Conservative evangelicals who saw environmentalism as alarmism welcomed Richard Cizik's resignation as the National Association of Evangelicals' Washington lobbyist last week.
But evangelicals and scientists who had been working on "creation care" for several years saw it as a blow to their efforts.
More than 50 evangelicals — including several environmental advocates — sent a letter to the NAE President Leith Anderson this morning, signaling their support for Cizik's efforts and urging the organization to "carry out Richard's vision of a broad Christian moral agenda."
Those who signed the letter included presidents of organizations, professors, pastors, and authors, such as Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Calvin DeWitt, professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, and Lynne Hybels, author of Nice Girls Don't Change the World and wife of Bill Hybels, who is senior pastor of Willow Creek.
One of the letter's signers, Ken Wilson, senior pastor at the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, said Cizik pioneered a dialogue between evangelicals and scientists, convincing pastors like himself to preach more about the environment.
"Cizik's resignation can be a real stumbling block to people of goodwill for people who saw the evangelical community as good news for the environment," Wilson said. "It will certainly alienate those outside of the faith who sees it as a narrow groupthink."
Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, said that Cizik did not fairly represent evangelicals when he argued that global warming was manmade. "Many evangelicals are concerned that trying to fight global warming would have serious economic harmful effects," he said.
A 2006 survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that 70 percent of evangelicals said that there is solid evidence that the earth is getting warmer; 37 percent of evangelicals said it was a result of human activity, 27 percent said it was a result of natural causes, and 6 percent were unsure.
Earlier this year, 58 percent of evangelicals said they believe that there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press suggests. Fifty-nine percent of evangelicals consider global warming a very serious or somewhat serious problem while 37 percent of evangelicals consider it not too serious or not a problem.
Bill Anderson, an economics professor at Frostburg State University, welcomed Cizik's resignation.
"There's still a reluctance within the mainstream of evangelicalism to embrace everything the environmentalists have to sell," said Anderson, who is a member of Cornwall Alliance's board of advisors. "People will pull stewardship as a trump card, but they don't have a mechanism for how to be stewards."
Anderson said in an earlier interview that the NAE will still support creation care, but that Cizik was speaking as an individual on causes of global warming.
"NAE affirms that God is the Creator of our world and that the Bible calls us on to be good and strong stewards of the creation God has entrusted to us," Anderson said today.
Cizik declined to speak to Christianity Today.
Cizik resigned from the NAE last week after he said on National Public Radio that he is shifting his position on civil unions for same-sex couples. "In other words, I would willingly say that I believe in civil unions," he said. "I don't officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don't think."
In response to the NPR interview, President of Family Research Council Tony Perkins wrote on a blog that the lesson is to beware of environmentalism. "This is the risk of walking through the green door of environmentalism and global warming — you risk being blinded by the green light and losing your sense of direction."
Perkins and several other evangelicals called for Cizik's resignation in early 2007 because of his "relentless campaign" on global warming.
Charles Colson, who did not sign the letter calling for Cizik's resignation, said evangelicals saw Cizik as polarizing. "Evangelicals need to be more environmentally conscious, but I think it was the way it was politicized, almost done to the exclusion of other issues," Colson said.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said he doesn't think environmental advocacy will disappear as an issue for evangelicals, but there will be more emphasis on stewardship and less on human-induced global warming. The ERLC launched a campaign in May called We Get It! The group affirmed a need to care for the environment but a took a more cautious approach toward stating that global warming as a man-made problem.
"Rich was the media's ideal of what they hoped all evangelicals would be, but he wasn't. Evangelicals have been concerned for the environment for a long time." Land said. He notes as evidence Francis Schaeffer's 1970 book, Pollution and the Death of Man. "Hopefully, we'll see a little more Francis Schaeffer and a little less Al Gore," Land said.
Bradford Plumer, who blogs on the environment for The New Republic, wondered whether Cizik's resignation would hurt the environmental movement overall.
"Whenever I ask climate campaigners for indications that global warming might be becoming a bipartisan concern, they quickly point to the growing prevalence of faith-based groups," he wrote. "But green evangelicals have long followed an uneven trajectory, as Cizik's resignation proves, and I think it's still too early to assess their broader significance."
Time magazine named Cizik one of the world's 100 most influential people earlier this year because of his collaboration on advocacy for the environment with Eric Chivian, co-leader of the "Scientist-Evangelical" project at Harvard University's Center for Health and the Global Environment.
"Evangelicals and scientists have been identified at being at each other's throats on stem cell research and evolution for a long time." Chivian said. "We've barely spoken with each other since the Scopes trial. … [Scientists are] not terribly good at communicating what concerns us, and we see evangelicals as being terrific communicators at the things that concern them."
The new rapprochement "wouldn't have happened without Richard's efforts," Chivian said. "I think it's led to mutual respect, not just scientists for evangelicals, but evangelicals for latte-sipping, New York Times-reading scientists."
Anderson said the NAE will wait until 2009 to begin a search process for Cizik's replacement.
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Christianity Today posted a copy of the letter from more than 50 evangelicals to the NAE President Leith Anderson today.