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Washington – Richard Cizik, who resigned in December under pressure from the National Association of Evangelicals, has long been criticized by fellow evangelicals for being a little too green.
Emerging from a self-imposed media blackout, Cizik is back, and he’s wearing the label of converted conservationist even more comfortably now.
“I have become a conservative who, by some people’s definition, has become a liberal,” Cizik said here during a recent meeting on climate change. “I am not a liberal. I am a conservative who, of all things, believes that some people should become conservationists.”
These days, Cizik says, he has more speaking engagements than when he worked as the NAE’s point man in Washington, and he’s making plans for a new evangelical organization that will address issues as “broad as God’s concerns are broad.”
“I’m just going to create an entity that will enable young evangelicals to be more effective as advocates for change,” said Cizik, who was hired earlier this year as a senior fellow by the Washington-based United Nations Foundation, which was founded by media mogul Ted Turner.
Cizik, 57, abruptly left the NAE, an evangelical umbrella group, after an interview with National Public Radio in which he signaled support for same-sex civil unions and admitted voting for President Obama in the Virginia primary despite Obama’s support of abortion rights.
At the time, NAE President Leith Anderson said his organization decided that Cizik, who had been with the group for more than a quarter century, “cannot continue as a spokesperson for NAE.”
Although he declined to discuss his relationship with NAE, Cizik seems ready to move on and to resume his high-profile role in the nation’s capital. He’s building on his long-term interest in getting evangelicals of all ages involved in issues ranging from the environment to religious persecution.
Anderson, who hopes to announce a successor to Cizik within weeks, says he’s not surprised that his colleague of 30 years plans to pursue a wider range of evangelical causes.
“These are his interests and these are his issues,” he said. “The difference is that when he was with NAE, he was connected to a broader constituency and he’ll speak now as an individual rather than for an organization.”
E. Calvin Beisner, national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a frequent Cizik critic, said he welcomes the transition because he believes Cizik went beyond the statements that NAE member organizations adopted in a “For the Health of the Nation” document.
That document “said essentially nothing about global warming and yet he continued to make public statements hundreds of times, failing to explicitly express that this was his personal opinion and not representative of NAE,” said Beisner.
Though Cizik is prepared to address issues beyond climate in a future organization, the man who was once photographed appearing to walk on water in the pages of Vanity Fair says “creation care” appears to be what people want him to talk about.
“That is my perceived expertise but that’s a bit of a misnomer,” he said. “I’m no less concerned about the broader array of issues.”
In recent weeks, he’s lectured on “Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth” at an interfaith gathering and appeared alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at an Earth Day news conference to push clean energy legislation.
As Cizik has discovered, there is no such thing as bad publicity, and there’s always a second act in Washington.
“I have more (speaking engagements) now than I had before, maybe in part due to some of the controversy associated with my name,” Cizik said. “It’s also true that some people have told me `You’re too controversial and we’ll invite you next year.”‘
In his speeches, Cizik often cites passages from the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, which depicts God “destroying those who destroy the Earth.”
Eventually, he says, mankind’s mistreatment of the planet will be questioned as much as silence about the rise of Nazism and toleration of slavery. Climate change, he says, “is the civil-rights issue of the 21st century.”
Citing a report from the relief agency Christian Aid of Britain that 1 billion people could be negatively impacted by climate change by mid-century, Cizik said: “If the `civil rights’ campaigns of the late 20th century were aimed at restoring the voting rights of African-Americans, a new kind of `civil rights’ campaign is needed to protect the lives of a billion of our fellow human beings.”
Even so, he acknowledged that he still has an uphill battle in winning over skeptical fellow believers. A new LifeWay Research poll shows that Protestant pastors are evenly split, at 47 percent each, on whether global warming is “real and man-made” or just a myth.
“It just reveals that there’s a lot of work yet to be done to …
convince the unpersuaded,” Cizik responded. “Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.”
But as he continues his work on going green for God, Cizik tells audiences that evangelicals will need to build bridges with other faiths, just as they have on other issues. He recalls working with Tibetan Buddhists on religious freedom legislation, with Jews on Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, and with Muslims on climate change.
“They’re not giving up their values, their commitment to Scripture or the rest,” he said of “new evangelicals” like himself. “But they do know that they do have to partner with others who don’t share their views in order to save the planet.”
By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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