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Evangelical Leader Risks Career To Speak On Climate Change

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Religious Leader‘Defile not, therefore, the land which you inhabit’

By Terrah Baker

The Rev. Richard Cizik has struggled against opposition since 2002 to remind Christian followers that it is in God’s — and our own — interest to acknowledge climate change and protect the environment.

Although his teachings on climate change and environmentalism didn’t become the main focus of his work until 2010, it was eight years earlier at the Climate Conference at Oxford University that he realized the science wasn’t lying. He talked with other evangelical leaders at the conference who convinced Cizik that if he believed, he could no longer be silent. Cizik knew it would cost him his job, but the cause was important enough to take the risk. In 2009, he was fired from his position as leader of the government affairs office for the National Association of Evangelicals, but it was the best thing that could have happened, he said.

“It freed me up to speak without the fear of being fired,” Cizik said. “The bottom line: I had to be faithful to God, not man.”

In 2006, he published the Evangelical Climate Initiative that promotes the idea that “God calls us to care for creation,” and that “we are to be stewards of that which God created,” as referenced in Genesis 2:20. In 2010, he co-founded the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good because climate change is a threat to the poor and impoverished of the world, he said. He tells believers that it’s impossible to say we love God and our neighbors as ourselves without taking action against environmental disaster.

But why does he have to fight so hard to spread a scientific fact across the nation to like-minded believers?

“The first reason would be suspicion of mainstream science. (i.e. scientists believe in evolution, evangelicals oppose evolution, so we must also oppose what scientists are saying about climate change). This is illogical…” Cizik explained.

Also, climate change has been a part of the liberal, Democratic agenda since the beginning, leading widely followed faith leaders such as Jerry Falwell to make statements like “Only those blue-helmeted UN types, liberal Democrats and misinformed evangelicals believe in climate change.”

Environmentalism is also associated with believers in “Mother Earth” and other “ungodly” heresies, making it hard for Christian believers to get on board. Finally, Cizik thinks climate change legislation runs contrary to “free market capitalism” and thus opposition to government regulation of the economy also requires opposition to environmental regulations.

These reasons mean nothing when Cizik reads what he considers the words of God and interprets the modern science of today; but to many of the Religious Right, the false information is held on to by leaders.

“Essentially, I do all that’s in my power to persuade my fellow Evangelicals … We must ‘see and think more clearly; care more deeply, and act more boldly.’ The Bible says in Numbers 35:34 — ‘Defile not, therefore, the land which you inhabit,’” Rev. Cizik said.

He said the average response to his teachings has improved over the years, and more evangelicals are realizing their moral responsibility to the environment, and ultimately their fellow human. Still, he and many young evangelicals like himself call this the “Great Moral Challenge of the 21st Century,” and even “the civil rights issue of our time.”

In the end, he explains the dangers of climate change are that it has had a multiplier-effect upon habitat destruction, species extinction, soil erosion, sea-level rise and stronger and more deadly storms, and because of all this, there needs to be legislation to mitigate the effects of — and now adapt to — a changing climate.

Rev. Richard Cizik will speak in Hope on April 27 at the Ground for Hope-Arkansas event. For questions or further information, contact revfharper@greenfaith.org.

One Comment

John April 28, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Not from Arkansas anymore (Portland, OR), but somehow came upon the Free Weekly.

It’s great to see this publication talking about climate change–I don’t have the most positive experience broaching the subject in my home state!

Cizik is a fascinating character.

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