For those of you who follow the news about highly public evangelical Christian leaders and personalities you are most likely now aware of the resignation of
Richard Cizik as Vice-President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). The story itself can be read at on a number of Web sites and is objectively reported in a number of news reports today, December 12. I read several of these, especially at the NAE site and that of Christianity Today.
I have already received emails asking me to comment on Cizik and his resignation. I know that if I do so, at least publicly, there is considerable risk. My comments about this matter will bring some condemnation and further misunderstanding of my own views. Yet I have a growing number of friends who want to dialogue about such public issues. In that spirit I enter the dialogue with my sense of this sad controversy.
Over the course of the past two years I have written a considerable amount about American political developments in and out of the church. I made it clear that I did not vote for Barack Obama. I also stated that I wanted to engage the dialogue about Obama with an open mind and non-partisan attitude. One thing I did not do was condemn him. Since the election I have made it quite clear that I accept Barack Obama as an American leader and quite comfortably embrace him as my president-elect. I have also made it clear that I believe he is a sincere Christian, a morally upright man and an individual who treasures many of the same things that I do as a Christian. I clearly disagree with Barack Obama about some policy issues but I am impressed by the choices he has made to form his leadership team. (Several of his choices have been exceptional and most are solid regardless of one’s party affiliation.) I plan to offer critique of his leadership publicly, since he is a public figure leading a nation in an open democracy, just like I would hope any Christian would do. But I will do this with respect, fairness, measured speech and a resolve to be honest; so much as I understand these virtues of good civic life.
But nothing I write brings more criticism from the religious right in general, and conservative (and often older) Christian friends in particular, than blogs about Barack Obama. There is only one exception to this general rule and that is blogs about Christian controversies that result from a handful of issues that are “hot-buttons” among conservative Christian. I do not engage in these discussions because I enjoy the controversial part but rather because I love the church and long to see believers act in mature ways that will foster the honest pursuit of public truth and virtue in our wider society.
Since I depend on ordinary people—most of whom are small donors and personal friends—to support ACT 3 financially I run another risk when I state my views on controversial issues. I alienate someone no matter how I present my case. I have thus been advised to avoid all such conversation and public comments. Why? My statements will be misused against me, especially on the Internet. If you think I am being overly dramatic I would love to show you what happens to our giving, especially from older very conservative Christians, when I deal with these kinds of issues publicly. People give to what they “believe in” and “agree with” and most often to what pushes their buttons. Since political issues have become hot buttons in the evangelical world that raise money and decrease giving as well. I am still amazed, over the nearly forty years of public life, that you can raise a bucket of cash if you appeal to certain instincts in people; e.g., fear, anger, pride, etc.
My second reservation about entering into the Cizik controversy is that most of those who speak against Richard Cizik are people I either know personally or am involved with in different settings. I have no interest in attacking the character of any of these individuals. In addition, I have been (and still am in a few cases) associated with people who wanted Cizik’s resignation openly. The irony here is that the one person in all of this controversy that I have never met is Richard Cizik. I only know Rich through several of his friends, one of whom I had lunch with since his resignation was announced. (This friend expressed deep sadness about the resignation and gave me incredible insights into the controversy, one that he knows from the inside far better than I do. This person, like me, is entirely orthodox in his views about marriage and related moral issues.)
The Recent Historical Context
The first public call for Richard Cizik’s resignation from NAE came from two dozen evangelical leaders in a March 2, 2007, letter to L. Roy Taylor (pictured at left),
chairman of the board of NAE.
James Dobson and others said that Cizik’s views on global warming were “a threat to the unity and integrity” of NAE. These leaders suggested Cizik’s views were “dividing and demoralizing the NAE” and added, “If he cannot be trusted to articulate the views of American evangelicals on environmental issues, then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE.” These leaders said the idea that global-warming was human-induced was not appropriate for evangelicals.
The late Jerry Falwell preached a February 25, 2007, sermon on “The Myth of Global Warming.” He urged his congregation to not be duped by “these ‘earthism’ worshippers.” In February of 2007 World magazine’s editor Joel Belz also criticized Cizik. The letter, which also included signers such as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association said Cizik was “preoccupied” with climate concerns. They pointed to an article in USA Today in January of 2007 and said Cizik was helping to cause confusion about “conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality.”
The leaders of NAE supported Cizik and rejected this appeal claiming that he had done nothing to warrant their seeking his resignation. But the damage was done. Cizik was on the radar screen of many conservatives and his views on every issue became nuclear from then to now. Conservative pastors like Tim Bayly even called upon the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) to leave NAE over the Cizik issue. (Some wonder why I have expressed continual dismay about the tenor of the political debates in the PCA. This is again a good reason for my dismay.) One group after another became aware of the man Richard Cizik and the polemics then poured out through the Internet for the next 21 months until his resignation this week.
No one should judge motives. I do not know Cizik’s motives or James Dobson’s. I do know that Rich Cizik endorsement of Dan Gilgoff’s book, The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War, brought considerable opposition from many quarters. No one should be surprised at this opposition. Let’s not be naïve here. Whoever speaks out against the Christian Right, and the leaders of the Christian Right, is a target for the Christian Right. If you represent an organization, like NAE, that is seen as somehow a part of that Christian Right then you are marked with a visible sign that places a huge question over your life and public statements. Such leaders are often portrayed as opposing the truth of God and the cause of Christ. Cizik became such a person to some evangelicals.
When Dr. Dobson attacked Cizik, and strongly called for him to resign, he sent his appeal out as a special alert to his supporters. A great deal of time and effort was spent to remove Cizik from leadership. NAE was very wise to not listen to these attacks since they came from non-members of the NAE.
Sadly, this same type of attack was undertaken in 2002 when Dr. Dobson, and some of the same voices at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), called for the resignation of NRB president Wayne Pederson. Pederson, now associated with Moody Bible Institute and a solid conservative Christian and first-class gentleman, was openly attacked because he dared to suggest that the political agenda in NRB ought not to be so central to its vision. He learned the hard way that you cannot challenge the power these men hold without paying a steep price. They successfully removed him, in a type of spiritual and political coup that boggles the mind of most Christians when they hear the facts of the story.
"It Is What It Is"
My wife repeatedly reminds me, when we observe similar situations in the course of our own ministry: “It is what it is.” Richard Cizik, right or wrong, dared to challenge the views of older evangelical conservatives who think his views are completely unacceptable. Money talks and polemics work. Standing against someone, or some organization, sells some ministries, at least in old school evangelicalism. A man who is involved in this kind of highly charged political intrigue told me back in the 1990s that if I would take an occasional controversial stand on a political issue, a stand that would appeal specifically to conservative standards of the sort he believed important, I would drive up my donor base dramatically. I was appalled. I remain appalled to this day, more than a decade later. In fact, I am angry when I see this still happening. It is not the sole reason these things happen but everyone on the inside of donor-driven evangelical organizations knows that sooner or later issues do raise money. And the best money is mostly found among those who are over 55 years of age. Appeal to their sense of what is being lost in America through capitulation to “liberalism” and compromise in the evangelical camp and people will write big checks. A good old-fashioned attack on a compromiser in one’s own ranks is needed to sell the mission. It seems that we need our evangelical Benedict Arnold’s to keep the war going much of the time.
I will address what Cizik actually said and did to bring about his resignation this week in Part Two and Three but suffice it to say—older evangelicalism thrives on opposition. It is the child of fundamentalism and fundamentalism has to have a liberal enemy in order to create new momentum for ministry (sic). There is always one new person to find who denies inerrancy, or who advocates a socially liberal cause. This requires the faithful leader to launch a new barrage of attacks. And when the attacks are launched few care about the truth of what a person said or meant before the attack started. The war must be won. Cizik had to be brought down and finally he was. It actually took less than two years to complete the job. I am grieved and I do not even know the man. I have prayed for him today and will keep praying for him. I know something of what he feels tonight.
A Prayer for This Night
“Lord Jesus Christ, comfort our brother Richard Cizik this night with your mercy and grace. Allow him to know that he is loved by you and please heal him quickly and deeply. Do not allow him to grow bitter or to become defensive in his stance. Guide him Great Jehovah as a pilgrim in this barren land. And please give to your people the wisdom to know what really matters and the discernment to stop these wars that so plague your people in this divided land.”