The Rev. Rich Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), believes global climate change is a threat to the planet that should concern evangelical Christians — and that has infuriated the Religious Right.
In a March 1 letter, more than two dozen Religious Right leaders took the extraordinary step of writing to the leadership of the NAE and demanding that Cizik be fired. Interestingly, none of the organizations that endorsed the letter actually belongs to the NAE, an umbrella organization of evangelical denominations and other groups.
Signers included James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association. The joint letter accuses Cizik of waging a "relentless campaign" to alert people of the dangers of global warming. Cizik’s views, the letter asserted, are "demoralizing" the organization.
The NAE’s leadership does not seem inclined to listen to the outsiders.
"We would normally look to our own constituency — and not to those who have chosen not to be members of the NAE — for counsel," Leith Anderson, NAE interim president, told Religion News Service (RNS).
Anderson added that he supports Cizik, and Cizik has vowed not to resign. During a meeting of the NAE board March 8-9, members ignored calls to dismiss him.
The Religious Right’s beef with Cizik seems to be twofold: They believe global warming is a myth, and they worry that his emphasis on the issue will draw attention away from what they consider to be more pressing moral concerns.
"We have observed," they wrote, "that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children."
The letter comes at a time when Religious Right leaders are stepping up their efforts to debunk global climate change.
In a recent sermon titled "The Myth of Global Warming," the Rev. Jerry Falwell announced, "Today I am raising a flag of opposition to this alarmism about global warming and urging all believers to refuse to be duped by these ‘earthism’ worshippers."
Most scientists say there is no longer any doubt that the earth’s temperature is rising. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report stating that global warming is an established fact and asserting that there is a 90 to 99 percent certainty that human activity is the cause.
The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a right-wing group founded primarily to oppose political and theological liberalism in mainline churches, decided to pile on by attacking Cizik as well.
Jerald Walz, IRD vice president and a member of the NAE board, criticized Cizik in a press statement for espousing "controversial political judgments [that] go well beyond any plain scriptural teaching. None of them has been authorized by the NAE board. None of them would have consensus support in the evangelical community."
The IRD’s statement was issued just one day before the NAE began its two-day meeting in Minneapolis.
Cizik says he is always careful to point out that the NAE has no position on climate change and added that he continues to work on issues like opposition to legal abortion and same-sex marriage.
The embattled NAE official told RNS that he considers caring for the planet to be part of a "biblical mandate" but added, "There are people who, because of my views on climate change — which are very mainstream — want to pin the label of being a political liberal on me, which, of course, is not true."