Greening the Evangelicals
Courtesy American News Project.
How solidly Republican will Christian evangelicals be in 2008? As the country enters the next phase in this historic election season, concern about the state of God's earth may be the issue that draws many believers into the Democratic camp. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals estimates that perhaps 40% of evangelicals will be "up for grabs" in November.
TALA DOWLATSHAHI (VOICEOVER): Anyone paying attention to the recent debate over the Lieberman-Warner bill on global warming would have noticed another kind of climate change: a political shift among some long-standing Republican stalwarts—Christian evangelicals. At a press conference prior to the debate, Senator Barbara Boxer made sure to point out how much support was coming from religious leaders concerned with the fate of the Earth.
BARBARA BOXER, US SENATOR (D-CA): This sentiment that we’re getting from the religious community is very powerful.
DOWLATSHAHI: Topping the list of religious groups were Christian evangelicals.
BOXER: The Evangelical Environmental Network, the Evangelical Climate Initiative—.
DOWLATSHAHI: In the coming presidential election, the Republican Party, which has depended for years on the votes of evangelical Christians, could find itself facing a new reality, one with a greener tint than in years past. The reverend Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, one of the nation’s largest evangelical networks, is on a mission. He’s actively working to reduce America’s role in global warming.
CIZIK: Oh, yes, America is a major contributor. For example, we are 4.5 percent of the world’s population—4.5—but we are 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. So we are a disproportionate polluter, unfortunately.
DOWLATSHAHI: Cizik believes Christians need to begin to address the problem of climate change. It’s a departure from recent issues that have been the focus for evangelicals.
CIZIK: For a lot of different reasons, the Christian church has never been active on these ecological creation issues. Why? Well, originally, the Church Fathers opted for, unfortunately, a kind of Neoplatonist view that the spirit matters, matter doesn’t matter. They were succeeded by the great reformers during the 16th century. Well, they taught Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others that while it is important to care, the overall emphasis that occurred was that the Earth was just a staging ground for a great moral conflict between God and Satan over man’s soul. So the Earth itself didn’t get much emphasis.
CIZIK (TO A CROWD): God bless you. I am so pleased you are here, because it’s an incredible day.
DOWLATSHAHI: Cizik is doing his best to change the emphasis and bring it down to earth.
CIZIK: "Oh," they say, "is this a Democrat, a blue-state issue?" I say no. "Is it a red-state or a voting issue?" No. They say, "Is it even a green issue?" Well, it is—.
DOWLATSHAHI: Cizik’s embrace of environmentalism has earned him new friends, but it has also created problems among his old evangelical colleagues.
BISHOP HARRY JACKSON JR, SENIOR PASTOR, HOPE CHRISTIAN CHURCH: In other words, the Kingdom of God has come, and Jesus has not come to take sides. He has come to take over.
DOWLATSHAHI: Among those uncomfortable with Cizik’s green attitude is Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of the Hope Christian Church in College Park, Maryland, and a fellow member of the NAE. Jackson calls Cizik a friend and doesn’t dispute that the climate is changing.
JACKSON: There’s a whole lot of folk who, unlike myself, think that global warming, for example, is a total hoax, which I don’t agree with. And there are other folks who think that the science is inconclusive. I believe that there is a global warming alarmist nature that’s going on—and get my distinction.
DOWLATSHAHI: Bishop Jackson may not doubt global warming is science, but he was one of 25 religious leaders calling for Cizik to step down as a vice president with the NAE. Jackson says he signed the letter because he saw Cizik’s message undercutting other theological issues, like population control.
JACKSON: As I signed that letter about Rich, I was saying, Rich, your climate change agenda is fine, but some people want to limit the population of the world because the world’s getting warmer. Some people want to sterilize and abort brown-skinned babies in the Earth because the globe is getting warmer. So I don’t want to sound like I’m angry—I’m not angry. But I have a watchful concern that sometimes under the name of holding the banner for something that’s very important, we can actually do something very wrong.
DOWLATSHAHI: Cizik does have allies. Reverend Jim Wallace is one of them. He heads up Sojourners, a progressive Evangelical community organization.
REV. JIM WALLACE, SOJOURNERS: [inaudible] people have been often criticized for having a theology which has justified treating the Earth like an empty milk carton, where it is kind of a throwaway thing that we don’t need because Jesus will come back and take us to Heaven, and who needs this Earth anyway? That’s bad theology. You know, the evangelical mainstream middle/center has spoken on this question, and only the far right—only the far right—which is really a lot of older evangelical leaders, are speaking against it.
DOWLATSHAHI: Wallace sees this generational split as a historic change in the evangelical community.
WALLACE: The train’s left the station here. And the metaphor is these old leaders, they’re standing in the river with their hands up in the air, saying, "Stop, stop, stop." There are only two moral values, issues: abortion and gay marriage. But the river’s rushing past them. Their own children are rushing beyond them.
DOWLATSHAHI: The conflict pitting preachers like Cizik and Wallace against the religious right is likely to play a key role in the November elections. Cizik estimates that 40 percent of Republican Party members are also evangelicals and members of his NAE. Where he leads them could make all the difference in the White House and the Congress.
CIZIK: There has been this kind of unholy alliance, I say, in which, well, business and industry, manufacturing, and others, they’ve got what they wanted out of the Republican Party, but the evangelical Christians have gotten precious little. In 2008, you could well have between 25 and 40 percent of all evangelical Christians up for grabs. And, of course, if just a small percentage of these evangelicals decide to go independent, in the sense that they’re not going to walk lockstep with the GOP, you could have many, many political races change. And that began in 2006. And I think it’s likely to occur again in 2008. And, frankly, it would be good for the evangelical community not to be beholden to just one party but to challenge both political parties to God’s mandates.
Reporter/Producer: Tala Dowlatshahi
Camera: Tala Dowlatshahi, Garland McLaurin, David Sullivan
Editing: Tala Dowlatshahi, Harry Hanbury
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.