Culture At Large

Richard Cizik, Evangelical Tree Hugger


Grist Magazine features an interview with Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (via Evangelical Outpost). Cizik is socially, politically, and theologically conservative on most issues, including abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage, yet he departs company with most conservatives in his advocacy of "creation care," an evangelical-friendly term for environmental conservation. Cizik grounds his environmentalism in scripture, saying:

It is simply our articulation of a biblical doctrine, which is that we are commissioned by God the Almighty to be stewards of the earth. It is rooted not in politics or ideology, but in the scriptures. Genesis 2:15 specifically calls us "to watch over and care for" the bounty of the earth and its creatures. Scripture not only affirms this role, but warns that the earth is not ours to abuse, own, or dominate. The Bible clearly says in Revelation 11:18 that "God will destroy those who destroy the earth."

He also counters critics of environmental efforts who base their beliefs on a misreading of the biblical concept of "dominion":

Dominion does not mean domination. It implies responsibility -- to cultivate and care for the earth, not to sully it with bad environmental practices. The Bible also teaches us that Jesus Christ is not only redeeming his people, but also restoring God's creation. Obviously, since the fall of man and entrance of sin into the world, all of creation has yearned for its redemption from sin and death and destruction. That will occur with the Second Coming of Christ. But in the meantime we show our love for Jesus Christ by reaching out to and healing the spiritually lost and by conserving and renewing creation. Christ's call to love nature is as simple as his call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Cizik acknowledges that many evangelicals are skeptical of creation care because they distrust science, clash with environmentalists on issues like population control, or worry that expressing concern for the environment will be the same as "saying that plants and animals are superior to people." He tries to frame the issue as pro-life, and discusses mercury poisoning of unborn children and the catastrophic effects that climate change will have on millions of people worldwide.

It remains to be seen if he can convince evangelicals to buy organic or drive hybrid cars, but I'm hopeful that a messenger like Cizik can bridge the gap between conservative Christians and liberal environmentalists. Environmental protection is not about stereotypical hippie tree huggers or pagan earth worshippers; it is a calling to care for God's creation and God's people (especially the poor, minorities, children, and the unborn, all of whom are more vulnerable to the ravages of environmental degradation). "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it."

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