Eminentoes

A Turner Classic

Richard Cizik, now in the employ of Ted Turner's UN Foundation, dutifully advocates for "new" (i.e. liberal) evangelicals.

By 7.23.09

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Across three decades Richard Cizik lobbied for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), tugging the NAE leftward during his last several years, especially on Global Warming. But even the often rudderless NAE could not tolerate Cizik's endorsing same-sex unions on National Public Radio late last year. After his forced resignation, Cizik joined Ted Turner's United Nations Foundation to advocate for "new-agenda evangelicals." Although purportedly transcending predictable ideologies, "new-agenda" largely seems to mean liberal politically.

"What I'm in essence doing is creating the future," Cizik sweepingly announced to the Washington Post religion blog in April. "I'm attempting to provide a way for the new evangelicals to be more effective." A more recent piece in the Post religion blog highlighted Cizik for having "shook up Conservative Christendom" and his "proclivity for dissent." Will Cizik ever "dissent" from the hubris of his new employer, which Ted Turner created and endowed to promote globalism?

In a June video interview on the Post website, Cizik quite assertively disavowed his more conservative evangelical past, to the gushing delight of his interviewer.

"Evangelicals became "captive to this unholy alliance in the Republican party with big business corporate interests and the rest," Cizik explained about resistance by some to his campaign for "Creation Care" environmental activism. He opined that he was "let go" by NAE for his "candor," as though disregarding the NAE's stance on marriage were a minor issue.

"There's a contest going on for the future of the movement," Cizik enthused, clearly seeing himself as the champion for a supposedly more relevant evangelical public policy message. "It's not just that I enjoy being divisive as Dr. James Dobson accused me, [but] …it's that people don't change their views unless they're challenged, unless there's a dissonance a cognitive disequilibrium between their highest aspirations which ought to be for example the Gospel teaching on all these issues, including care for the earth, and their status quo."

Cizik insisted that his "new-agenda" evangelicals will not become "toadies" for Democrats as purportedly old agenda evangelicals became for Republicans. "Challenge all the ideologies on issues from the environment to torture to war," he urged. "Yes, even the Iraq War, which evangelicals, younger evangelicals were willing to say, 'we don't buy this.' And they were right." But Cizik discerned an "opening' with President Obama for evangelicals. In contrast, he chastised Republicans for their "denial, denial, denial" about climate change and "millions upon millions of Americans that don't have healthcare." 

With some validity, Cizik surmised that "younger evangelicals do believe that civil unions are acceptable" and are reluctant not to "grant rights to gays lesbians and others like others have." But rather than viewing that demographic trend as a challenge needing evangelical response, he seemed to see it as an opening for politically sidestepping the protection of marriage. "I don't believe in gay marriage, but do I believe that people are entitled to equal protection under the law and due process," Cizik said. "And thus civil unions, a widely, broadly written civil union statute that isn't sexually oriented, broadly written for everybody, might be the best way to protect sex and gender based marriage."

As part of his gushing, the interviewer, citing Cizik's supposed "lack of rigidity" and the "fluidity of your theology," asked him why "younger evangelicals just dig Richard Cizik?" Seemingly unembarrassed by the flattery, Cizik responded that, excepting the old rigid-minded, "I'm the future." When further asked if "new" evangelicals will become like old, more liberal Mainline Protestants with an evolving theology, Cizik at first hesitated, but then seemed to agree, at least partly, with his encouraging interviewer that "absolutely" evangelicals will develop new interpretations of Scripture.

"That's simply understanding that there isn't a new inspiration going on here," Cizik explained. "We're not adding a new verse or book to the Bible, but what we are doing is adding a new mind, a mind, you see, that's been changed by Christ -- we are challenged you see by Jesus to change our minds -- in other words, he says, be transformed." Cizik celebrated that the "division between evangelicals and the Mainline isn't as great as it once was." And he professed to be a "bridge-builder, bridging outward to bring Mainline and evangelical together and when that happens as I know it will then we won't have the divisions we've had in the past."

Nearly getting the vapors, the interviewer reacted by hailing Cizik as truly "one of the 100 most influential people in the United States." Whether Cizik can retain all this supposed sway over evangelicals, much less the nation, while working for the secular and left-leaning UN Foundation, whose founding chieftain is agnostic, seems doubtful. But at least Cizik's new employer has deeper pockets, and no theological constraints.

Meanwhile, NAE recently has announced that Cizik's successor as its Washington representative will be Galen Carey, who comes from the NAE's relief agency, World Relief. Not renowned for political statements, Carey likely will be low key and less divisive. Whether he will be sufficiently "new agenda" to satisfy Cizik is an open question.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.