WASHINGTON – Not much has been heard about Richard Cizik since his forced resignation as vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals last year. But the evangelical leader re-emerged in Washington, D.C., on Sunday to give a lecture on interfaith creation care in observance of Earth Day.
Surrounded by Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, and Christians sitting in the pews of a United Methodist church, Cizik spoke about the need for new strategies and ideas to advance the environmental issue.
"The best strategy is to bring religious communities together with scientists," Cizik declared as the keynote speaker of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington's Fifth Richard W. Snowdon Lecture. "Yes, together the same we must do this. So the strategy has to be what you are about at the Interfaith Conference."
People of diverse faiths and spiritualities, as well as people with no faith at all, Cizik said, can easily have dialogue and work together when it comes to protecting the Earth.
"The tinder is dry, the condition is right and all it takes is a heart here and a match there and the interfaith religious community is going to wake up," he said during the "Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth" program.
Sunday's event was an early observance of the official Earth Day which falls on Wednesday. Before the interfaith event, Cizik had spoken to the crowd of thousands gathered at the National Mall for the Earth Day Concert.
Cizik has been at the forefront of the green evangelical movement and an outspoken advocate for evangelicals to put creation care among their top priorities. He was named by Time magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world in 2008 for his work on climate change.
For years, Cizik traveled across the country to speak at churches, Christian colleges and secular universities about the need for environmental care through a change in personal lifestyle combined with government policies. With evangelicals, he argues that creation care is a more holistic understanding of the evangelical pro-life stance.
In 2007, Cizik partnered with Harvard scientist and Nobel laureate Eric Chivian to form a coalition of evangelicals and scientists to press the U.S. government to change its environmental policies while at the same time mobilizing members of the faith community to make personal lifestyle changes.
Later that same year, Cizik also teamed up with the U.S. government to host a luncheon where dozens of evangelical leaders learned how to make their church building more energy efficient. The event was the first religious-government partnership to tackle energy consumption in religious facilities.
But Cizik's evangelical-environment push has not gone without obstacles. Several prominent evangelical leaders, including James C. Dobson, Gary L. Bauer, and Tony Perkins, were angry that Cizik seemingly spoke on behalf of all evangelicals on the issue of global warming. They argue that there is no consensus within the evangelical community that global warming is real and mainly man-made.
The conservative evangelical leaders also charged Cizik of diverting attention away from more important issues like homosexuality and abortion.
However, the NAE board members sided with Cizik and affirmed that creation care is an important moral issue for the organization.
Although Cizik survived that storm, another more serious controversy emerged in late 2008 that resulted in his resignation. In a National Public Radio interview in December, Cizik remarked that a pro-life Christian could find reason to vote for an abortion rights candidate. He also said that although he does not support gay marriage, he is "shifting" on the issue and does believe in homosexual civil unions.
The overwhelming majority of NAE constituencies do not support gay civil unions, the NAE later said in response to the statements. NAE President Leith Anderson said Cizik made statements that "do not appropriately represent the values and convictions of NAE and our constituents," and that he had lost trust and credibility as a spokesman for the 30-million member organization.
Cizik resigned as the NAE vice president of governmental affairs in December, a week after the interview aired, after nearly 30 years with the organization.
Since leaving the NAE, Cizik has been speaking at colleges across the country on environmental issues and is a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation, he told The Christian Post after the lecture.
While he says he is under agreement to not talk in detail about his future plans, Cizik did disclose that he will be part of a new evangelical movement that will soon be unveiled.