The Common Good

Rich Cizik, Pioneer for New Evangelicals

Sojomail - December 18, 2008


"It is very good that he has been finally convicted. It should carry a strong message to all those who want to repeat such acts. They should know that they can never escape justice."

- Robert Munyeneza, 25, a builder and genocide survivor in Rwanda. A U.N. court sentenced Theoneste Bagosora, a former army colonel accused of masterminding the slaughter of 800,000 people in 1994, to life in prison today. (Source: The Washington Post)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Rich Cizik, Pioneer for New Evangelicals

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Rich Cizik has been a pioneer in the "new evangelical" movement and a real hero, especially to the next generation of young believers. Rich has helped lead the way to putting "creation care" and climate change on the mainstream agenda of the evangelical movement. His pilgrimage to a deep passion for the planet that God made for us has been, in his own language, a "conversion" and an "epiphany." Because of that, he has become a powerful spokesperson for many in the Christian world who are having that same conversion.

The agenda of the evangelical world is deeper and wider because of Rich Cizik. In addition to the environment and climate change, Cizik has also led on the fundamental moral and biblical issues of global poverty and commitments like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), human trafficking, religious liberty, genocide in Darfur, and foreign policy issues like torture and even nuclear weapons. The NAE's critically important statement, "For the Health of the Nation," bears powerful witness to the wider agenda that is the shape of the new evangelical movement in America, and certainly around the world -- especially for the next generation.

But Rich Cizik resigned last week, at the request of the NAE, because of things he said in an NPR interview with Terry Gross. The controversy of some of Rich's statements, in particular his "shifting" feelings about gay civil unions, admitting that he voted for Barack Obama in the primaries, and implying that he did so in the general election, caused so much controversy in some quarters of the NAE's constituency that the Executive Committee felt they had no choice but to suggest resignation, which Rich quickly but sadly accepted.

Rich Cizik still supports the Christian tradition of marriage between a man and a woman, which he reiterated after the interview, and that his strong pro-life commitments certainly included abortion, even though in the interview he said that pro-life commitments should include more than just abortion. He pointed out in the interview that younger evangelicals don't have all the same views on gay and lesbian rights as their parents do, that more of them have friendships with gay people, and that more are sympathetic to their equal protection under the law and issues like civil unions. Cizik admitting that he identified with those shifts created the firestorm.

All of this is very sad for many reasons. Rich has served the NAE, the evangelical movement, the wider church, and the wider world in such a dynamic, creative, and courageous way for 28 years, and for that service to end over the words of an interview is sad indeed. Already, leaders from many faith traditions, including many national evangelical leaders, have expressed great dismay at the loss of Rich Cizik in such a key role. And the Religious Right is already using Cizik's resignation to attempt to roll back the wider social justice and environmental agenda of the NAE. In a particularly bizarre statement, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said:

This is the risk of walking through the green door of environmentalism and global warming -- you risk being blinded by the green light and losing your sense of direction.

But NAE President Leith Anderson made clear that the NAE had no intention of retreating from the commitments of "For the Health of the Nation" and, while he defended the need for the resignation of Rich Cizik, said that it "saddened him" and was "personally painful."

I personally trust Leith Anderson's and the NAE Executive Committee's commitment to the wider evangelical agenda beyond just abortion and gay marriage, but also feel deeply saddened by these events. And I encourage the NAE's leadership to stay on the path they have chosen and resist the efforts of those who would again seek to narrow the evangelical agenda in unbiblical ways and make it again subservient to a conservative political agenda.

As for Rich Cizik, he will continue to be a leader in the new faith coalition that is emerging now, and that will replace the Religious Right, without becoming a Religious Left. Pioneers sometimes get into trouble and even pay a price for their explorations into new territories. But in the new moral center that is now visible, Rich's prophetic voice and leadership will continue to be heard and felt.

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Building a Movement

A Year in Review

It was quite a busy year for the policy team at Sojourners, and we can already hear the challenges and opportunities of 2009 calling for our attention. But during this season of reflection, we want to thank you for what you helped accomplish. Together, we lifted up the biblical call to social justice to our political and business leaders, the church, and our local communities.

Collectively, you sent around 100,000 messages to our leaders! We hope you are inspired and motivated by this quick review of 2008:

Poverty and Our National Values
The Vote Out Poverty campaign framed our work, turning the nation's attention to people living in poverty in our nation and around the world. Sojourners trained 300 activists who formed teams in their churches and communities to make sure the crisis of poverty was not forgotten during our marathon election season. Through their efforts and yours, we saw:

-- 25,000 people sign the Vote Out Poverty pledge, including congressional candidates and President-elect Obama and future Secretary of State Clinton.

-- Churches in 20 states host "Poverty Sundays," focusing on the crisis of poverty through a special worship service.

-- More than 200,000 "Vote All Your Values" issue guides downloaded before the election.

Global Justice
In the spring, we joined President Bush in asking Congress for smarter food aid in the U.S. Farm Bill by purchasing our international relief provisions from local, poor farmers instead of shipping them from the United States. While short of a full victory, a pilot project was signed into the law. We turned our attention to international health care over the summer when we pressured seven senators to drop their opposition to the Global AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Bill. Thanks to your efforts, this life-saving legislation passed.

Immigration and Workers Rights
We continued our partnership alongside the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. With the help of your letters, Burger King signed an agreement to pay a 71 percent increase to Florida tomato pickers. This month Subway signed a similar agreement. Stay tuned ... CIW is now turning its attention to Chipotle and Wal-Mart, and they may need our help.

Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a coalition convened by Sojourners, held clergy trainings and media events in North Carolina, Minnesota, Florida, New Jersey, Arizona, and Colorado, teaching and training clergy around the biblical call to "welcome the stranger." Sojourners also published a new study guide on immigration, "Strangers in the Land," that is available for purchase at the online SojoStore.

Justice Revivals
We launched a new local initiative, Justice Revivals, in Columbus, Ohio, last April. The event links spiritual renewal with social justice, uniting local churches in the fight against poverty in their cities. A total of 10,000 people participated from 40 different denominations and traditions, 100 people made commitments to follow Christ, 300 signed up to be school mentors, and 2,000 people served in the streets. After a Justice Revival meeting with clergy, the Ohio governor created an Anti-Poverty Task Force and gave the faith community a key voice on the team. Sojourners plans to hold a Justice Revival in Dallas next fall.

Peace and Security
On a more somber note, violence continues in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Congo, Zimbabwe, Darfur, Colombia, and many other regions in the world. More than 20,000 of you sent messages that supported peace talks in the Holy Land and called for "words, not war" between the U.S., Iran, and Israel. More than 27,000 of you joined our call to lament and repent for the Iraq War. While we see some political progress in this arena, peace cannot come soon enough. We will continue to pray for these conflicts and call for a peaceful resolution.

Looking Ahead
Early predictions indicate as many as 10 million more Americans will fall into poverty during this recession, so our witness is more important than ever. To keep our voice strong, Sojourners is hosting The Mobilization to End Poverty, April 26-29. With thousands of Christians standing together, we will advocate to Congress and President Obama for real policy solutions to poverty.

In this Christmas season we are reminded once again that as we work for change, our true source of hope remains in the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. We wish you a peaceful and reflective Advent season, a very Merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year.

Grateful for your actions, prayers, and support,
Aaron, Adam, Allison, Duane, Elizabeth, Gini, Jenn, Kevin, and Nate
The Policy and Outreach Team at Sojourners


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Top Stories:

Evangelical leaders seek broad moral agenda in Cizik replacement
Associated Baptist Press

Another evangelical leader, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, said the Religious Right is already using Cizik's departure in attempt to steer the organization toward a narrower social agenda. +Click to continue

NY Times columnist decries resignation of Richard Cizik
The Dallas Morning News religion blog

Nicholas D. Kristoff of The New York Times, echoing the sentiments of Jim Wallis and others on the religious left, says it's lamentable that Richard Cizik was pressured to resign from the leadership of the National Association of Evangelicals after telling National Public Radio he said he was softening in his opposition to gay unions.

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Progressive Evangelical Lauds Cizik as Hero, Pioneer
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Jim Wallis comments on Richard Cizik's resignation from NAE
The Dallas Morning News religion blog

The impulse to silence dissent
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