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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Religious Call

Air Date: Week of October 21, 2005

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Environmentalists and evangelical Christians may see eye to eye on one issue: global warming. This year, global warming has been added to the platform of the National Association of Evangelicals, alongside traditional positions opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. Host Steve Curwood talks with Richard Sizic, the Association's director of governmental affairs.

Transcript

CURWOOD: With massive droughts and record-setting hurricanes being linked, at least in part, to global warming, climate change has caught the attention of the U.S. evangelical community. This year, global warming has been added to the platform of the National Association of Evangelicals, alongside traditional positions that oppose abortion and same-sex marriage.

The Association claims the support of 30 million Americans and more than 50,000 churches. It recently produced a report called “Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.” Now, the report calls on evangelicals to recognize that climate change is real, and urge the government to do something about it.

Joining me is the Reverend Richard Cizik. He’s director of governmental affairs for the Association. Hello, sir.

CIZIK: Hello, Steve.

CURWOOD: Why add concern about global warming to the evangelical platform?

CIZIK: That’s a reasonable question. In fact, we have evangelicals around the country who’re asking the very same question. We’re doing it because of one reason: the Bible mandates us. Not as owners of this Earth, because we aren’t owners. The Bible is very clear in Genesis 2:15 that we’re simply stewards of what God has given us, and that we’re to watch over and care for it. If we’re supposed to do that, then we simply can’t trash it. We can’t simply say, “well, it’s all going to be incinerated and, therefore, it matters not what we do with it.”

So it’s a call to care for creation that’s rooted in the Scriptural tradition from beginning to end, and we’re finding, frankly, enormous receptivity. Now, we’ve upset the apple cart politically to some folk, but at the grassroots, frankly, amazing support. In fact, the surveys indicate already that we’ve gotten surprising support for this initiative.

CURWOOD: Looking at the New Testament, what does Jesus and the Apostles, what do they say that could be applied to climate change, global warming?

CIZIK: Well, Jesus says that, you know, you are to be stewards of the Earth. You are to be the salt and light in society, you are to be the leaven, you see, as in the bread that restores it, keeps it healthy. In other words, we are not to be agents of destruction but agents of His continual creation. And since we are taught by Scripture that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, how is it possible for us to love our neighbor if we are committing transgressions against what he has created and impacting people around the world in phenomenal ways?

I’ve seen figures, Steve, for example, that anywhere from 10 to 15 million people in the next century – this century, the 21st century – will be impacted by flooding because of creation…warming, in other words, what’s called global warming, and that 90 to 100 million people could be impacted by droughts. So, how can you love your neighbor as yourself and simply say, “well, that doesn’t matter, I’m protected here in the United States? I have all the securities of Social Security and wealth and health care and wages and all that and it matters not what happens to our brothers and sisters around the world.” That simply is an impossible thing if you want to be a biblical Christian.

CURWOOD: Now, I’m not much of a theologian so please excuse me, I’m probably going to get this wrong. But at the other end of the Bible you come to the Book of Revelation, that talks about pretty much everything being made new and that really it doesn’t matter much what happens.

CIZIK: Well, wait a second. The Bible does say a new heaven and a new Earth, a renewed Earth. It doesn’t say the Earth is going to be destroyed and simply recreated from scratch, if you will, ex nihilo, as God did it the first time out of nothing. No, He’s going to renew it. In fact, we see in the Book of Romans by the Apostle Paul that He is redeeming creation even now and that all of creation groans for the revealing of his son – that is, Jesus. And that, at some point, he will return – that’s what we, as evangelicals, believe – to a renewed creation. So we simply can’t trash what we have, although that is a prevailing wisdom among some, sad to say.

CURWOOD: Now, what actions are you taking to promote reducing the threat of global warming?

CIZIK: Well, the very beginning, I should say – and we are at the beginning here as a movement – we have distributed a statement which is called “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.” And it’s going out to all of our churches, all of our leaders. By the way, all of the leaders left, right and center have signed this document. So, at the very beginning, we happen to think we have, first and foremost, a theological assignment, not really a political role but, initially, a theological role to educate our own constituency, and that’s most important. We think that as we do that, politics will inevitably follow. And let’s face it, religion always leads politics, not the reverse.

CURWOOD: Now, why do you think Republicans are going to listen to you when they haven’t listened to major environmental groups, scientists, governments from Germany to the United Kingdom to Japan, on this particular issue?

CIZIK: Hmmm. Well, that’s a tough question. Here’s the answer: we may not be able, as evangelicals, to turn this into a preeminent issue in the 2008 election. We may not be able to do that. But we have within our midst the evangelicals that constitute 100 electoral votes that have historically gone to Republicans. One hundred electoral votes. And our constituency is situated in 15 states, many of them mid-west, west states that inhabit Republican politicians. And some of these are coal states – Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, western states such as Wyoming – these are states with high evangelical populations. And politicians listen.

If our constituency, the evangelicals, say this matters, it’s not simply radical enviros who happen to believe the Earth is at stake, but we care about this issue, and the reason we care about it is because people matter. And if the poor around the world are gonna be impacted, shouldn’t we do something? We must. And once we’ve put our imprimatur on this issue then I think we have the freedom to begin to sow some seeds here for a better energy bill in the long run. A better climate policy by the United States. And, frankly, there won’t be a Republican running for the nomination, I don’t believe, in 2008, who isn’t going to hear from us.

CURWOOD: The Reverend Richard Cizik is vice-president of governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. Thanks for taking this time.

CIZIK: Thank you, it was my pleasure. God bless you.

 

 

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