The battle (over global warming) between competing conservative evangelical camps is one to watch in 2011. It's been brewing for years. In 2005, Richard Cizik, who was then the political lobbyist for the conservative-leaning National Association of Evangelicals, and talking up the notion of environmental stewardship to its 30 million members, found himself in the cross hairs of a prominent Republican politician. Cizik was steaming when I interviewed him for a story I was writing at the time:
For four weeks in a row the senior senator [James Inhofe] from Oklahoma has chosen to refer to me by name, as part of "˜the liberal, enviro whackos who are sidling up to pro-abortionists and pantheists.' I can only suspect that he feels threatened by our [the NAE's] advocacy. But he hardly needs to go ballistic against us, because we are hardly his enemies. We are his conservative friends, fellow pro-Bush Republicans.
A few years later, Cizik was ousted from his NAE position after making conciliatory remarks on gay rights issues. As one commentator noted at the time:
His sacking looks like a victory for the old guard, but I think it reveals more about the sclerotic nature of American fundamentalism. The smarter evangelicals, who hope to become the next generation of national leaders, know that to attract young people they must embrace the environment as a moral cause, and dial back on the homophobia. Cizik was on the right side in both these battles, and the churches that follow his lead will be the ones who grow.
And in fact, the "creation care" movement that Cizik helped to advance has continued to grow and attract support from younger evangelicals. As the Times' Green blog reported earlier this week, this has sparked a furious counter-response from one group representing the retrograde fire-and-brimstone Religious Right, which
released a 12-part educational video series, "Resisting the Green Dragon," warning Christians that radical environmentalism "is striving to put America, and the world, under its destructive control."
This blowback reminds me of something else Cizik said in my 2005 story:
Those who want to discredit us will smear us with being left-wing environmentalists.
Cizik knows well the movement he grew up in. His evolution--and the generational shift in that movement--presents an existential threat to the old guard he was once part of.