Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Friday, March 02, 2007

Evangelical Cooling

James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, and a cadre of like-minded evangelicals are calling on the National Association of Evangelicals to reign in its outspoken vice president, Richard Cizik, on the issue of global warming. A clue: Cizik thinks it's a big problem. Focus ... not so much.

"If he cannot be trusted to articulate the view of American evangelicals on environmental issues," reads a letter signed by Dobson and 24 other evangelical leaders, "then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE."

It's another sign that evangelicals are far from being the monolithic political power-broker some think they are. There are significant differences among evangelical ranks, and even the occasional squabble.

The NAE is a loose confederation of evangelical churches and denominations said to represent more than 30 million Christians. Once headed by the Rev. Ted Haggard, founding and now fallen pastor of Colorado Springs' New Life Church, the NAE has encouraged evangelicals to widen their public interests beyond traditional evangelical issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Cizik, the NAE's vice president of governmental relations, has been one of the organization's leading voices, often speaking out on environmental issues.

Dobson et al believe Cizik isn't necessarily representative of the NAE. More to the point, they believe fretting over global warming draws evangelical attention away from the issues Focus says REALLY matter -- again, those core issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.

The signees (who also include Focus' President Jim Daly) also took exception to Cizik apparently separating evangelicals into "the future" and the "old guard" -- with groups including Focus falling squarely in the latter.

"To paraphrase, Cizik apparently believes 'the old guard' which defends traditional values is like a rotting corpse that will not die," the letter reads. "Are these the words of a man who seeks to bring unity and understanding within the NAE?"

These aren't new divisions, but to my knowledge, this is the first time the schism has been addressed quite so directly and -- well, harshly.

It'll be interesting to see how this shakes out, and how it might affect the 2008 election. With Democrats trying to incorporate more overt faith talk into their rhetoric, and with evangelicals growing more concerned with issues such as the environment, the Republican power-lock on the evangelical vote may be fading. It may also suggest a wider struggle as to who -- or what -- will control the evangelical movement in the 21st century. Both Cizik and Dobson would stress evangelicals are a diverse bunch (Dobson's letter says as much), and one NAE official once told me getting evangelical leaders to agree on anything can be like herding cats. But evangelicals have gotten where they are by staying on point. It'll be interesting to see just what that point, or those points, will be in the future.


Anonymous zen said...

What Dobson meant to say was...

"If he cannot be trusted to articulate the view of [my brand of] American evangelicals [who follow word for word what I do and say] on environmental issues, then we [that is me speaking for my sheep] respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE."

Hey James - who elected you king? You are a tool (and lost) indeed.

2:35 PM  

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