Interview: Richard Cizik, National Association of Evangelicals

The global anti-poverty movement received a big boost last week when the world’s richest nations pledged to double their aid to $50 billion by 2010.

According to Richard Cizik, Vice President of Governmental Affairs in the National Association of Evangelicals, evangelicals are the key to bring even greater changes.

The following are excerpts from a July 10th interview with Mr. Cizik:

World leaders pledged $50 billion. Is that enough?

It won’t satisfy everybody’s perception of what we are able to do. But it’s a very important and significant step toward the right direction.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said part of the reason for doubling the aid was to halt terrorism at its roots. What is your take on this view in light of your upcoming visit to Morocco?

I agree with Prime Minister Blair that there are symptoms that give rise to terrorism and religion-based conflicts, including debilitating poverty. You can’t entirely combat terrorism by aid because some of it is conducted by people who are simply interested in terrorizing people; some people are essentially evil. Aid is not entirely the answer, but it is true that symptoms give rise to the dissatisfaction of the status quo.

This is one of the reasons why we anticipate humanitarian leaders joining our delegation to Morocco in November.

You took part in an ecumenical forum in London ahead of the G-8 summit. Do you believe poverty can become the rallying cry that allows Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants to work together?

Yes, I think this rallying cry for the poor may be one of the issues that can let Evangelicals, Roman Catholics and Mainline Protestants work together. But I think everybody today regards the role of the evangelical to be critical on the whole subject.

The London Forum was an ecumenical gathering, that’s true. But it’s the fact that Evangelicals are joining that made it the most compelling.

What do you mean?

What I mean is, we as Evangelicals have a commitment to the holistic proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It’s not simply that evangelism and social involvement comes alongside each other. Rather, when we act holistically, our proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ has social consequences, in as much as we are calling people to love and repent in all areas of life. Social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. Caring for the poor and the marginalized is essential to the witness of our entire, holistic movement.

Can governments provide this kind of aid?

No, governments can’t do that. As President George W. Bush said, governments can’t “make anybody love anybody.” So it’s only as God enables us that the local church is able to carry out this task of integral mission. So it’s really God who is doing it.

But some have criticized Christian leaders for getting so involved with increasing government-provided aid, precisely for that reason. Why should Evangelicals care so much about what governments provide?

Because governments can do much more. Yes, it’s true like you said, holistic missions can be done only through churches. That’s why in the London Statement, we include a clause on the role faith-based groups are already playing in addressing poverty. I suggested we add this clause so the document could adequately reflect the important role faith-based groups and churches play on the issue.

American Evangelicals are playing a significant role in the anti-poverty effort, and will continue to play this role in the future.

Also, it is Evangelicals who are making this assertion that debt relief has to come with changes in governments, so corrupt governments are not rewarded. You want to reward the improving governments since there are benefits in rewarding honest and capable politicians. But there is no case for putting money in the pockets of corrupt leaders who are either incompetent or simply thieves and murderers.

Evangelicals aren’t only pushing aid. We are pushing this conditionality of debt relief. And that’s an important contribution to the whole debate.

The London Forum Statement states that “God judges nations by what they do to the poorest.” The U.S. currently provides the most aid to African nations, but it’s only .16 percent of our national GDP. Is that enough?

No. It’s not enough, and clearly we can do better. Thus, part of our challenge as evangelicals in America is to urge our own government to go further. Not just on aid, but also on the subject of climate change.

Skipping over to climate change. The Gleneagles Plan for Action acknowledges something must be done. Is this a big step forward?

Yes. It is very similar to the statement adopted by the U.S. Senate just a few weeks ago. The fact that the communiqué says climate change is real and it’s happening, I think is a very helpful step forward. However, it doesn’t commit to any specific plan of action, which is the problem. That’s why the communiqué has its critics.

Where does environmental protection and stewardship lie in terms of priority for evangelicals? Does it make your top ten list?

Yes. I happen to believe creation-care most certainly makes it in the top ten. The NAE recently released a statement on civil responsibility, which highlights several principles. One of those principles is creation-care. So, does it make the top ten? Absolutely. Should it increase in its importance? Yes, because presently, very few individuals are giving enough care to the environment.

Besides, you cannot adequately address poverty reduction without addressing the issue of climate change. Climate change is a preventive measure against poverty because millions are impacted by both floods and drought, and both those conditions are aggravated by climate change. So addressing climate change is a form of prevention.

Also, evangelical Christians have a responsibility to address creation issues because God challenges us in scripture. If you look at Genesis 2:15, He tells us to be stewards of the earth and creation. When we meet Him, God will never ask us how we made the earth, but He will ask us what we did with it. We simply cannot ignore the fact that climate change is real and that we must take urgent action to reduce Green House Gasses. This is all part of our stewardship responsibilities.

Not everyone will agree on how you will do that. Republicans and Democrats don’t agree. But it’s significant when Evangelicals speak out on this issue because when we speak, Republicans listen. Evangelical Christians constitute 40 percent of the conservative base of the Republican Party.

So I think for us not to speak out, given that there is a consensus on the dialect of science change even from the G-8 leaders, would be disregard of our Biblical duty. We have a responsibility to do more, and there is a possibility for us to challenge the Bush administration to do more.

But Evangelicals are not one voice on this issue.

Yes, that’s true. That’s why the NAE began work last summer on developing a consensus on climate change. We committed one year to come up with a consensus statement on climate change, and we’re well on our way.

Is there anything more you would like to say?

My aim is to see Evangelical Christians worldwide take the leadership, not just on issues like human trafficking, HIV/AIDS and religious persecution, but also on the subject of global hunger and climate change. Those are the two most critical issues of our time that the G-8 summit leaders addressed, and we as evangelicals in America have a strategic political influence to push the U.S. government into action.

From my vantage point, it is the combination of rising Evangelical influence, the Republican control of both ends of Pennsylvania Ave., and the desperate need that exists for Christians to play their rightful role as stewards, that makes this time in history a “Kairos moment.”

This moment in history is here – it’s in our grasp. The world is watching to see what we as Evangelical Christians will say and do. The question is will we seize it? Will we seize the moment to act as Biblical people? That’s the bottom line.