Rev. Richard Cizik
An evangelical leader who believes that God wants us to save the environment.
BY: Kimberly Winston
The Rev. Richard Cizik is a warrior in a new kind of holy war--the battle to get Christians to see the earth as God’s gift and recognize it is their duty to care for it.
As vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella organization representing some 30 million evangelical Christians, Cizik is a Washington lobbyist and leading proponent of “creation care,” the philosophy that caring for the planet and all it holds is biblically mandated duty. It is his job to get evangelicals to think green.
“I have told people, ‘Look, you have got to care about this because when you die, God is not going to ask you about how he created the earth,’” Cizik told Plenty magazine in February. “He’s going to ask you, ‘What did you do with what I created?’”
Jeffery L. Sheler, who has a chapter on Cizik in his book “Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America” (Viking, 2006), said Cizik’s dedication to his cause is unusual in Washington.
“He has thrown himself fully into the fray,” Sheler told Beliefnet, “applying his considerable skills as a Washington insider to advance the cause regardless, as he says, of ‘who may try to take my head off.’ And there are plenty of those with lesser vision in the Religious Right who would do just that.”
Indeed, creation care is not universally popular among evangelicals. Some believe that we don’t need to care for the environment because Jesus is coming. Others equate environmentalism with a liberal political agenda. Last February, the NAE did not join with other prominent evangelicals, including best-selling mega-pastor Rick Warren, in signing the Evangelical Climate Initiative’s “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action,” a joint effort between evangelicals and Fortune 500 companies for greener public policy. Many conservative Christian leaders, including Charles Colson, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, and Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, urged the NAE to stay on the sidelines. "There should be room for Bible-believing evangelicals to disagree about the cause, severity, and solutions to the global warming issue," those leaders wrote.
"There are people who disagree with what I'm doing ... within the evangelical community of America," Cizik has said. "Simply for standing up and saying, 'Climate change is real, the science is solid, we have to care about this issue because of the impact on the poor'--why would that be controversial?"
It is for his environmental work and his courage in facing down his critics that Cizik is nominated for most inspiring person of the year. His work at the NAE has shone all the brighter during the recent scandal enveloping its president, Rev. Ted Haggard, who resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct.
Cizik is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but he has never had a pulpit. He has spent a quarter century in Washington lobbying on behalf of evangelical Christians. He describes himself as a pro-Bush conservative, but he is less than thrilled with the Bush Administration’s record on environmental issues. But he wants to work with the administration, not against it.
“I am confident that the administration can change its direction, and we can help them do that,” he told reporters.
Cizik was not always so environmentally minded. In the 1990s, he advised the NAE to stay out of environmental issues. But in 2002, he had a conversion experience he has likened to his conversion to Christ. “I was at a conference in Oxford where Sir John Houghton, an evangelical scientist, was presenting evidence of shrinking ice caps, temperatures tracked for millennia through ice-core data, increasing hurricane intensity, drought patterns, and so on,” he has said. “I realized all at once, with sudden awe, that climate change is a phenomenon of truly biblical proportions.”
To learn more about the National Association of Evangelicals,click here.
To read the ECI's Climate Change document,click here.
View 2006 nominees' photo gallery.