Cizik: We’re All In This Together’

Post a Comment » Written on May 13th, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (May 13, 2008) – Richard Cizik has worked with the National Association of Evangelicals since 1980, when he first moved to Washington D.C., eager to promote values often identified with the Moral Majority. As vice president of governmental affairs for the NAE, he has advocated against abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem-cell research. He is a self-described conservative Republican who voted twice for Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

In recent years, he has become a leading evangelical proponent in the fight against global warming and helped guide the writing of the NAE’s 2004 document, “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility” and the 2007 “Evangelical Declaration against Torture.” TIME magazine recently named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and he was a nominee for Beliefnet’s Most Inspiring Person of the Year award in 2006.

CizikIn an interview published yesterday, Cizik addressed issues of creation care. Today, he discusses with Covenant News Service (CNS) topics that include the NAE’s new approach to political engagement with unlikely partners, its document opposing torture and extraordinary rendition (the practice of transporting prisoners to another country where torture might be used during questioning), George Bush’s relationship with evangelicals, Jim Wallis, and the Republican Party.

CNS: The NAE has worked with people such as Gloria Steinem on human trafficking issues, organizations in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community on the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Tibetan Buddhists on religious freedom, and the Congressional Black Caucus on Sudan. Why is the NAE working with groups in collaborations that would have been unthinkable 15 years ago?

CIZIK: The current manifestation, of course, is the conversation with scientists over issues relative to creation, the environment, climate change, species extinction, and habitat destruction as well as the impacts on human health, including the unborn, from neurotoxins such as mercury.

This may be a harder sell, frankly, than all the others. There are all these stereotypes. But nonetheless, evangelicals have come to understand that they will have to bridge outward and take the gospel to sectors of society that heretofore haven’t been willing to hear us. And what better way to get them to hear us and hear about salvation through Jesus Christ than if we collaborate with them on issues where we have common ground?

There is a major shift that is occurring or already has occurred since about 1995 and continues today. It’s a shift in methodology. The change is described by a broader vision, a common ground strategy with those who are our erstwhile opponents on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Lastly, we are using tactics that represent a transformational politics rather than a transactional politics. Transformational politics uplifts, encourages, challenges and inspires – by its nature – because it acknowledges that both the leader and the led are together changing. It’s not a mentality that I will ask for your dollars to lobby on issues for you in a kind of quid pro quo transactional exchange of goods and services.

The Religious Right all too often employs a transactional model: “You give me money, and I’ll lobby for you in Washington.” Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority was the epitome of transactional politics. “Send me your dollars and I’ll plant the Christian flag on the other side of the Potomac and I’ll bring Christ to the public sector.” It didn’t work very well, most people will admit, and neither did the Christian Coalition.

Transformational politics relies on citizen lobbyists. Big difference. In the long run it’s much more effective and influential. Transformational leadership, which is occurring these days, is acknowledging that we are all in this together and we will have to grow. Leadership is moving people from where they are at present to where they ought to be. Frankly the NAE, through its board and its churches, has shown incredible leadership in reaching out across traditional lines to accomplish effective change.

CNS: Why are the people who oppose the NAE’s stand against torture largely the same people who oppose your stand on creation care?

CIZIK: I have been thinking about that, myself. It may be another instance in which people put their political ideology even before their theology and say the end justifies the means. And frankly, I don’t think the ends justify the means.

By any complicity whatsoever with torture, we sully the name of Christ and the gospel. I was in a Middle East country where it was brought to my attention by the following conversation:

“Did you know that secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently visited here?”

I said “No. What for?”

“To secure a site for the purpose of ER (extraordinary rendition).”

I said it wouldn’t surprise me. I asked what happened.

He said the government denied that it had allowed this, but the people all know it was true.

I asked, “What is the consequence of this?”

Answer: “You say you belong to a Christian nation and you’re bringing detainees to our country to torture     them because you can’t do this on your own property. This makes your gospel seem like a gospel of             violence and death and torture. And you say you’re a Christian nation.”

All we have to do is follow the Army Field Manual.

CNS: Speaking of President Bush, you said back in 2003 and 2004, you said you wouldn’t want any other person being the leader at that time with regards to going to war in Iraq.

CIZIK: At the time, I said descriptively, not prescriptively, that I thought most evangelicals trusted the president’s perception of the threat. I have said subsequently that I was wrong to have trusted the president’s perception, because we have seen that there was no connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and we know as well that pressure was put on the defense and CIA analysts to say we knew Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

So I say one has to really be careful about trusting your own government when it says we’re gong to go to war because of this, that or the other. We as citizens – as our own documents Health for the Nation” says – that we should readily urge our government to extensively pursue peaceful solutions before resorting to military force and that military force must be guided by the classic just war principles.

CNS: Is it fair to say that at the time, you thought there was a lot of congruity between George Bush and what evangelicals believe?

CIZIK: Yes. That is what I was saying at the time.

CNS: Would you say that today?

“I’m not sure that I would. I am among those millions of evangelicals that are disaffected with the White House. I’m among those evangelicals who see less congruity between the president and his policies and our own beliefs. There was a time when 79 percent of the evangelicals supported him and that has dropped below 30 percent.

I’ve said elsewhere I think it’s fair to say that George Bush is a born-again Methodist.
I think it’s fair to say that. The reason I say that is the first criterion for evangelical faith, it seems to me in practice, is regular attendance at an evangelical church. That is not what we have here. He’s chosen to worship at St. John’s Episcopal Church. That is not an evangelical church. There are evangelical Episcopal churches in the Washington suburbs.

Secondly, I’m not sure the president’s leadership style is in congruity with what we as evangelicals normally espouse. The president – rightly or wrongly – is perceived by Americans as being stubborn to the point of being truculent, resistant to the customary dialogue that evangelicals usually give to issues of public importance, dismissive of debate, and even arrogant in the manner in which he dismisses those who disagree with him.

It saddens me because that is not what we expected. We expected a man who would live up to his promise of compassionate conservatism and a humble foreign policy. I don’t think we have either.

Let me add, though, that I am a strong supporter of the president’s faith-based initiative because it levels the playing field for service providers who have a faith commitment. I think that is an important accomplishment.

I think the president deserves strong support for his PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief). It may be that we misperceive this president, but for all the good he has done, there are some obvious weaknesses.

The dissatisfaction on my own part comes because I’m a conservative and not because I’m a liberal. I’m a conservative! I’m appalled by the doubling of our national debt in eight years. I believe in a strong foreign policy in defense of democracy, human rights, and religious freedom, but I don’t think you can espouse the practice of torture and extraordinary rendition and at the same time say you stand for human rights. You can’t do that. A strong national defense means you don’t overburden the military and ask it to do that which it can’t do. I say this as a conservative, so this is not coming from someone who is a liberal.

CNS: It sounds like your views are drawing closer to evangelicals such as Jim Wallis?

CIZIK: I still think there are some real substantive differences. For one, I voted for Ronald Reagan twice and George Bush twice. I don’t think Jim can say that. If I’ve changed, so has the Republican Party. But there are those on the Religious Right who haven’t changed with it. That’s why they’re disgruntled with the current Republican standard-bearer.

By the way, one of the criticisms of me back in 2006 and 2007 – by those who wanted to dislodge me from the NAE – was that “Richard is a McCain Republican.” This was their diatribe internally, as if to say we can’t trust him because he happens to like John McCain. Now it turns out they are on the outside of the mainstream, and I’m in the mainstream of the Republican Party. And so what was heresy to them is now mainstream.

CNS: How do you feel about Jim’s statements that he’s not a Democrat or Republican?

CIZIK: He sounds like a Democrat, God bless him. Jim’s my friend. I like him. But let’s face it – you don’t give the Democratic response to the Republican president and not confuse people as to whether you’re a Democrat or confuse people as to whether you are non-partisan. You can’t be non-partisan and do that.

Jim is a prophet in good standing, as far as I’m concerned, as an evangelical, and I’ve never questioned those credentials. But he’s not going to move the Republican Party really. I can because it’s always easier to change a party from within. I’ve already shown that through our legislative accomplishments – we have strengthened our country.

By the way, statistics showed in a Pew Forum study that evangelicals – by 47 to 38 percent – want their American government to do not that which is only in its own interest, but also in the interest of its allies. Sixty percent of us believe that America has a calling to do good in the world. I share that. Not in an American exceptionalism that says we’re better than everyone else. It’s because much has been given to us and much is expected.

Editor’s note: to read the first installment, please see Cizik Speaks Out on Global Warming, Criticism.

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