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Environment

The Resurrection of Richard Cizik

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On April 22, four years ago, I spent the day with Richard Cizik for this story. A lot has happened since then. In 2005, Cizik was the vice president for government affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), an influential group consisting of 45,000 churches and some 30 million members. He had been NAE's political point man in D.C. since Reagan. By Earth Day 2005, when I caught up with Cizik for my story on unlikely environmental bedfellows, he was already taking heavy hits from his supposed friends on the Right, who abhorred his increasingly outspoken calls for action on global warming. In 2007, prominent christian conservatives, such as James Dobson and Tony Perkins, had tried to oust Cizic from the NAE, citing, among other things, his advocacy of the green-friendly Creation Care movement, and his "relentless campaign against global warming." Last December, Dobson and Perkins got an early Christmas present when Cizik was forced to resign from the NAE after expressing support for same-sex civil unions. In truth, this may have just been his final offense. If the Religious Right's puritanical scolds thought that Rev. Cizik was going to slink away into political obscurity, they surely underestimated his conviction. For this past Sunday, Cizic re-emerged onto the public stage, perhaps more determined than ever to tackle global warming:

Surrounded by Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, and Christians sitting in the pews of a United Methodist church, Cizik spoke about the need for new strategies and ideas to advance the environmental issue.

On the eve of this Earth Day, I called Cizik at his Virginia home to learn more about his Second Act in life. While he was vague on details, our conversation ranged widely, from the sway of Dispensationalism ("it has had enormous consequences") to his turnaround on Al Gore ("I used to make fun of him...call him the ozone man...the fact of the matter is he's been right all along and the evidence substantiates this"). Below are some excerpts of the interview: KK: There's a new Pew poll showing that 34 percent of evangelicals believe in climate change. RC: Those figures seem pretty low. Actually, 71 percent of evangelicals believe climate change is real [according to another poll that Cizik tells me can be seen here]. The problem is that only 30 percent think it is human induced. KK: I don't get that [last part]. How could that be? RC: Evangelicals reason as follows: scientists say climate change is real [and caused by greenhouse gases], but scientists also say evolution is real, so evangelicals don't believe it. It's an illogical syllogism. Many evangelicals don't believe in anthropogenic greenhouse gases. [[NOTE: recent supporting evidence for that last point can be seen here.--KK]] KK: You must be following all the recent efforts by congressional republicans to cast doubt on global warming as a legitimate issue. Why do you think there is so much push-back from them on this when there is increasing evidence from scientists that climate change is a real threat? RC: Just giving someone more information doesn't always change people's views. We tend to screen out ideas we don't want to hear. KK: I understand that you're now a United Nations Fellow. What do you do in that capacity? RC: I'm an ambassador of good will, building bridges, as they say. Having his wings clipped by NAE hasn't slowed Cizic in the least. He says he is barnstorming christian colleges and seminaries across the country, preaching the virtues of Creation Care to a younger generation of evangelicals. In fact, Cizic has even bigger plans to mobilize a new, greener, evangelical movement, which he vaguely sketched out to the Washington Post after his appearances at Sunday's pre-Earth day festivities. Those who sought for years to muzzle Cizik and cheered when he got sacked probably never stopped to consider the law of unintended consequences.

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