MINNEAPOLIS (ABP) — Board members of the National Association of Evangelicals declined March 9 to chasten the group's public-policy officer for his public statements on global warming — but an intramural fight among evangelical elites on the issue may just be starting.
NAE directors, meeting March 8-9 in Minneapolis, did not issue any formal reprimand or criticism to Richard Cizik, NAE's vice president for governmental affairs — despite a request from 25 politically connected evangelical leaders to silence or fire Cizik for what they called his “relentless campaign” against global warming.
The request came in a letter signed by such Religious Right luminaries as James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. The letter was sent to NAE board members and released to the news media earlier in the month.
“While many of us consider Richard to be a friend, he regularly speaks without authorization for the entire organization and puts forward his own political opinions as scientific fact,” the letter said. Claiming that the reality of human-induced global warming was an unsettled scientific issue, it continued: “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.”
The letter also claimed that Cizik is “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.”
Leith Anderson, a Minnesota pastor who serves as NAE's president, has stated he is “behind” Cizik.
The group also reaffirmed a 2004 NAE document that places “creation care” alongside nurturing the family, guarding the sanctity of life and caring for the poor as priorities for public policy.
However, one NAE board member who has been critical of Cizik's views on global warming said debate on the issue is not settled. Jerald Walz, director of operations for the Washington-based Institute for Religion and Democracy, said the board only discussed the letter in regard to how it was released. Anderson and some board members have been critical of the letter-writers for releasing it to the news media simultaneously with sending it to Cizik and board members.
“I think it's fair to say that there was concern about how the accusations were delivered to NAE, and that fact overshadowed some of the substantive questions that might have been raised,” Walz said.
He said that while he believes “there are both private and public discussions of discomfort” among NAE directors over Cizik's advocacy against global warming, “determining the relative strengths and weaknesses of those among board members is difficult to ascertain.”
Personally, Walz said, he believes Cizik's views have “extended beyond” NAE's stated views on protecting the environment.
Other evangelical leaders have defended Cizik. Jim Wallis, head of the evangelical anti-poverty group Sojourners/Call to Renewal, challenged Dobson to a debate over the issue.
“If the scientific consensus is right — climate change is real, is caused substantially by human activity, and could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths — then isn't that also a great moral issue? Could global warming actually be alarming evidence of human tinkering with God's creation?” he asked, in a March 8 e-mail newsletter article.
“Or, are the only really 'great moral issues' those concerning abortion, gay marriage, and the teaching of sexual abstinence? I happen to believe that the sanctity of life, the health of marriages, and teaching sexual morality to our children are, indeed, among the great moral issues of our time. But I believe they are not the only great moral issues, and Dobson says they are.”