that the board has sidestepped that issue, which was called to its attention not only publicly by Dobson and friends but also privately by board members and others, it is simply impossible for public leaders to know when Cizik does and when he does not faithfully represent the association and its members. The sad result is that now the voices of evangelicals in general and the NAE are muffled because the NAE board has refused to hold its staff accountable to its own instructions.”

NAE President Leith Anderson did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but told Baptist Press March 8 -– the day before the NAE board meeting -– that Cizik is a well-qualified, 26-year veteran of Washington, D.C.

“He is a competent, outstanding and godly spokesman for the NAE. The matters related to the environment he discusses are only one of seven initiatives approved by the NAE board for the health of the nation,” Anderson said.

Cizik also did not respond to BP requests for comment.

In December on National Public Radio, Cizik said he had a conversion to the science of global warming in 2002, “not unlike a Christian conversion to Christ.” He also said he had pledged to find new ways to communicate what he perceived as God’s truth about creation care. For many conservatives, however, this new face of evangelicalism bears a striking resemblance to the social justice ministry of the liberal National Council of Churches, which represents traditionally mainline denominations. That group employs a “minister of ecojustice” to lobby churches to practice sound environmental policies.

But Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., told Baptist Press that neither Cizik nor the NAE are in danger of losing sight of evangelism -– a charge often leveled against the NCC. In fact, Hunter said the just the opposite is true, that by becoming involved in environmental issues that affect the lives of the poor the NAE is “going further than we would have had we not done anything.”

Hunter was named the president of the Christian Coalition last year, but he stepped down from the organization after it refused to broaden its agenda to include causes like global warming and HIV/AIDS. During the NAE board meeting, Hunter spoke on the issue of creation care.

“We are thrilled with Richard’s leadership,” Hunter said. “He has a balanced approach. He’s not advocating legislation, or legislative action points. Neither he nor anyone else has ever recommended anything but market-based solutions and grass roots movements to address the problem of global warming.

“In the long run, I think Richard Cizik will be viewed as someone who called our attention to something we all needed to know,” Hunter said.

Cizik said during the board meeting that the NAE’s newfound activism was rooted “in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross,” an NAE news release said. “We come together in a positive way as a family bonded by the love of Christ, not as fractious relatives. We desire to be people known for our passionate commitment to justice and improving the world, and eager to reach across barriers with love, civility, and care for our fellow human beings.”

Regarding the NAE statement on torture, Land described it as “an exercise in moral self-congratulation” because it says torture is immoral, but fails to define it.

The statement, which passed by a vote of 38-1 and was co-authored by Cizik and David Gushee of Union University, claims that “United States law and military doctrine has banned the resort to torture and cruel and degrading treatment. Tragically, documented cases of torture and inhumane and cruel behavior have occurred at various sites in the war on terror, and current law opens procedural loopholes for more to continue. We commend the Pentagon’s revised Army Field Manual for clearly banning such acts, and urge that this ban extend to every sector of the United States government without exception, including our intelligence agencies.”

Authors of the statement intentionally avoided defining torture, a statement on the Evangelicals for Human Rights website said. Instead, the authors relied on definitions provided by the U.S. Army and the United Nations.

Walz, who was critical of Cizik’s stance on global warming, did not endorse the torture statement, claiming that board members had not been given enough time for reflection on the 18-page document. But Walz also said “torture” in reality wasn’t the subject of the document.

“It seems to me, and to other people, that the document was mostly about human rights in the broader sense of the term. It was in almost every heading. The word ‘torture’ was there for political impact and might be interpreted as a publicity stunt. It was like a bait and switch, among good issues I grant you. But the document’s major emphasis wasn’t torture, even though it’s being reported as such.”

Evangelicals would have been better served, Land said, if they had been more specific in the statement. Both he and Daniel Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said coercing enemy combatants may not be the same as torture -– but there is no mention of that in the statement.

“There is a great deal a difference in the kind of treatment that must be given to uniformed prisoners of war and what most people call torture,” Land said. “POWs are only required to give their name rank and serial number. Terrorists are not uniformed POWs and are not guaranteed the protections of the Geneva Convention. We ought to at least be able to question terrorists with the same vigor with which we question criminals at the local police station.”

Heimbach said the NAE’s statement on torture “takes a very strong stand on immorality, but doesn’t define what immorality is. Making someone uncomfortable is not immoral.”

“Doing this, being critical of the administration based on a standard they haven’t defined is irresponsible. It forces evangelicals to take sides and therefore undermines evangelicals’ moral witness in the culture,” Heimbach said. “The real debate with regard to torture is not whether or not you are against immorality, but where you feel coercive force with non-cooperative prisoners becomes immoral.”

Heimbach said the NAE’s statement on torture and the recent statements made by Cizik on global warming indicate that the organization is beginning to move beyond its mandate and set an agenda that may not represent the opinions of all of its member bodies. And Beisner added that by addressing too many issues the NAE only dilutes its voice, “especially when some of those it addresses lack consensus among evangelicals for whom the NAE purports to speak.”

Hunter, however, said he disagrees. “I can’t help but believe that by caring about people and how this and other issues impact them, that the message of evangelism will be stronger,” he said. “I’ve also never understood the arguments of people who say that becoming more like Jesus dilutes the message.”

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  • Gregory Tomlin