Maybe you caught this in the news the other day: James Dobson headed a list of people who wrote the National Association of Evangelicals seeking the ouster of Richard Cizik as Vice Preident for Governmental Affairs because of his "relentless campaign" against global warming. Christianity Today reports that Leith Anderson, Interim president of the NAE said, “I'm supportive of Rich Cizik. I think that he is highly respected in Washington and is a forthright spokesman for creation care and that's good."
After reading the letter that Dobson and his colleagues sent to the NAE, I have a few observations:
1. The signatories are a who’s who of the current Religious Right establishment, including Don Wildmon, Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Paul Weyrich, Gary Cass, and Rick Scarborough.
2. The letter says that the signatories “have observed that [Richard] Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.”
The Religious Right’s concern is that their 3 main issues might be lost if evangelicals dared to broaden the scope of their concerns. But, as Jim Wallis astutely says, “I believe the sanctity of life, the integrity and health of marriages, and the teaching of sexual morality to our children are, indeed, among the great moral issues of our time. But I believe they are not the only great moral issues…the enormous challenges of global poverty, climate change, pandemics that wipe out generations and continents, the trafficking of human beings made in God’s image, and the grotesque violations of human rights, even to the point of genocide, are also among the great moral issues that people of faith must be - and already are - addressing.”
3. The letter says that the issue of global warming should be “addressed scientifically and not theologically.” This is a red herring in two ways: First, the majority of scientific experts agree that global warming is indeed a dire problem (so the NAE is indeed reacting to the scientific community), and second, thank God that evangelicals have begun to think theologically about taking care for God’s creation. For years, while the Religious Right has had their sway in evangelical social action, the issue hasn’t even been on the radar screen. The presumption has been that this world is ours to exploit in any way we want. Deeper theological thought has now revealed that God has put humanity in dominion over the earth not to exploit it but to care for it and to cultivate it. We should be cheering that the NAE has placed this issue back into the Christian conscience.
4. The letter’s signatories “oppose the efforts of Mr. Cizik and others to speak in a way that is divisive and dangerous.” They cite as evidence of this divisiveness a quote in which Cizik said, “We [proponents of global warming] are the future, and the old guard…is reaching up to grasp its authority back, like a horror movie where a hand comes out of the grave.” The letter took offense at this, stating, “To paraphrase, Cizik apparently believes ‘the old guard’ which defends traditional values is like a rotting corpse that will not die. Are these the words of a man who seeks to bring unity and understanding within the NAE?” Cizik is not the only one who sees the Religious Right as the “old guard,” that is, a group of people who did not represent the evangelical church as it should be represented. NAE board member Paul de Vries told CNN, “We are tired of being represented by people with a very narrow focus, and we want to have a focus as big as God’s focus.”
I think de Vries has it right—the Religious Right’s focus on what they call “traditional values” has done more to divide evangelicals more than anything that the NAE is doing now. Their emphasis on just a few hot-button issues has shut out many evangelicals who have been fighting for other Justice issues that are just as important (if not more—how is being against gay marriage more important that being against global poverty, disease, human trafficking, or ecological destruction?)
5. The people who signed the letter, by their own admission, are “not members of the National Association of Evangelicals.”
How presumptuous is it, then, for these people to “suggest that he (Richard Cizik) be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE”? Christianity Today reports, “When read the list of the signatories, NAE interim President Leith Anderson said, ‘We would normally look to our own constituency … and not to those who have chosen not to be members of the NAE … for counsel.’” Good for them!
6. This, again, is in the modus operandi of James Dobson. I’ve called Dobson a bully on this blog before, and I’m going to do it again now.
I believe that James Dobson has every right to seek to further his narrow right-wing political agenda. I’d be willing to plead on his behalf against anyone who would want to squelch his voice. Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council should be heard; their political views have value.
However, my problem is with Dobson’s abuse of power. He uses his immense influence in the evangelical world to bully anyone who does not follow exactly along his set course. In the recent past, he was successful in ousting Wayne Pederson as President of the National Religious Broadcasters. Peterson’s sin: he suggested that Christian media should be less identified with the Religious Right. Thank God that the NAE has the courage to stand up to Dobson, and not allow him to do the same awful thing to Richard Cizik.
technorati: social action, politics, emerging church