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Citizens Class: Common Ground?

How have labels crippled our ability to engage in a healthy dialogue?

(Transcripts of video clips are at the end of the document.)

Backgrounder: Common Ground?
Those inside the Christian environmental movement gained a high-profile "convert" when Pat Robertson recently changed his stance on global warming. In October 2005, Robertson had castigated the National Association of Evangelicals for their support of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, accusing them of teaming up with "far-left environmentalists" in their campaign to combat global warming and other environmental problems. But in the summer of 2006 ... [more]

Class Is in Session...
The Citizens Class on Religion & Politics explores the power of faith at the polling place. Religion & the Environment examines the evolution of the evangelical environmental debate. The following audio and video clips and documents map out some of the major issues addressed in those classes and shed light on the possibilities for political and social dialogue between evangelicals and others, and between evangelicals themselves, in America today-be sure to join in.

Rev. Richard Cizik is a national leader in the evangelical environmental movement. Based in Washington, D.C., he serves as vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, America's most influential Christian lobbying group, which represents 59 denominations, 45,000 churches, and 30 million believers. When Cizik heard Sir John Houghton, a noted scientist and fellow evangelical speak about global warming, he realized that "the fate of the earth may well depend on how Christians, especially evangelical Christians who take the bible seriously, respond to the issues of climate change." In the following video clip, Cizik describes why he came to embrace an environmental agenda and how he has come under fire from his partisan brethren for his stance.

Watch the video: Richard Cizik

This disagreement among conservative evangelicals on global warming and environmental change is particularly noteworthy because it is taking place within a group of people who agree on just about every other important public policy issue .And some critics of the creation-care contingent view those who forge an "unholy alliance with the environmentalists" as aligning themselves with a movement that is seen as uncomfortably close to those that support abortion, support for gay marriage, and support for a number of other political causes that are anathematic to traditional evangelicals.

Watch the video: Jan Markell

In her article, "Green Christianity," Christian broadcaster Jan Markell lays out her criticism of evangelical environmentalists and emphasizes the danger of taking on an issue that is generally associated with another worldview. "This effort," she writes, "is partially funded by leftist outfits like the Rockefeller Brothers' Fund and the Hewlett Foundation, which support many anti-Christian ideals and organizations. Their worldview would make it appear like the signers on to the EEN are 'unequally yoked together.' These organizations do NOT have any interest in what evangelicals stand for. They are pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage and lean to the left on many issues." Later she writes, "Liberal Christianity has infected enough of evangelicalism to the point where 'evangelicalism' doesn't mean what it did even twenty years ago."

Certainly, Richard Cizik has not abandoned the evangelical platform on abortion and homosexuality in order to take up the charge of creation care.

The question becomes, What does it mean to be politically inconsistent? Some, like Markell, would argue that being politically inconsistent means compromising core values or at least diluting the movement's focus.

In her book, THE ARGUMENT CULTURE: STOPPING AMERICA'S WAR OF WORDS, Deborah Tannen describes how the definition of compromise as "giving in for the purpose of reaching agreement" has taken on a negative connotation in our political life and has become synonymous with selling your soul or cheapening yourself.

In a passage that has great significance for the evangelical debate on the environment, Tannen quotes U.S. Senator J.J. Exon on his early departure from politics: "Unfortunately, the traditional art of workable compromise for the ultimate good of the nation, heretofore the essence of democracy, is demonstrably eroded." Senator Warren Rudman gives this reason for leaving: "I thought the essence of good government was reconciling divergent views with compromises that served the country's interests ... The spirit of civility and compromise was drying up."

When the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance sent its January 2006 letter to the National Association of Evangelicals in an effort to convince leaders of that organization to back away from their stance on global warming, their words were telling. They requested that "the NAE carefully consider all policy issues in which it might engage in the light of promoting unity among the Christian community and glory to God."

If a split over environmentalism threatened to destroy the unity of the evangelical movement as a whole, how many evangelicals would be willing to risk it? And if partisanship and ideology are allowed to trump, compromise and dialog, what possibility for discussion and common ground is left? More importantly, what does it mean for the future of the planet?

The insights and perspectives featured here, while focusing on the debate within the evangelical community, have implications that stretch far beyond religious and environmental issues. They also raise some interesting questions for discussion:

  • In the documentary Richard Cizik said "…to be biblically consistent means you have to, at times, be politically inconsistent." What are the implications of that statement for the future political power of the religious right?

  • What happens to our democracy when our affiliation with particular organizations or groups inhibits our ability to disagree?

  • How can we begin to humanize and work with those with very different perspectives?

  • How have labels crippled our ability to engage in a healthy dialogue and constructive debate? Do our assumptions that a person who is a member of X group must also be a Y do justice to our humanity?

  • What guidelines will help make this online dialogue useful and productive for you?


BILL MOYERS: You know, I have to ask you. Are you conservative?

RICHARD CIZIK: Yes. Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: What's your position on abortion?

RICHARD CIZIK: I'm pro-life. Abortion is wrong.

BILL MOYERS: Homosexuality?

RICHARD CIZIK: I'm-- I'm conservative on this issue. I oppose same sex marriage.

BILL MOYERS: And yet on the environment you sound like a ..

RICHARD CIZIK: Well, I happen to think that, you see, to be biblically consistent means you have to, at times, be politically inconsistent.



JAN MARKELL: Here is the situation with the evangelical climate initiative or those that signed this evangelical environmental network. They are focusing-- very, very closely, they are focusing on a single issue. And here's where we have our problem. They are focusing on the issue that the-- situation on the-- on earth right now which is precarious weather wise is because of climate and climate variations. Which are due to global warming. Manmade global warming. That's so important to understand. Because no one can disagree there's global warming.

That's one edge of even evangelicalism that believes that way. Now there's another element of evangelicalism. And I would represent it and I would say this is not what evangelicals are called to do. Focus on global warming and figure out is it manmade or water or what. Or what-- the other group of evangelicals believe is we were called and we are called to preach the gospel. To spread the good news. To win the lost.

Whereas this other camp is now focusing on sort of a social issue. And I think that's interesting. If you keep in mind that back in the 1940's, the organization was created called the National Association of Evangelicals. The reason they were formed was because they saw some denominations going off into the social gospel only. And this so called-- NEAE or National Association of Evangelicals in approximately 1946, got together and said-- as evangelicals, we are going to focus on the Bible.

We're going to focus on winning the lost. We're not going to focus on the social issues. Because so many of the main line protestants were. Well, now, comes a group of evangelicals saying we're all for the social cause and the social issues. Particularly as it concerns manmade global warming. And so I'm just saying I don't think that's the call of an evangelical. I think the call of evangelicals is to preach the good news. Is to preach the gospel. It's to win the lost. And not focus on these other issues.

QUESTION: What does it-- what's at stake when these prominent leaders speak out in this way? What is-- what's-- what's at stake here?

JAN MARKELL: Well, it's taking time and it's taking money and it's taking other things away from the central issue that the National Association of Evangelicals decades ago now-- their whole purpose was to create a movement called the evangelical movement that was created to focus on one thing only. And that's preaching the gospel and saving souls.

And so if we're going to get diverted and we're going to spend millions of dollars and we're going to spend-- who knows how much time trying to rid the world, in this case, of a questionable theory called manmade global warming, this is a huge distraction from what we should be doing. The more conservative evangelical would say, hey, we need to preach the gospel and win the lost. And not go after a science that is not proven at all. You cannot prove scientifically that the weather aberrations that are going on are manmade. You just can't prove it.

And in the meantime, souls are dying. Because we're spending time and money trying to figure out if in fact there's such a thing as manmade global warming. It's a massive waste of time and of resources.


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