Evangelicals Go Green -- Will Conservative Candidates Follow Suit?

The Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), agrees. As a conservative leader in an organization representing 30 million Christians, Cizik seems an unlikely advocate. But while attending a 2002 climate change conference in England he had an epiphany about creation care that he said was similar to his conversion to Christianity in 1972.

This comparison drew protests from colleagues who believe that nothing compares to one's religious conversion.

"Well that's true," Cizik said. "But the reality is that to do what creation care requires of the evangelicals of America -- 100 million of them -- is conversion. There's a new way of living."

Cizik joined forces with Harvard researcher Eric Chivian, world-renowned climatologist Sir John Houghton and Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, among many others. In a short time he came to represent evangelicals nationwide who care about climate change.

Cizik encouraged leaders to sign the Evangelical Climate Initiative, which said global warming is man-made, and declares it is everyone's moral responsibility to care for the environment. He appeared in documentaries about evangelical environmentalism, including Bill Moyers' PBS special "Is God Green?" and "The Great Warming." In January Cizik held an unpublicized meeting between evangelicals and scientists who pledged to work together to defeat global warming through policy change.

"The destruction of nature comes about because of bad stewardship, stupid economics and the betrayal of our biblical responsibilities. And so a lot of healing is going to have to occur," Cizik said.

He believes ignoring God's gifts is blasphemous, and that God will hold political leadership accountable if the Earth isn't properly cared for. "You have to be the biggest riverboat gambler in history to say that [global warming] is the greatest hoax perpetrated against the American people," Cizik said, referring to a statement made by former chairman of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee James M. Inhofe in 2003. "I just think the administration has acted like riverboat gamblers."

Fundamentalist Fallout

Cizik's words and actions have generated passionate opposition. In March dozens of well-known evangelical leaders sent a letter to NAE chairman L. Roy Taylor calling for Cizik's resignation, demanding that he stop talking about global warming so as not to divert attention from abortion or same-sex marriage. Signers included Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson and American Family Association chairman Don Wildmon. Then, in July, Citizen magazine, a Focus on the Family publication, featured a scathing criticism of Cizik, accusing him of pushing evangelical voters toward the Democratic Party.

But Cizik remained unfazed, saying, "Never in my Bible did it say I have to be an economic or a political conservative, although I happen to be both. The irony of the irony."

Although opponents of evangelical environmentalism are prominent and public, they represent a minority. Pew Forum data from 2006 show 68 percent of white evangelicals view global warming as a serious problem.

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