The Evangelical Ecumenist
Up until December 2008 Richard Cizik was the chief lobbyist in Washington for the evangelical movement. He was the head of public policy for a Christian association that represented nearly 45,000 churches and 25 million Americans, and he was the group’s national spokesperson.
Yes, Richard Cizik was the public face of evangelicalism in the United States until he went on the National Public Radio program Fresh Air and—much to his employer’s surprise—expressed his support for same-sex civil unions.
Nine days later he was asked to resign as vice president of the conservative National Association of Evangelicals, after 28 years with the organization.
“So here I am in charge of all the [evangelical Christian] lobbying on Capitol Hill, and lo and behold I go on the radio and give too much fresh air,” Cizik said during a visit to Middlebury College last week.
Now the president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a nonprofit that he launched in January 2010, Cizik met with students in Professor James Calvin Davis’s Religion and American Politics class for a candid, hour-long conversation on Nov. 2, just days before the American election.
On politics in America today, Cizik said: “In evangelical right circles there is only one answer and that answer is: Republican. God is a Republican! Didn’t you know? Didn’t you get the memo? My answer is: ‘No, I didn’t get the memo. I never found it in the Bible either and I thought the Bible was supposed to be our authority.’”
On what today’s politicians need: “Politics requires a lot of prudence and knowing how to make judgments on difficult matters. Politics is all about the pursuit of values—personal, social, and transcendent.”
On what religion and politics have in common: “The key verse to consider is Matthew 22:21. ‘Render unto God the things that are God’s, and render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’ So Jesus was saying, ‘Yes there is a role that Caesar has that you must respect. Conversely there are obligations that you have to God that you must respect.’ Politics is all about determining which is which. What is God’s and what is Caesar’s. It really is.”
After his debacle on Fresh Air, Cizik (pronounced CY-zick) distanced himself from mainstream evangelicalism, not only on the subject of same-sex unions, but also with his comments about climate change (it’s real and humans caused it) and government support for contraception (he’s in favor of it).
In his role as president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, he travels extensively “to advance human well-being as an expression of our love for Jesus Christ, which is itself a grateful response for his love for us and for a good but suffering world.” On the same day that Cizik visited Professor Davis’s religion and politics class, he spoke at Middlebury’s Rohatyn Center for International Affairs and shared his view that environmentalism should be part of the evangelical movement in America.
(His belief that “it’s time we return to being people known for our love and care of the earth and our fellow human beings,” a philosophy he calls “creation care,” put him at odds with the National Association of Evangelicals and hastened his departure.)
In response to a question about the rise of secularism in America, Cizik said, “The rise of the nones [i.e., people who profess to have no religion] is the fastest growing segment of the population. From my standpoint as an evangelical, that’s just an enticement. So rather than view that negatively, the rise of the nones should be good news to evangelicals. Because quite frankly people who are unrooted are more receptive to evangelical messages than those who are firmly hitched.”
Calling himself an “evangelical ecumenist,” the Whitworth (Wash.) University graduate said, “I am willing to work with people of all faiths and no faith to achieve what is the common good for all of America. …I want everyone in society to flourish and to prosper and to enjoy the benefits of liberty and freedom and all that we have in this country.
“I am not threatened by diversity. In fact, the more diversity, the more liberty. So diversity and liberty go hand in hand together. But some people are threatened by it. I am not.”
For example, regarding a burning of the Koran in Florida by the pastor Terry Jones, Cizik told the Middlebury students: “What you do today against Muslims, you can only expect to have done to yourself later. So the religious freedom you accord to them, you in effect accord to yourselves. That’s why you should stand against Muslim bigotry.”
Richard Cizik’s visit to Middlebury College was sponsored by the Rohatyn Center for Global Studies, Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, Franklin Environmental Center, Department of Religion, Program in Environmental Studies, Academic Enrichment Fund, Newman Club, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.