3/15/2007

Dobson, et. al. Versus the Rest of Evangelicalism

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.


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19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you James Dobson for teaching me how I do NOT wish to live and speak my faith into the world I live.

Shalom!

miche

Curt said...

Keeping homosexuals from getting married is more important than the future of the planet, eh? Unlikely.

Thanks for posting this, I'm actually more likely to call myself an evangelical now that I see how they stood up against Dobson.

Matt said...

Hello Bob,

Matt Glock here. I blog at endirect.blogs.com. I posted on the same topic today. Thanks for you thoughts.

I'm also wondering if you know my cousin Phil Thompson. He was active in CCO back in the mid-90's.

Steve said...

Bob,
Thanks for a good, up-to-date summary of the situation. Dobson has done so much good. I just wish he didn't feel compelled to be the "savior" of American Christianity.
Steve Fortenberry

Ted Gossard said...

Bob, I so much agree with the thought here, that we need to widen our vision to incorporate all of God's, revealed to us. It is a shame that the religious right holds up their agenda as the be-all and end-all of God's will for us. I say this sadly. I know Dobson and others have done much good, as Steve says.

Thanks.

Ted Gossard said...

I must also add, though, that I'm not happy to be indentified with the religious right, even though some misunderstanding goes on.

If Jesus was here, he would shake us all up. And he is here, in a true sense, by the Spirit in the Body. So we need to seek to listen and learn.

andre said...

Whether Dobson is right or not on the issues is secondary. What troubles me is that Christian activism has lost its way to a great extent. They have forgotten the gospel, getting it confused with political activism and societal reconstruction. Hence, they've resorted to ways and means that sometimes can appear just like that of the "world"

Bob, I'm interested to hear how you think Neo-Calvinist can avoid the same trap. Isn't there a danger that we can be so enamored with the mission of bringing order into the world around us, that we become similarly shortsighted?

I think that always maintaining a primary view of Christ substitutionary atonement is key. I know you may have differing views on this (which I respect). It reminds us that we're sinners, our best efforts shot through with sin, to make a difference around us, we need the help of our King.

Greg said...

Bob,

Just dropped in for a visit and like what you're posting. Thanks. I'll be back.

Greg

Bill G from maxgrace.com said...

This is the great struggle for us as Christians. Once we align ourselves politically, we alienate from the gospel those who hate our politics. To alienate people from Christ almost sounds like an unpardonable sin.
Christ alienated people, but not for political reasons. He was almost indifferent: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's... an offhanded remark if I've ever heard one.

Maybe it's God's will that right wing Christians reach right wing people for Christ. Left wing Christians reach left wing people for Christ. And politically neutral Christians reach everybody else for Christ.

Sound like a plan?

Bob Robinson said...

Andre,

Thanks for your insight here. In my post today (Gospel Proclamation or Social Justice? Why Not Both?), I say that there is a danger if our Kingdom-Gospel work is not holistic, embracing both proclamation and incarnation.

I think that, indeed, a somber assessment of our fallenness will keep us from thinking that we are the answer to the world's problems apart from Christ.

But, with that said, I beleive that the gospel cannot be truncated to individual salvation based on penal substitution. It is more cosmic than that - it is the redemption of all Creation by the grace of God. And God calls us into that redemptive work, starting with human redemption that works its way out into societal redemption.

andre said...

Thanks Bob. I'll take a look at your most current post. Just want you to know that I've benefited from reading your blog.

I'm still thinking through the connection between the gospel and the cultural mandate. I have questions and your writing has sharpened my thinking.

Bob Robinson said...

Andre,

Here's my thinking on this:

A major (perhaps PRIMARY) part of the Gospel is the redemption of the Cultural Mandate. I think that the Cultural Mandate defines who we were supposed to be as humans. But then came the Fall, twisting that mandate into wicked things.

Redemption in Christ frees us to be what God intended us to be.

So, if you're "still thinking through the connection between the gospel and the cultural mandate," my contention is that at least a major part of the gospel is the redemption of the cultural mandate!

andre said...

Bob

Yes, amen, that part I fully and wholeheartedly agree.

What I'm thinking through is the appropriate emphasis and application. I'm wondering why the NT (esp. epistles) in a primary way, articulates a focus the message of atonement and practical outworking of that in the life of the church.

Taken as a whole, the NT doesn't seem to emphasize the cultural mandate connection...or am I seriously wrong about this?

Bob Robinson said...

Andre,

Yes. That is the issue. We are so trained to read all of the New Testament through the lens of "penal substitution" that we have difficulty reading it through the lens of "new creation." But once we place those glasses on (and stop presuming that every passage is about substitution) we see that the New Testament is explaining that the gospel is about the redemption of all things. We begin to see the passages that are about penal substitution fit into this broader category rather nicely.

I'll address this some time soon here at the blog. In the meantime, I'd suggest a book: Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview by Al Wolters.

Peter Kirk said...

The letter says that the issue of global warming should be “addressed scientifically and not theologically.”

I wonder if the authors of the letter would agree that the issue of abortion should be “addressed scientifically and not theologically”? But if not, what is the difference? In both cases, science can tell us what is happening, and what probably will happen if we do nothing or if we take various courses of action. What it can't do in either case is give us ways to decide what, if anything, is the right thing to do. That is the domain of morality, and we Christians usually consider morality to be our domain, not something to be “addressed scientifically and not theologically.”

These authors would be horrified at any suggestion that moral decisions on abortion should be left to unbelieving medical scientists. Why do they think that moral decisions on what is the right response, or non-response, to the global warming threat should be left to unbelieving scientists?

Bob Robinson said...

Peter,

Thanks for the insightful comment!

Jared White said...

I don't have a problem with evangelicals focusing on many important issues other than abortion/sexual immorality -- such as poverty, care for the environment, etc. My problem is that I get frustrated when I see fad science (which I think is bad science) such as man-made global warming get mixed up with a Christian "social" cause. Many, many scientists (many of whom are NOT in the pocket of the government or oil companies) are highly skeptical of man-made global warming and have the facts to back them up. As Christians, we have an obligation to use wisdom and discernment on what we should support and spend time and money promoting. I fear that Christians jumping on the global warming bandwagon only to find out in five years that the whole thing was a just big pile of stupid nothing will only result in our credibility going way down.

The Bible says to care for the environment. It doesn't say to cut carbon emissions. That is a scientific assertion which we need to evaluate carefully and critically. I personally believe that it's important to use green power because it's gentler on the environment and less polluting, but as for the man-made global warming hysteria? I think that's full of hot air. ;)

Anonymous said...

You're the bully!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

What Christianity needs to do today is to stand firmly on the Word of God! A good starting place is the Sermon on the Mount. However, throughout the Bible there are Biblical principles that God has given us to govern our lives as we walk through it. As Christians we must surrender our agendas and cling to Him and His ways. Today's Christian has too low a view of God and too high a view of man. Craig