Evangelical Board Split Over Leader's Global Warming Efforts

WASHINGTON – Opinions, debates, and interest surrounding the evangelical voice - or lack of a unified evangelical voice – on global warming have soared in recent days over the controversy involving high profile Christian leaders and the representation of evangelicals on the climate change issue.

The debate will be discussed among the board members of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) during its bi-annual meeting on Friday - its first board meeting since its former president Ted Haggard stepped down due to sex allegations.

Several board members have already voiced differences this week on the global warming advocacy of the Rev. Richard Cizik, NAE vice president for government relations, including NAE president the Rev. Dr. Leith Anderson and board member Jerald Walz.

The NAE president defended Cizik earlier this week as a "great asset" to the organization, highlighting his 25 years of service in Washington with "an amazing track record," according to The New York Times.

Anderson as well as the NAE's new executive director, W. Todd Bassett, are both supporters of the Evangelical Climate Initiative – a statement signed by more than a 100 senior evangelical Christian leaders supporting the biblical responsibility of creation care and acknowledging that global warming is human-induced.

Last week dozens of prominent evangelical leaders - including James C. Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family; Gary L. Bauer, president of Coalitions for America; and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council – sent a letter to the board of NAE urging it to stop Cizik or encourage the NAE leader to resign for his public statements on global warming on behalf of evangelicals.

Signers of the letter accused Cizik of misrepresenting evangelicals by speaking as if there is a unified opinion on the global warming issue, using his NAE position without permission to advocate for the cause, and diverting attention away from more important issue like homosexuality and abortion.

To argue that Cizik is speaking for the majority of evangelicals on global warming, his supporters have pointed to the Ellison Research Poll of American evangelicals released in February 2006 that found that the majority (70 percent) of evangelicals are concerned about global warming and its impact on future generations. The poll also found that 63 percent of American evangelicals believe that action should be taken to address the climate change problem.

However, other NAE board members have agreed with the letter's criticism of Cizik overstepping the boundaries set by NAE on issues related to climate change.

"There has been a growing contradiction between the Board's official position on environmental stewardship and statements that have been made on behalf of NAE, especially regarding climate change," said Jerald Walz, vice president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and NAE board member, in a statement released earlier this week.

"Richard Cizik continues to step outside the approved policy areas of the NAE. Cizik, using his public position, has made statements that exceed NAE's goals. Cizik has claimed that global warming is real."

However, not all Christian leaders are concern about the recent difference in opinions. Some have even welcomed the debate as an opportunity for evangelical leaders with various views to discuss and find a consensus on top issues for evangelicals.

Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief and CEO of Sojourners magazine, called for more dialogue not only on the climate change debate but also on what qualifies as the "great moral issues" for evangelicals of our time. He encourages a Christian university to invite both sides to discuss current opinions on topics such as Darfur, poverty, and HIV/AIDS to find where evangelicals as a whole stand on these subjects.

"So instead of calling for Cizik's resignation for saying global warming should be a moral issue for evangelical Christians," wrote Wallis in his blog, "why don't Dobson and his friends accept a real debate on whether climate change is, indeed, one of the great moral issues of our time."

"Let's have that debate … and see what America's evangelicals think the great moral issues of our time really are."

The NAE board meeting will be held in Minnesota where NAE's president, the Rev. Leith Anderson, resides.

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